Alienware's new laptops are thinner and more powerful, but maybe not enough

Alienware's new laptops are good, but are they good enough to stand out from the rest of the CES crowd?

Alienware 15 and 17 laptops

Alienware 15 and 17 laptops

Once upon a time, Alienware was the company when it came to gaming laptops. And I mean that quite literally -- nobody else even made gaming laptops, so it was basically Alienware or nothing.

But it's 2015, and Alienware's competitors are innovating all over the place. Razer has the market cornered on slimness, with its Blade and Blade Pro packing decent power into something I'm not ashamed to pull out in public. Origin's highest-end laptops aren't nearly as slim, but I can cut them some slack because they're shoving full desktop processors inside and focusing on performance. Even MSI is innovating by shoving an entire mechanical keyboard inside its latest laptop.

Which brings us back to Alienware.

Stuck in the middle with you

At CES this week, Alienware announced refreshes of its Alienware 15 and 17 laptops, and I should state up front: They're both perfectly alluring game machines. The Alienware 15 and 17 are each packed with performance parts that would make any enthusiast happy.

But it's hard to believe that the same company that's doing things as interesting as the Alienware Alpha and the new Area-51 in desktop design is going with such a boring refresh on the laptop front this year.

So let's talk power, because on that front at least, Alienware is mostly holding its own. The updated Alienware 15 and 17 are heavy haulers, with Intel 5th-gen Core i7 processors and Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M graphics, up to 16GB of 1600MHz RAM, and up to a 512GB SSD and 1TB 5400RPM hard drive. That's nothing to sneer at, certainly, though the full-blown desktop processors in Origin's new EON laptops can bring more muscle to the table by their very nature.

Alienware's major ace in the hole is that you can upgrade the Alienware 15 or 17 to a 4K display, but I wouldn't plan on gaming at those resolutions -- even with this hardware, most 4K-ready games will stutter to a halt at anything but the lowest quality settings. You'd need to purchase Alienware's nifty standalone Graphics Amplifier -- which lets you use a desktop graphics card with your laptop -- to have a real shot at 4K gaming. And Alienware would be more than happy to sell you that Graphics Amplifier (which is actually a pretty cool innovation in its own right).

As for design, the Alienware 15 and 17 look practically identical to last year's models, which impressed us despite their heft. The updated editions are apparently twenty percent thinner than previous iterations, so there's some improvement, but at 1.4 inches thick these are still chunky machines -- though that bulk no doubt helps with heat dispersion from the powerful components inside the laptop.

Alienware is effectively fighting a war on two fronts: "Do we focus on thinness to compete or do we say damn it all and go for head-crushing gaming power?" Instead of making a choice, however, Alienware is trying to appease both crowds.

The result? Gaming laptops that are undeniably still great, yet somewhat inoffensive and unremarkable compared to the competition. On the other hand, Alienware's starting the pricing uncharacteristically low -- $US1200 for a baseline Alienware 15 and $US1500 for a baseline Alienware 17. That's competitive even for standard gaming laptops, and the more innovative Razer Blade and Origin EON15-X laptops are much more expensive in their baseline configurations.

Bottom line: These updated models will no doubt be just as effective gaming machines as their predecessors, but I know Alienware can compete on innovation. Its experiments with Alpha and Area-51 this year confirm that suspicion -- there are some real bright folks at Alienware coming up with some fascinating concepts. Alas, none of that seems apparent in 2015's laptop refresh.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hardware systemsAlienwareCESmsiRazerOriginCES 2015

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Hayden Dingman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

This Holiday Season, protect yourself and your loved ones with the best. Buy now for Holiday Savings!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?