Thursday, 3 March 2011

Alienware Review

The M11x certainly has its share of swoopy curves -- if you squint just right, the front end looks almost exactly like a Camaro -- but it's actually boxier overall than you'd expect, with flat sides and hard edges around the rest of the case. We'd almost say the effect is somewhat businesslike, but no one's going to confuse a laptop with this many LED lighting options for a business machine. We just wish Alienware had used the soft-touch matte finish found on top of the keyboard deck all over the machine, rather than glossy black paint; the combination of the finish and the flat surfaces looks a hair cheaper than you'd expect.

Around the sides you'll find a healthy array of ports: VGA, a powered USB port for charging other devices, Ethernet, HDMI, DisplayPort, a card reader and a four-pin FireWire jack line the left side, while the right sports a mic jack, dual heaphone ports, two more USB ports, and a vast expanse of glossy black plastic. Only a power port graces the back, but on the bottom you'll find a fairly large fan, a battery meter, and a little Alienware plaque commemorating your purchase. The M11x is also quite heavy for a smaller machine at 4.5 pounds -- that's as much as, say, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and you can certainly feel its heft when you hold it.

Keyboard, touchpad and screen


No chiclet keyboard here -- instead there's a relatively flat backlit unit with a tweaked layout designed for gaming. We'd be totally remiss if we didn't spend some more time talking about the crazy AlienFX LED lighting effects -- you can set the keyboard backlight, Alienware logo, power button, speakers, and even status indicators to be nearly any color you want, have them fade between two colors, or just blink incessantly. It's totally unnecessary, and incredibly fun -- we spent 30 minutes tricking out our tester in an Elvis-inspired hot pink-and-blue motif before settling into more aggressive red and orange scheme. Sure, it's old news to anyone who's bought a larger Alienware machine, but it's fairly wild to see such a feature in a laptop that starts at $799.

We could have lived without the dedicated menu key and a smaller right Shift if that had meant a larger arrow layout, but overall the keyboard is quite nice, and you can certainly pull off WASD when it's time to game. The trackpad is similarly nice: no mulititouch here, but we've always like textured touchpads, and tracking was nice and accurate. We just wish the buttons were a bit bigger -- we found ourselves clicking dead plastic at the lip of the machine quite often.

We've been harping on crappy displays in cheaper laptops for a while now, but the M11x is the rare low-end machine in a company's lineup that doesn't compromise on the LCD. The 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 LED-backlit display is bright, sharp and has terrific horizontal viewing angles. The vertical viewing angle is a little narrower, but it's easy to find the sweet spot -- kudos to Alienware for using a good panel here instead of trying to lower the price with a substandard display. We just wish it wasn't so, so glossy.

Performance, graphics and battery life

So do the 1.3GHz SU7300 Core 2 Duo and switchable NVIDIA GT335M GPU have the horsepower to make the M11x a credible gaming machine? The numbers tell the story: with the GT335M switched off, the M11x performed like pretty much any other ULV laptop with integrated GMA graphics, notching a PCMarkVantage3 score of 2698, and a 3DMark06 score of just 654. But turning on the GT335M had a pretty dramatic impact, boosting the PCMarkVantage3 score to 3141 and the 3DMark06 score to 5593. That's significantly lower than the "over 6,100" Alienware claims, but real-world, Batman: Arkham Asylum ran at an easy 25-28fps running at native res with a peak of 42fps and Portal went at 130-200fps -- not bad at all. Our man Joe Kelly also found that Crysis running at native res with 2x anti-aliasing cranked out 8fps in Very High, around 15fps in High, and 20-30fps in Medium, and it wasn't playable with 4x AA in Very High. BioShock at maxed settings produced a peak of 120fps, although that fell to 55fps during scenes with water or lots of action. So not too shabby overall, but your face is probably going to remain un-melted.

23 comments:

  1. alienwares look super cool, but since they're more for pc gaming I don't really have much use for them :[

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  2. I haven't really looked at alienware computers ever since the buyout years ago.

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  3. This was an interesting post, im actually looking to buy an alienware laptop :D

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  4. sound sso fucking sick
    captchas

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  5. good post
    but yes i thiink u may have to change your font it's not too easy to read, but keep your posts coming :D

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  6. Great post, bad font!! may need to buy an alienware

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  7. nice blog, following. uh alienware-design looks really great

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  8. I lost. nice blog though! Following :B

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  9. Sounds pretty cool. I had a really crappy vid card, a 7200GS, and my old teacher gave me a 8800GTS and I RMA'd it and got an 8800GTX. Felt good man.

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  10. Nice blog! Followed and Supporting!

    http://ausbargain.blogspot.com/

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  11. May i suggest...
    Your blog is very intresting but extradentially hard to read! Please make the font bigger change the text or size!

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  12. Expensive ass comps from them... followed!
    alphabetalife.blogspot.com

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  13. they make damn sexy laptops. nice blog, following :D

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  14. That's pretty awesome. I kind of want one now.

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  15. AWWW YEA

    COMMENTED CLICKED VIEWD ALL THAT GOOD SHIT ON THIS BLOG BRO!

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  16. Alienware is great, but the pricetag can break the bank.

    Gonna follow to get a healthy, daily tech feed so I don't end up having my computer crap out on a new game.

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