One thing I love about Alienware is the company's unrelenting confidence in its new products. Whether that's boasting about a desktop being a "Benchmark Bruiser" or releasing one of the slickest OLED gaming monitors to date. So, when I get offered the chance to check out the new Alienware m17 R5 it has dubbed "the most powerful 17-inch AMD Advantage gaming laptop," how can I pass that up?
And does it live up to the hype? Eh, yes and no.
Powering the Alienware m17 R5 is an AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX and Radeon RX 6850M XT combo that, on paper, seems like a slam dunk for Team Red. It's also the first gaming laptop we've tested with an RX 6850M XT, and so I was stoked to see how it stacked up against laptops with an RTX 3070 Ti and even RTX 3080 Ti mobile GPUs.
Alienware also sent over an especially suped-up config of the Alienware m17 R5. It comes with a 4K panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. It has 32GB of DDR5 RAM and 1TB NVMe SSD. How much does this thing cost? You're looking at around $2,800.
Expect to pay more if you decide to go even bigger by maxing out the memory and storage with 64GB RAM and a 4TB SSD, though that seems like overkill, but who am I to judge? Much like Alienware's Intel-centric laptops, you've got tons of options to pick from. The lowest amount you'll pay for the AMD configuration starts at $1,911. This includes cheaper display options of 1080p at 165Hz or 360Hz.
If you're feeling frisky, Alienware even has a 1080p display at a ridiculous 480Hz which is $300 more expensive than the 4K 120Hz I'm reviewing here. Though I haven't personally seen 480Hz screens in action, so I couldn't tell you if it's worth it.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX
Memory: 32GB (2x 16GB) Dual-Channel DDR5-4800
Graphics: AMD Radeon RX 6850M
Storage: 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
Display: 17.3-inch UHD (3850 x 2160) 120Hz
Warranty: 1 year parts/ Lifetime Labor
The surprisingly bright 500cd/m² 4K display got a lot of use for streaming video. I appreciate seeing the detailed stress lines on Guenther Steiner's face in the last season of F1: Drive to Survive in 4K on Netflix. Games look pretty good, though this display is better served for professionals and creatives. So if you don't fall into that category, you may be better off sticking with the 1080p display at 240Hz to save money and add time to your much-needed battery life.
This laptop also takes advantage of AMD's suite of game-boosting technologies, such as 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're using. The good thing about these features is that they just work without you messing with them. All nice features, especially if you are bouncing between gaming and, let's say, video editing and trying to eke out extra horsepower.
That's the 'AMD Advantage,' a featureset that stems 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 underperforms against the similarly priced Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 and MSI GS66 Stealth (2022) which both have an Intel Core i9 12900H under the hood. That's where the Ryzen's eight-core, 16-thread design falls being the Alder Lake core layout, where its 14 cores and 20 threads push it out in front.
The Alienware also falls behind the Core i7 12800H found in the Razer Blade 17 we reviewed a while back, again that's a 14-core, 20-thread Intel chip. The Razer Blade 17 is an absolute beast of a machine... and very expensive ($4000), even by premium laptop standards. But still, if you want serious performance, it's clear that the new Alienware isn't the pinnacle.
Thankfully, on the GPU side of things, the Alienware m17 R5 AMD Advantage model excelled at nearly all our gaming benchmarks at 1080p on mostly maxed-out settings. It hit triple-digit framerates in nearly all the games I 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, there's nothing going on inside this new mobile GPU to actually change that.
Since the display is 4K, it would be rude not to check out some games in ultra high def. The Radeon RX 6850M XT performed admirably at 4K, often edging a victory against the MSI GS66 (another powerful 4K laptop we reviewed recently). Except when ray-tracing was involved, that is. In those cases, the GS66's RTX 3070 Ti ran away with it. The frame rate at 4K was alright, but still really nothing that will set the world on fire.
For example, running Cyberpunk 2077 with any ray tracing effects on had the Alienware often slowing things down to a crawl hitting frame rates as low as 17 fps with the graphics settings set to Ultra. With RT turned off, the game ran at a sluggish 22 fps in 4K. 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 could get things to a playable 35 fps in 4K at Ultra settings. This is better, but not by much.
If you value frame rate over resolution, the m17 R5 easily delivers over 100 fps frames on most games at 1080p. Even Cyberpunk was hitting around 128 fps (with FSR turned on). The high 120Hz refresh rate on the display means you'll run into little to no screen tearing. I played more games at 1080p than 4K because of the drastically higher frame rates. If you're playing a shooter like Apex Legends or Fortnite, then that's the way to go, which does make the 4K display a bit redundant much of the time.
As a note, all the benchmarks were run without using Alienware's one-button high-performance mode. That didn't stop me from seeing how a handful of games ran with it on. When you hit the F1 key, turning on high-performance mode, you first notice that the fans almost immediately start aggressively spinning. It is as if Alienware's engines are prepping for take-off.
The reason is that the fans are cranked to 100% in this mode. This brought the average GPU, and CPU temps down quite a bit, which is what you want in the long term. If you're hoping this was a magical "better frame rate" button, it's not since I didn't see any perceptible increase in frame rates in the games it tried out.
It's all about the thermals. Though, as with other Alienware gaming laptops and desktops, it gets loud when the fans run at full blast. Make sure to pick up a pair of wireless headphones, and you should be ok.
This thing is, for sure, a desktop replacement. Yes, it is a laptop, and you could technically game on the go, but chances are you won't go for long. I got an abysmal 49 minutes of battery life on our gaming battery test. It makes sense; you've got a lot of high-end hardware and a 4K panel doing a lot—that is certainly not battery friendly.
The uber-expensive Razer Blade 17 did just as poorly. I expected the battery life not to be great, but a part of me was hoping we'd at least make it to an hour.
The Alienware m17 R5 might not be the most powerful gaming laptop ever, but it isn't through lack of trying. Even with the CPU performance lagging behind some of its rivals, the m17 R5 makes up the deficit with impressive gaming results. The 4K display is great for anyone watching movies or working, but you could save a few hundred dollars by scaling down some of the more expensive components and score yourself a really solid 1080p gaming laptop.