For all the variation in the synthetic benchmarks, the Alienware 17 was more consistent in actual gaming benchmarks after flashing the BIOS. Oh, yes, you'll need to flash the BIOS to at least version A04; initial testing was done with the BIOS at A01, and while synthetics didn't seem to mind it too much, the original BIOS played hell with real world gaming benchmarks.

Bioshock Infinite - Mainstream

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim - Mainstream

GRID 2 - Mainstream

Metro: Last Light - Mainstream

Sleeping Dogs - Mainstream

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm - Mainstream

At our mainstream settings we're seeing substantial variation in system performance between systems equipped with the 780M. This is a combination of factors, some which are Haswell, but others I'll explain in a moment.

Bioshock Infinite - Enthusiast

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim - Enthusiast

GRID 2 - Enthusiast

Metro: Last Light - Enthusiast

Sleeping Dogs - Enthusiast

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm - Enthusiast

Tomb Raider - Enthusiast

Unfortunately, our enthusiast benchmarks were initially pretty damning for the Alienware 17, or at least this review unit. Despite running with the most current drivers, the Alienware 17 just didn't seem to have as much headroom for boost on the 780M as the other systems. I'd run and rerun benches and done sanity checks; the 780M here just wasn't running as well as it did in the Clevo units.

Trying to determine what was going on, I ran GPU-Z in the background and re-ran the Tomb Raider benchmark since that seems to be the biggest problem child in the group. When testing the MSI GT70 Dragon I was used to seeing sustained boost speeds above 900MHz on the 780M. What I found was alarming: with the default BIOS, the Alienware 17 was needlessly throttling the 780M during Tomb Raider's benchmark and probably others. Despite the GPU never running hotter than 67C, the Alienware 17 was knocking the GPU speed down to just over 600MHz. So of course the system was quiet, it wasn't even allowing the GPU to really be stressed.

Updating to the A04 BIOS substantially alleviated the Alienware 17's performance woes. Boost clocks hovered around 850MHz instead, which is still lower than what I saw on other vendors' systems but at least manageable. There was theoretically thermal headroom on the table; the system's fan profile is designed to keep the 780M at about 75C, which is incidentally the cut off point for the boost clocks. Go over that temperature like Metro: Last Light did, though, and the GPU starts to throttle down to 666MHz. Owners of the Alienware M17x R3 will immediately recognize this type of behavior; Dell and Alienware are extremely aggressive with their thermal thresholds and they're willing to sacrifice a little performance to get them. I feel like a more reasonable target would've been 80C instead of 75C.

System and Futuremark Performance Display Quality and Battery Life
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  • arthur449 - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Based on these comments, I feel it would be a good idea for AnandTech write an article describing the current state of notebook gaming PCs.

    Is performance closer than it has been in the past to desktop parts? Price?

    Apart from Optimus and Enduro, are there any recent software or hardware trends that may change this in the future?
    Reply
  • inighthawki - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    Thanks so much! Reply
  • Pneumothorax - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Anyone else underwhelmed by Haswell with the exception of ULT version? Sad thing is we're stuck with this generation till 2015.... Reply
  • andykins - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Only the ULV SKUs, or 40 EU graphic SKUs (with or without Crystallwell) are any improvement over last gen. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Power/battery life is almost universally better on laptops, as long as we're not looking at full blown gaming laptops like the Alienware 17, Clevos, etc. The MSI GE40 for instance posts some pretty awesome battery life results. Reply
  • warezme - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    I would label it disappointing. The redesign looks like a compromise in quality over the previous generation in an attempt to increase profits. The screen a TN panel, while matte is good, the lack of glass insert that went over the entire surface was classier even if more reflective. The missing control panel on top, also a cut in cost by eliminating extra buttons and and an extra controller, the integrated battery slot, etc. It looks cheaper without the benefit of a lower price. Reply
  • ilkhan - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Any chance of a GTX770M notebook review? This is the 3rd or 4th GTX780M review but nothing down-market. Reply
  • Relaxe - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    M. Sklavos,

    I have an Alienware M17xR3 since early 2012. At first, I had some troubles with games being "choppy"... investigations made it clear that the GPU and CPU hit the thermal derating ceiling very fast....
    Please, consider integrating OCCT from OCBase in your testings. This test demonstrated very clearly how thermally limited my Alienware was.
    After this, I repasted the GPU and CPU with a cheap but well revied thermal paste... and now I do not hit the thermal limits at all (even at full load).
    I am still baffled by Dell putting such a low-grade paste in such a premium product...
    Maybe this has something to do with the inconsistent result you had.
    Also, It would be nice to have a thermal picture of the bottom of the laptop under load.
    Reply
  • Khenglish - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    I wish clevo and AW would pay more attention to battery life. With optimus there is really no reason for a gaming laptop to have significantly worse battery life than GPUless laptops. The MSI GE40 with just a 65Wh AND a dGPU is incredible compared to clevo/AW. Reply
  • landsome - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    No reason except for significantly larger screen, larger and often better equipped mobo, sometimes dual hdd's of which one mechanical, typically a bit more power-hungry CPU, more mem, an optical as well - these things end adding up. Reply

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