Alienware 17 Quirks and Tweaks

In the past ten years, I’ve used now five different laptops. The first one I did not own, but was provided by my employer so I could work from home as needed. When I retired, I was by then used to having two computers in the house (using the work laptop) and missed having it so, I bought my first laptop. Ever since having two computers in the house has been the norm.

One advantage of having and using several different laptops is realizing each one has unique features. Most prominent is the keyboard layout. I’ve not done any research to discover why each manufacturer seems to believe they have a better idea for keyboard layout, but I suspect it has to do with functions and efficiency.

The central portion of every keyboard I’ve owned has been largely the same with QWERTY layout and standard function keys. Some have included the 10-key number pad on the right side (if the screen size permits a wider keyboard) and others did not.

Where they have differed has been in placement of special keys such as ‘Home’, ‘End’, and ‘Delete’ and the size of certain keys, especially the ‘Backspace’ key. Also, the gaming computers have extra macro keys. For example, my Alienware 17 has a column of macro keys on the far left of the standard keyboard keys as well as a short row of four keys above the number pad. So far, I have not programmed any macro keys or used any of them, but some day might explore what value they may have in my uses of the computer.

I am finally getting use to the specific layout of this keyboard, but it will always be a work in progress because the desktop has just a standard keyboard and that means I often need to look at the keyboard for certain functions.

As with all new computers, special software comes standard with the hardware. I immediately uninstall all the apps I know I will never use to free up some space on the operating system hard drive. Some apps, however, are very useful.

One of the special software packages that comes with Alienware computers is the Alienware Command Center. It was exploring this app where I learned how to customize one of the cool features of gaming computers – the back lighting of the keyboard, as well as side and cover lighting. It took me a while to learn just how to make changes and create new lighting themes, but I now have my preferences set as the default. One aspect of the lighting I have not yet figured out is why sometimes when gaming the back lighting will randomly change color or go dark. Still some trouble-shooting to do on that issue.

It has taken some adjustment, but I am gradually settling in to enjoying this laptop as much as any other I’ve owned.

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Alienware 17 R5

Once it was clear the Asus was not going to be salvageable, I started doing research on what I was going to buy to replace it.

I briefly considered a gaming desktop that would be high-end, probably a custom build on one of the build-your-own sites. Before long I realized that was not the best option at this time, because if I want to continue gaming with grand kids at their homes or otherwise while traveling, a laptop was the only option. It will be a few years yet before they are old enough to not be living at home – either at college or on their own – so laptop was the choice.

I did quite a bit of searching online for various options, first setting my sights on a less high-end machine in hopes of saving money while still having adequate power to run the games we play. That approach did not last long as it soon became obvious that the minimum specs I was willing to live with (such as 16 Gig RAM) meant a gaming computer was the only viable option.

After some more searching, I finally settled on the Alienware 17 R5. For the most part I am happy with it.

I ordered it online direct from Dell, and decided to pay the extra fee to expedite delivery (because by this time we had been operating with one computer in the household for a couple of weeks). My credit card service promptly decided it was an unusual expense and put a hold on it until I approved it, which I did within minutes of notification. Unfortunately, they would not try again to run the expenditure through until the next day, so I communicated with Dell and asked them to try it again immediately. It went through, but the delay ended up delaying the shipping a day. Following the shipping tracking was fascinating. The origin, apparently where the Dell factory or distribution center is located, was Kunshan, China. The next destination was Shanghai, China then Anchorage, Alaska. From there it went to Louisville, Kentucky where it went through customs. Although it only took a couple of minutes to clear customs (according to the UPS tracking report), it was a couple of days before it was reported as picked up and shipped from there, but it did arrive on the last day of the window of time promised when I paid the extra fee.

I was eager to get it set up when it arrived, but had decided when it was in transit that I was going to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro so I would have that on both computers. During the setup process I did the upgrade. Upon installation all went reasonably well, but I did find several updates of Windows and components, including drivers were required.

Only a couple of features have been a bit disappointing, though not enough to be a serious problem. First, the Alienware 17 R5 has only two USB ports! I was used to having four, so that was an adjustment, although most of the time I only use two – one for the mouse, the other for a portable backup drive that I connect and disconnect as needed. Second, I was somewhat surprised that the computer runs hot, especially while gaming. The Asus had such good internal cooling fans, small rubber legs keeping under the laptop open, and vents in the chassis, that it was not a problem. The Alienware runs much hotter and it sits flush with the board I use under it, so I quickly realized it would be wise to buy and use a cooling pad. I found one with four cooling fans, light weight, and otherwise quite functional. It was advertised as having two extra USB ports on it, but I discovered while setting it all up that one of those has to be used to power the cooling pad (plugged into one of the computer USB ports). So, I have no more ports than I had before. Minor inconvenience for the good cooling it provides, though.

I’ll share about the learning curve of using this new gaming computer in the next post.