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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  • JarredWalton - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    GE40 has HDD + SSD, so toss that out. Larger screen and other items remain, but really we're talking about a laptop (GE40) that draws around 7.15W in our Light battery test compared to 20.63W (AW17), 18.56W (P157SM), and 20.49W (P177SM). That's a full 10W or more difference for basically a 1-2W screen difference; most of the other items on the motherboard should be in a deep sleep state during the battery life testing, but Clevo and Alienware appear to have been quite lazy in that regard this round.

    To illustrate just how bad it is, let's look at the MSI GT70 Dragon. Dustin tested the initial Dragon and measured 22.34W power draw in our Light test, making that the worst of the GTX 780M notebooks. I received two more Dragon notebooks for testing, and I'll have an article on this shortly, but with an updated BIOS and firmware MSI dramatically improved battery life. The second two laptops achieved power draw of 13.71W (i7-4700MQ) and 14.21W (i7-4930MX) in the exact same Light test. So firmware updates to help power down inactive components on the motherboard and such were able to reduce idle power use by over 30%. The Alienware 17 and Clevo notebooks almost certainly could achieve the same reduction, if Dell and Clevo were to put in the time and effort to properly optimize their BIOS.
    Reply
  • CharonPDX - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have found an apologist for a manufacturer other than Apple, and it's even worse than Apple fanboyism... Reply
  • landsome - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    I don't get it... So the AW17 earns a recommendation, but what are its advantages over a similarly equipped Clevo or MSI? Apparently by your own admission design still leaves a substantial amount to be desired, and in other departments - battery, screen, raw power, perhaps even temps were it not for AW's conservative approach to clocks/heat - the 17 seems no better or slightly worse than a GT70 or a P177SM. Price is another disadvantage. So what makes it the gaming notebook to buy at this time? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    The design leaves something to be desired, but it's still better than the Clevo and MSI offerings. Obviously there's subjective opinion on this matter, but the designs on all of the top gaming notebooks are flawed to varying degrees. I'd probably go with Clevo this round, based more on pricing than on design, with Alienware 17 being second and MSI third. Dustin swaps AW for Clevo, and since he's used the P177SM and AW17, he's entitled to that opinion. Reply
  • MDX - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    Agreed. Alienware's keyboard might have been a step back, but it's light years ahead of the chiclet keyboards found on all other gaming computer. Dell's warranty is (IME) better, as well. Personally, I can't stand matte screens, so that's a mark against it, and I think the styling could have used more metal and been a bit slimmer - especially on the 14.

    I'm in the market for a gaming notebook since my XPS M1730 finally bit the dust, but I'm leaning towards a customized MSI Dragon 2 from XoticPC, because I can get it with a gloss screen there. Just wish I could get a non-chiclet kb on it...damn you apple, and damn everyone that's copied apple and installed chiclet kbs.

    Clevo/sager don't even make it on my radar...sorry, at these price points, I expect my hardware to have some style other than "square/black". Your phone/car/clothes aren't black bricks are they? I don't want my PC to be, either.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - link

    Why do you place the MSI last? Reply
  • Gunbuster - Sunday, September 8, 2013 - link

    "Alienware isn't as flexible as it used to be, and as a result if you want any of the good stuff, you have to shell out for the $2,299 top base model and then upgrade that."

    Dell this is why your sales are down something like 74%. People who buy dell's like to customize. Your "ships quick" BS where the config choice is office, a mouse, and bloated AV is NOT Customization.

    Stop hiding config options. Stop penalizing long time customers.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, September 9, 2013 - link

    Funny, not noticing an awful lot of fanboy screaming about the 780M like there was with the 7970M. It appears to be comparably broken, only it costs more too! Yay! Reply
  • Gunbuster - Monday, September 9, 2013 - link

    You mean the 7970M that had broken Enduro for over a year all while AMD had user forum threads about it deleted so no one would catch on? Reply
  • deeps6x - Monday, September 9, 2013 - link

    The 'bonus performance' you speak of should only exist in overclocking situations. In standard form the 780M should work the same for everyone. They are only binning it for power, so I don't get why they are having problems with drivers on it. The desktop GK104 has been out a long while and doesn't have the same problems.

    OMG, Dell FINALLY figures out that this thing should have had a matte screen all along? Will wonders never cease? Now hopefully they realize they also need to move to 16:10 instead of 16:9.

    Yes, the light up track pad is exclusively for kiddies. How many kiddies have 2 grand plus to blow on an overpriced laptop? Scrap it Dell. Scrap it now.

    No IPS option? What F the?
    Reply

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