One thing I love about Alienware is the company’s unrelenting confidence in its new products. Whether that brags that a desktop is a “Benchmark bruiser (opens in new tab)” or the publication of one of the most sophisticated OLED gaming monitors (opens in new tab) to date. So when I’m offered the opportunity to try the new Alienware m17 R5, billed as “the most powerful 17-inch AMD Advantage gaming notebook”, how can I pass up?
And does it live up to the hype? Uh, yes and no.
The Alienware m17 R5 is powered by an AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX and Radeon RX 6850M XT combo that looks like a smash hit for Team Red on paper. It’s also the first gaming laptop we’ve tested with an RX 6850M XT, so I was thrilled to see how it stacked up against laptops with an RTX 3070 Ti and even RTX 3080 Ti mobile GPUs.
Alienware also sent a particularly souped-up configuration of the Alienware m17 R5. It comes with a 4K panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. It packs 32GB of DDR5 RAM and 1TB of NVMe SSD. How much does that thing cost? You’re looking for about $2,800.
Expect to pay more if you decide to go even bigger by maxing out memory and storage with 64GB RAM and a 4TB SSD, although that seems like overkill, but who am I to judge? Similar to Alienware’s Intel-centric laptops, you have tons of options to choose from. The lowest amount you pay for the AMD configuration starts at $1,911. These include cheaper display options of 1080p at 165 Hz or 360 Hz.
If you’re feeling playful, Alienware even has a 1080p display at a paltry 480Hz that’s $300 more expensive than the 4K 120Hz I’m reviewing here. While I haven’t personally seen 480Hz screens in action, I can’t tell you if it’s worth it.
Alienware m17 R5 AMD specifications
CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX
Memory: 32 GB (2x 16 GB) dual channel DDR5-4800
Graphic: AMD Radeon RX6850M
Storage: 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
Advertisement: 17.3-inch UHD (3850 x 2160) 120Hz
Warranty: 1 year parts/ lifetime labor
The surprisingly bright 4K, 500 nits display was widely used for streaming videos. Appreciate seeing the detailed stress lines on Guenther Steiner’s face in the final season of F1: Drive to Survive in 4K on Netflix. Games look pretty good, although this display is better suited for professionals and creatives. So if you don’t fall into that category, you might be better off sticking with the 1080p, 240Hz display to save money and extend your much-needed battery life.
This laptop also takes advantage of AMD’s suite of game-boosting technologies (opens in new tab)like SmartAccess Graphics, which automatically switches your output from the Ryzen APU and Radeon GPU, along with Smartshift Max, which automatically shifts around your power depending on what app or game you are using. The good thing about these features is that they just work without you having to mess with them. All nice features, especially if you’re hopping between gaming and, say, video editing, trying to squeeze out some extra horsepower.
That’s the “AMD Advantage,” a feature set that comes from having both Radeon GPUs and Ryzen CPUs in the same machine.
As you can see from the benchmarks below, the mobile Ryzen 9 6900HX’s multi-core performance is worse than that of the similarly priced Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 (opens in new tab) and MSI GS66 Stealth (2022) (opens in new tab) both of which have an Intel Core i9 12900H under the hood. Here, the Ryzen’s 8-core, 16-thread design falls into the Alder Lake core layout, where its 14 cores and 20 threads push it to the front.
The Alienware also falls behind the Razer Blade 17’s Core i7 12800H (opens in new tab) We checked a while ago, again this is an Intel chip with 14 cores and 20 threads. The Razer Blade 17 is an absolute beast of a machine… and very expensive ($4000), even by premium laptop standards. However, if you want serious performance, it’s clear that the new Alienware isn’t the pinnacle.
Thankfully, on the GPU side, the Alienware m17 R5 outperformed AMD Advantage on almost all of our gaming benchmarks at 1080p, mostly at maximum settings. It hit triple-digit framerates in almost every game I’ve played, with a Hitman 3 average of just over 200 fps.
It struggled with Metro Exodus and Cyberpunk 2077, which isn’t surprising since those focus on ray-tracing performance, which we know has been a pain point for AMD’s GPUs. Unfortunately, nothing is happening in this new mobile GPU that could actually change that.
Since the display is 4K, it would be rude not to try some games in Ultra High Def. The Radeon RX 6850M XT performed admirably at 4K, often beating out the MSI GS66 (another powerful 4K laptop we recently reviewed). Except when it came to ray tracing. In these cases, the GS66’s RTX 3070 Ti ran away with it. The frame rate at 4K was okay, but still nothing that will set the world on fire.
For example, when running Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing effects enabled, Alienware often slows things down to a crawl, hitting frame rates as low as 17 fps when graphics settings are set to Ultra. With RT off, the game ran in 4K at a sluggish 22 fps. For fun, I turned on FSR (FidelityFX Super Resolution), AMD’s answer to DLSS, to see how much more of a bump I got. I was able to get things down to a playable 35 fps in 4K at Ultra settings. That’s better, but not by much.
If you prioritize frame rate over resolution, the m17 R5 will easily deliver over 100fps frames in most 1080p games. Even Cyberpunk got around 128 fps (with FSR enabled). The high 120Hz refresh rate on the display means you’ll encounter little to no screen tearing. I’ve played more games at 1080p than 4K due to the dramatically higher frame rates. If you’re playing a shooter like Apex Legends or Fortnite, this is the way to go, making the 4K display a bit redundant most of the time.
Note: All benchmarks were run without using Alienware’s One Button High Performance mode. That didn’t stop me from seeing a handful of games run with it. When you press the F1 key and turn on high-performance mode, the first thing you notice is that the fans start spinning aggressively almost immediately. It’s as if Alienware’s engines are preparing for takeoff.
The reason is that the fans are 100% cranked in this mode. This pretty much lowered the average GPU and CPU temperature, which is what you want in the long run. If you’re hoping that was some magical “better frame rate” button, then no, as I didn’t see any noticeable increase in frame rate in the games tested.
It’s all about the thermals. However, like other Alienware gaming laptops and desktops, it gets noisy when the fans are running at full speed. Make sure you pick up a pair of wireless headphones and you should be fine.
This thing is a desktop replacement for sure. Yes, it’s a laptop, and you could technically play on the go, but chances are you won’t be going for long. I got a miserable 49 minutes of battery life in our gaming battery test. It makes sense; They have a lot of high-end hardware and A 4K panel does a lot – that’s certainly not battery-friendly.
The overpriced Razer Blade 17 performed just as poorly. I wasn’t expecting the battery life to be great, but part of me was hoping we’d get at least an hour.
The Alienware m17 R5 might not be the most powerful gaming laptop ever, but it’s not for lack of effort. Even if the CPU performance lags behind some of its competitors, the m17 R5 makes up for the deficit with impressive gaming results. The 4K display is great for anyone watching movies or working, but you could save a few hundred bucks by downsizing some of the more expensive components and getting yourself a really solid 1080p gaming laptop.