In this article, I give you my Alienware m17 R4 (2021) review with specs included. This is the fourth generation of this 17-inch laptop. It’s a relatively speaking, slim, sort of light, a gaming laptop from Alienware, which is really Dell since they do own the Alienware brand.
This also comes in a 15-inch size like the m15 R4 but here we’re going to look at the bigger chassis.
So, what’s new in this generation? Well, the biggest thing is Nvidia RTX 3060, 3070, and 3080 graphics inside. And, also the fact that they are Max-P versions basically, even though we don’t use Max-P and Max-Q labels anymore.
My RTX 3070 has a 140-watt GPU inside. If you go for that RTX 3080 with 16 GB of VRAM it’s 165-watts. That outdoes even the MSI GE76 Raider 17-inch that I’ve reviewed which had a 155-watt RTX 3080.
The design obviously is the same. It’s the same “Legend” design available in your choice of ‘Lunar light’ or ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ color combo with the so-called ‘Endurance’ clear coat. And that is magnesium alloy for the casing underneath despite the fact it might look to you like plastic.
Before we talk about thermals and other goodness there are a few other things that are new. One of those is there are optional Cherry MX switches.
So, for those who like that kind of mechanical keyboard feel this is like ultra-low travel relatively speaking for a mechanical keyboard. It’s 1.8 millimeters of travel which is pretty long for a laptop. It’s going to sound a little more clicky but for those who like that they’ve just introduced that option.
Also new is the full HD 360 hertz refresh 5 millisecond IPS display which is the one that I have. So, that basically replaces the 300-hertz refresh rate that was available before. Between 15 and 17-inches there are a few display differences. I’ll try to cover those as we talk more about the display later.
Also, let’s talk about the two compelling considerations related to Alienware m17 R4 (2021). Number one, there is a newer CPU generation with a newer model, the Intel 11th gen H-series 45-watt mobile CPUs.
While on the desktop Intel 11th gen was not really much of an improvement, pretty much architecturally very similar to the 10th gen, still 14 nanometers, we do see the drop down to 10 nanometers for Intel 11th gen H-Series 45-watt eight-core and six-cores CPUs that are available with a newer Alienware.
But, I don’t think the 11th gen model is such a big leap forward in performance over 10th gen models. It could help with thermals mostly but not so much with performance. Perhaps it has better battery life.
But there’s the other compelling consideration. Even more power-efficient are Ryzen CPUs with a seven-nanometer process or lower. But, I don’t think that is a noticeable CPU difference for gamers. Most games today really depend more on the GPU than the CPU so you want the max wattage which still makes Alienware m17 R4 (2021) attractive.
Let’s see the display options on this one. You have the new 360 hertz and that has G-sync. And by the way, this will always get confusing a little bit with Alienware, some display options may be available only with some color chassis.
The rest of the options are what we saw in 2020. By the way, all these full HD displays are 300 nits. There’s a 144 hertz full HD display. That one’s seven millisecond response time.
That one’s the one that’s attractive for those who actually care about battery life. Probably more for those of you looking at the m15, which is more portable than the m17. It’s because that one has Optimus so you can switch. You can use Fn+f7 and you can switch between dedicated or integrated graphics.
If you get a 360hz display you’ve got G-sync and you got dedicated graphics only.
Also, there is a 4K UHD wide-gamut display option and that one is 500 nits and 25 millisecond response time at only 60 hertz. So, clearly geared toward content creators. It’s a nice-enough-looking display. The 15-inch uses an OLED but not the 17-inch though.
I actually prefer the 17 inches a little bit better because I don’t think that the OLED display is that attractive on the 15-inch. It looks a little old-gen, a little bit yellow, too glossy, and too shiny to me.
But anyway, that 4K UHD is not so geared towards gamers and it’s a little bit of a disappointment because Razer has been offering 4K displays with a 120-hertz refresh rate for a while.
So, for those who would care about a bit higher frame rates over 60 well that’s not an option with 4K UHD but for content creators, the 4K is still there for you.
