Alienware M17x Laptop Review

7/30/2009 at 9:09 AM

Alienware’s latest gaming laptop has been dubbed the most powerful gaming laptop in the universe. Quite the bold claim in the competitive performance laptop market. If there’s one thing that’s certain, you’ll at least feel powerful sitting in front of its massive 17 inch screen, 12 pound aluminum body and glowing lighting effects.

The M17x is a desktop replacement, but what exactly does that mean? The idea behind a desktop replacement laptop is to give consumers the power, and expandability of a desktop PC in the convenience of a portable laptop body. The M17x has 4 USB ports, an external SATA port, two 2.5” Drive bays, and your standard gigabit Ethernet port with Wireless N card. But those are the boring features – lets talk about the guts that make this cheetah purrr.

Our laptop was configured with an Intel Core 2 Duo 9600 running at 2.8Ghz with 4 GB of DDR3 RAM. We have two GeForce 260M video cards running in SLI mode with 1GB dedicated video RAM each. There’s also a GeForce 9400 video card which can be used to conserve battery power.  Finally we’re topped off our configuration with a slot loading Blu-Ray drive.  All of that is displayed on a gorgeous 1920x1200 WUXGA screen with edge to edge glass.  

If you’ve ever bought an Apple product, you know that there’s great care that goes into the packages and presentation. Alienware is similar – you’re new best friend will arrive in a big black box, marked only with an Intel logo. Inside you’ll find a giant blue Alien head, with all your goods laid out for you. The PC’s instruction manual comes leather-bound and fully detailed – there’s even a nice touch with spots for your reinstall and driver discs in the back.

The system’s aluminum black chassis is absolutely gorgeous, and LCD screen pushes out some impressive visuals. Colors are rich and deep, and details jump out on the screen.  There is a bit of glare with the gloss, but it's not too bad when displaying bright content.  There's a touch panel row of buttons that allow you to control functions like lighting, volume, and other quick settings which you can define. The keyboard feels really solid with a nice soft click to the keys, and the backlit letters and effects really set the system apart from the other laptops out there.

Speaking of the lighting system, the Alienware Command Center can be used to customize the lighting in eight zones on the laptop. That’s three keyboard zones, the touch pad, the function keys, the speakers, the Alienware text and the Alienware head on the front and back of the system. There’s about a dozen different colors to choose from, and each one can be chosen individually. Of course you also have the option to turn them off if bling isn't your thing.

Booting up the system yields a very clean install of Windows Vista without the extra stuff you traditionally see from OEMs.  Alienware even leaves you with a PDF with your exact system specs as well as the results from the burn in tests done at the factory. The laptop also comes with Alienware's facial sense software which allows you to log in by simply looking at the web cam. The first few times you use this feature it'll require your password until it "learns" your face, but soon all that's required is to sit in front of it. It seems to work well enough when there's enough light, and it's a nifty little feature for sure.

Out of the box we ran 3D Mark Vantage 1.01. The tests yielded a score of 10951 - which from what we here is actually kind of low.  But that's just synthetic benchmarks, what we really care about is playing those co-op games.

So enough about the specs and lights, lets take a look at some of the benchmarks we ran in the latest PC co-op titles.

 

 Call of Duty: World at War supports co-op play through the game's campaign as well as in the four player Zombie mode.  We played through the newest Zombie Map - Shi No Numa - running the latest patch of the game - Version 1.5.

We cranked all settings to the max and ran it at 1920x1200.  The entire experience was silky smooth and gorgeous.  There was no hiccups at all, even when the zombie action got hectic.  The above graph represents our play from level 1 to level 11 of the mode.

 

Sacred 2: Fallen Angel on the PC was a solid title that we enjoyed in its four player co-op mode earlier this year.  We ran through the opening sequence of Sacred 2 with a newly created Guardian character while having FRAPs tell us the frame rates.

We ran the game at 1920x1200 resolution with all settings on high.  The game was very playable with little no slowdowns other than some loading hiccups.  Sacred 2 truly is one of the prettiest games out there, and the M17x really helped that show.

 

 Everybody loves the gritty co-op action of Dawn of War 2 and it's campaign following a band of space marines.  But it's always been a bit of a system hog to run it with all the bells and whistles - thankfully the M17x stepped up to the plate.

We used the game's internal benchmark to get our stats.  Running at 1920x1200 resolution with all settings on High and AA Enabled the benchmark ran along fairly well with a few hiccups.  In our actual play testing though the game was almost as smooth as butter and looked really good to boot.  Cutting Orks apart with chainsaws never looked so pretty.

 

Left 4 Dead's four player co-op action has taken gamers by storm, and the PC version may have been the biggest and most popular version thanks to the modability of it.  We created a time demo based on the No Mercy standoff mission on the rooftop of the hospital.  

The game was set at 1920x1200 resolution with 4xAA, Trilinear filtering, Very high shaders, high effects and high model/texture detail.  The result?  A silky smooth zombie slaughter fest.

 

 Trine's three player co-op mode impressed us, though we would have liked to see some online loving.  That being said the game's art direction sets this physics based platformer apart from the rest.  We used FRAPs to record a playthrough the Fangle Forrest level and got our above numbers.

The game was run at 1920x1200 with all settings enabled.  The game was completely playable with almost no hiccups - even when the physics got crazy!

The Alienware M17x is most capable of competing with a high end desktop PCs. And while PC hardware seems to move at a really fast pace, you won’t necessarily be left behind as there’s room to expand or upgrade certain components like the processor and video cards. The overall construction makes it easy to access your components as they sit underneath two screws and a small cage at the bottom of the laptop.

So now comes the time in our review where we reveal the shocker. The thing where most people seem to balk at. The price. As configured our system ran $2599 plus taxes and shipping.  It’s definitely one of the most expensive 17” laptops out there.  It isn't hard though to find a few discounts and promotions to knock a few hundred dollars off the price.  

The overall quality of the system is top notch, and as the age old adage goes – you get what you pay for. The system is the perfect addition for someone who wants a machine they can take with them to a friends house for LAN-ing, and doesn't want to sacrifice performance.

 

Pros:

Solid construction Easily upgradable for a laptop Great performance Very customizable and unique looking Very clean install of Windows Vista OOTB

Cons:

Expensive Touch pad is a bit clicky Huge in size makes finding a bag difficult