Notebook manufacturers will often promote their high-end models as being capable of playing the latest 3D games, but as soon as you whack up the detail and resolution settings they usually buckle under the pressure. The M17x from Alienware, however, is totally justified in calling itself a gaming notebook. In fact, as you’ll soon find out, it’s powerful enough to make most desktop PCs look utterly worthless.
Before we take a closer look at the M17x, it’s probably best we give a brief overview as to why it’s so darned expensive. As you might expect, it’s the processor and graphics combo that’s the main culprit. With the M17x, you get a lightning-fast Core 2 Extreme QX9300 and not one, but two Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M graphics cards.
The Core 2 Extreme QX9300 is, at the time of writing, the fastest mobile processor available. With a clock speed of 2.53GHz and a 1,066MHz front-side bus, this quad-core CPU has no less than 12MB of L2 cache at its disposal.
Meanwhile, the GeForce GTX 280 graphics card packs 128 processor cores and 1GB of dedicated RAM; don’t forget this Alienware laptop houses two of these cards. Naturally, Alienware also slips in 4GB of system RAM.
The end result? A laptop that’s insanely fast. In 3Dmark06, we recorded a score of 13,557 at a resolution of 1,280 x 1024, which means it will handle just about anything you can throw at it. Of more interest, though, is how it copes at the 17-inch screen’s 1920 x 1200 native resolution. With most laptops, and indeed desktops, benchmark scores start tumbling as you push the resolution up, but the M17x barely flinched and produced an astounding score of 13,125.
Benchmarks are all good and well, but real-world performance is just as important. Far Cry 2 is one of the most punishing 3D titles currently available, so we loaded up a copy on the M17x. As expected, even when run at its native resolution, the M17x managed this first-person shooter with aplomb. With anti-aliasing set to 8x, it peaked at 104fps and recorded an overall average frame rate of 70fps when at 1920 x 1200. Basically, if you’re wondering whether the M17x will be able to play your favourite 3D game, the answer is going to be a resounding yes.
Hopefully we’ve got the message across that the Alienware M17x is an absolute beast of a gaming laptop. It does, however, it does have a few downsides. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block is the astronomical £3,329 price tag. In fairness to Alienware, when you consider the high-end components used throughout, it’s actually not bad value. But in these credit-crunching days, it’s going to have a very limited market.
Fortunately, Alienware lets you customise just about every aspect of the laptop and, as a result, you can bring the price right down to £1,699. Obviously, at this price the performance is going to be nowhere near as good as our review system, but with a Core 2 Quad 9600 and a single GeForce GTX 260 it’s still going to be quick.
With the price and performance out of the way, we’ll take a closer look at the rest of the components. Needless to say, 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth are both built-in, while storage is taken care of by two 7,200rpm hard drives providing a total of 1TB disk space. Five USB and two Firewire ports are dotted around the chassis, and you’ll find a slot-loading DVD writer sat on the right side.
Given the gargantuan chassis, Alienware has had no problem fitting in a full-size keyboard complete with numerical keypad. Given the M17x’s gaming credentials, Alienware has also sensibly ensured the arrow keys are also full size (many laptops shrink these down to save space).
We found the trackpad buttons a little awkward, though, and felt they should have been placed a little lower down. The wrist rest also looks and feels very plasticy; considering how expensive the M17x is, we were hoping for something a bit classier.
Unsurprisingly, the lightning-fast components mean a fair amount of heat is generated. Flip the laptop over and you’ll notice half its belly is devoted to vents, but it still requires some fairly enthusiastic fans to expel the hot air.
When you switch the laptop on, the fans briefly ramp up to full speed but soon calm down to a more acceptable level. However, fire up a title such as Far Cry 2 at the highest settings and the fans will whirr up once again. The noise generated isn’t drastically bad, but we found ourselves reaching for our headphones during testing.
Alienware throws in a few extras to help justify the price tag, including a snazzy utility that lets you change the colours of the various LEDs underneath the chassis. You can also activate the Alienware Sense feature, which uses the built-in webcam to automatically log you in when you sit in front of the M17x, then log you out when you wander off.
Battery life is almost irrelevant since the laptop’s hefty 5.3kg weight means you’re highly unlikely to be using it when on the move. That said, we were quite surprised that it managed to last just over an hour when away from the mains.
Contact: 0800 279 9751