The display on my laptop is pretty good with backlight bleed but the bottom right corner has something like an IPS glow. That corner is a little bit lighter than the rest.
Let’s look at the display metrics of my display. They are pretty good. The contrast on this is over a thousand to one. It has full sRGB coverage. In fact, it has 83 or so of P3. So, it’s not that far-off color gamut-wise from Asus’s lovely Rogue Zephyrus G15 display which is a pretty wide gamut display.
And the response times on this are obviously quite good. The G-sync, for those who love G-sync, well you’re not going to see any tearing here. It’s very nice.
And maybe you wonder if you need a 360-hertz display. Well, it’s up to you but for me, this is worth it. Even if this laptop could maybe drive CSGO at exceedingly high frame rates or something like Apex, where you can get into the mid-100s easily, it also offers more multipliers for better syncing of the GPU to the display. So, there are other things that add to the experience other than just frame rates.
Experientially to me, it does look a little bit better than the year 2020 300 hertz option, just a little bit crispier. Metrics wise doesn’t look that different. I don’t know why it is but each generation hopefully does get better. All right, enough about the display.
Keyboard other than the new cherry mx mechanical option is the same as last generation. And I still find it a very nice tactile and comfortable keyboard with very bright RGB backlighting. You have your option of getting zoned backlit or perky ours is perky.
In fact, ours is a best buy model with the eight-core i7 CPU the rtx 3070 and the per key RGB lighting and the 360-hertz display. So this one is a retail model. Usually, dell sends us review units that loans us those units so we can review them. So this one has not been cherry picked for thermals which will be important we do get the thermals.
Track pad on this is glass and it is quite good it’s a Microsoft precision trackpad. The speakers on it same as last generation. It does have four two watt speakers but lacking in base definitely. And compared to msi ge76 raider that we reviewed which has two those being subwoofers oh or woofers that sounds better folks.
So thank goodness for headphones and this does have a single headphone jack not separate mic and headphone jacks like the area 51m has. It’s a 17-inch laptop even if it is thin and fairly light at six and a half pounds you know.
Anyway, you’ve got your ethernet onboard three usb a ports thunderbolt three the Alienware graphics amplifier that’s of no use to anybody anymore. This mini DisplayPort 1.4 and yay hdmi 2.2. So for those who have those fancy 4k OLED 120hz displays you can actually connect that up again. The negatives with this design to keep it so thin and light.
Ram is soldered on here still. 16 or 32 gigs of ddr4 293 megahertz ram. That’s your two options dual channel. And you’ve got at least several m.2 SSD slots. You’ve got two full-size ones and in fact, you can order with raid 0 if you want and then there’s a half height slot in there. So storage expandability is good.
The wi-fi card is a killer wi-fi 6 card and it’s actually an intel card and that is soldered down too. So boo on that because we like to see upgradeable laptops but then this is how they’re making it so thin and light. You know the story with this until they change the design if they ever do like they do with the ryzen edition. We’ll see.
We still have a vapor chamber and cooling for the CPU inside and we still have the inverted motherboard. So if you wish to replace it you’re going to take the motherboard completely out. Even MSI got a got rid of that with their stealth series so i really would like to see Alienware find a way around that. We’ll see we’ll see.
Maybe with intel’s more power-efficient cpus, they won’t need as much space for cooling they might be able to do that yeah. All right let’s talk about cooling and performance because that is probably why you are here. It’s better than i expected. Okay for generations now i have moaned about anywhere laptops.
The thin ones not the area 51m particularly the r2 which is a 10 pounder with a thick chassis and lots of room for cooling. But the 15 and the 17 have just run hot and loud. And each generation it gets a little bit better. And finally with the fourth generation ranch this will probably be the last with this design and they’ll change it over and who knows will happen next.
But this thing actually runs decently in terms of thermals and fan noise. So this one I found that even playing triple a demanding titles like cyberpunk 2077 I could leave the fans on balance mode without seeing the CPU temperatures get astronomical which is nice. Instead of putting it on high performance for cooling which guarantees that it’s going to go and roar.
On balance mode it ramps up nicely. If you put in high-performance mode basically the fans are just pegged at a fairly high level which is stupid because you don’t want to do that when you’re web browsing right anyway. Balance mode does the trick here. Again this is just a retail sample from a best buy store so not cherry picked by dell or something like that.
And I was actually shocked at how good the thermals were on this. Playing a game like cyberpunk which gets the GPU pretty darn hot and creates heat pollution because you have shared heatsinks here. Cpu temperatures in the 70s to mid-80s sometimes. GPU temperature is around 77 celsius. So that’s that’s that’s quite good and that’s without under vaulting or anything.
Our sample did undervolt pretty well i use throttle stop on this. And by the way Alienware does not block you from under volting yay that. So i went to a 100 millivolt undervolt on this or 0.1 really on the core and cache and it dropped temperatures down some but i didn’t feel an urge to run an undervolt it’s so delightful. Now if you go at the 15 inch one smaller chassis hotter noisier.
So don’t generalize too much but I expect to see somewhat better cooling for the fourth generation in the 15 inch. The ones that we have visually to show you is the r3 so that’s the last gen. Fan noise is pretty similar to last year and the fans have the same sonic quality shall we say. A bit high pitch it’s a thin chassis so some might find that annoying i know sometimes i do.
It’s not speechy and horrible but you know what I mean. It’s not the low wish of air for a big old desktop replacement kind of thing. The improvement is that you don’t hear them cranked up as high as often and you don’t have to run it on max fans all the time. And we tested a variety of games you see the footage that’s running across here all sorts of different games but all of them pretty demanding.
So good stuff. In terms of performance, we have the eight-core i7 that’s the 108 70h. And you can also get it with the core i9 hk processor also eight cores. I advise against that just because thermally speaking you’re already somewhat constrained here. Why mess with a good thing. The i7 performs pretty well and doesn’t thermal throttle at least ours hasn’t.
So with the i9, you might be looking at throttling and then your squares won’t be that much better will they or your frame rates and games. When it comes to the GPU the 3080 with 16 gigs of VRAM and 165 max watts must be a delight. But the 3070 is considerably cheaper and is pretty darn good. As you can see from the frame rates that we got in games.
I mean I’m not feeling like I’m wanting something. In terms of performance of this laptop compared to the Alienware area 51mr2. And this one actually gets 5 to 10 frames better in GPU intensive games like cyberpunk 2077. If you’re playing something like far cry 5 it’s not going to matter as much because that one really hits the CPU more than the GPU.
The alienware area 51m has a desktop cpu. And the one that we have for comparison and tests is the 10 700 8k overclockable processor there so. In most cases actually this one is going to win because of the better gpu the 3000 series. Maybe when the area 51m hard 3 comes out well that’ll be interesting then. In terms of heat that you feel from the chassis yes it does get hot.
Now when I test laptops I either have them on a stoneware counter or i have them on this passive laptop cooler. There are no fans on this thing but just to give it a little elevation and to raise it up. So not helping it out too much. But the bottom will get hot the area above the keyboard that strip, where you’re not going to touch when you’re gaming, will get quite hot to the touch.
Even if the core temperatures are perfectly acceptable like 75 centigrade or something like that. So a thin laptop toasty to the touch yes it is. Now because of the shortage of GPUs and for some of the laptops ryzen cpus there’s not a lot to compare this to. That’s readily available on the market. The MSI g76 raider is somewhat available and is another fairly large 17-inch laptop but it is thicker.
The thicker does help with thermals. Though to be honest in my tests and in playing games I didn’t I was really shocked about this I didn’t see the CPU running that much cooler. However, I did replace the MSI and that did bring temps down whereas repasting this alien where it would be more of a pain in the neck. Obviously, the MSI has two ram slots and a socketed wi-fi card so that’s a plus there. Msi does not have g-sync for the display for those of you who are a fan of it, however.
I like the keyboard better on the Alienware and the backlighting is a little bit brighter and i like the touchpad a bit better too. There’s going to be some give and take for each they’re both very high-performance laptops. It’s going to depend somewhat on your preferred aesthetic and brand between those two more than anything else to be honest.
Those are two of the most high performing laptops on the market. When it comes to ryzen-based laptops like the Asus rogue Strix 17 the problem is you just can’t get one right. I mean now if you order one they say maybe you’ll get it in June. Obviously, ryzen has great advantages in terms of better battery life and better thermals it doesn’t run as hot.
Especially if the cooling solution is pretty decent on it. We did review the asus rogue zephyrus g15 which is a surprisingly thin and light inch version and that one can get toasty because you don’t have much room for cooling there. But still that one was a delight but we haven’t gotten a strix 17 in for review.
Districts however does not have a mux switch so you’re going to be running on switchable graphics at all times. It does have ram slots which is nice though. Choices again. The Alienware at least you can buy on dell’s website. You might have to wait a couple of weeks for it to get to you and best buy is actually stocking them now in the united states.
So availability-wise I think dell may have a little bit of an advantage there versus the ryzen ones. Until their own rise in laptop ships. Okay, how about battery life. This is totally going to vary depending on which display you get. If you get the one that has switchable graphics obviously your battery life is going to be best. If you get our 360-hertz display that’s running the d GPU all the time good luck.
Battery life is like two hours that’s what it is. This is for somebody who doesn’t need long battery life but wants the ultimate in performance for the display. If you get the 4k display 4k display is just to use more power. So that will again become an issue even though it’s not a high refresh display. Same as the last generation 86 watt-hour battery.
You’re going to get either a 240-watt or a 330-watt charger depending on which CPU and GPU you pick. Our i7 with the 3070 comes with the 240-watt power adapter which is pretty weighty. The 330 watt is something you do not want to drop on your foot. Something to count when you’re carrying this thing around. Opening this up is just like the last generation.
Unscrew the visible Phillips head screws. This one’s a captive screw so i’ll help raise that corner a bit and then you just lift it up and pull it a little bit forward because there’s little tabs that go underneath. Well the fan butt the fan cover whatever you want to call it which you do not have to remove unless you wish to do further disassembly.
And as you can hear that is a metal cover i know some people think they’re plastic given the finish but metal it is. And here are our internals. Two large fans right here so they are accessible at least if you wish to clean them out. Our boot m.2 nvme SSD under a copper heatsink supplied at the factory. Here’s our second full-sized slot. So again you can get this in a raid 0 configuration if you want.
And here’s the little 2230 half-height slot. Typically you can find drives up to about 512 gig capacity if you really want to go there. The speaker drivers are visible right over here. The bottom-firing ones again has four total. Heat radiators out the rear and out the side air intake from the bottom. 86 watt-hour battery right here.
By the way if you do take off this cover for any reason be mindful that this little cable here there’s a tron lighting cable for the rear lighting that you do not want to rip off. Disconnect it from the motherboard if you need to do that. So no ram slots because ram is soldered on board boo that and the wi-fi card is soldered on board there too. So don’t expect to see anything exciting here other than the cute little alienware head logo.
So that’s the Alienware m17 r4. Obviously, a distinctive style with this machine. And you know it feels like a quality piece. I got to say generally speaking the build quality on this is pretty good. I know some people have problems with quality control with different brands of laptops including this but this is one solid machine. The performance and the cooling on this really impressed me.
Well not the performance i mean because i expect it a lot that’s something alienware delivers but usually at the price of letting the cpu run unchecked to thermal maximum stuff. And the thermals on this were actually pretty darn good. I like the new 360hz display it might be overkill for most people but it sure is nice looking. And again it gives you more multipliers for syncing the display to the gpu more smoothly. And for you content creators there is that 4k display option which is very pretty even if it’s not high refresh for gaming too.
Alienware m17 R4 (2021)