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Dell Alienware M14x notebook Review
Dell’s Alienware series of gaming rigs have been a favourite amongst gamers for years, and it’s only recently that other companies like Asus and MSI have entered this segment, and are actually doing well we may add. Still, Alienware remains a household name in the gaming fraternity and no one has truly been able to beat them in terms of design and finesse. Till now, we had limited choices for Alienware notebooks in India and until recently we had just two models to choose from, the mighty M17x and the more portable M11x.
Dell filled the void when they launched the M14x, which provides a perfect balance of performance and portability. Two preset configurations are on offer out of which Dell has sent us their flagship offering. So, let’s take the fully pimped out M14x for a spin and see what it's like.
Design and Build
This is one area where the Alienware notebooks never fail to impress and this ones no exception. The materials and attention to detail is impeccable, one look at it and you know that it means business. The matte black finish oozes style and the surface barely attracts any fingerprints of dust making it very easy to keep clean. The angled wedge-like design gives it a very striking look when closed. Although it’s a 14-inch notebook, it’s quite chunky and heavy, with its weight slightly above 2kg.
The front portion bares a back-lit honeycombed grill and the lid can easily be opened with a single finger due to the weight of the base. We have a total of three USB 2.0 ports (no USB 3.0), DisplayPort, HDMI, 7-in-1 memory card reader, dual headphone jacks and microphone jack, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet port and finally a slot-loading DVD burner. The charging port and exhaust vents are placed in the rear. Flipping the notebook over, we find there’s no easy way to swap the hard drive or memory without unscrewing the entire base. There are two large intake vents at the bottom with bower-style fans. These are meant for the graphics card and only kick in once the discrete card is active, the rest of the time they are off.
No USB 3.0 is a bit of a downer
The 14-inch screen sports a higher 1600x900 resolution and is LED back-lit. The entire screen has a glossy finish, which makes the pictures pop, but also introduces reflections. The keyboard is back-lit, as well as is many other parts of the notebook and you can customise the lighting effects to virtually any colour your heart desires. Overall, we were very impressed with design and build quality of the notebook and even though we’ve seen the fancy lighting on their larger models, it just never gets old.
Dell has gone all out on their flagship version of the M14x. Powering the beast is a Intel Core i7-2860QM quad-core processor running at 2.5GHZ with the ability to Turbo up to 3.6GHz. For memory, we have 8GB of DDR3 RAM running at 1600MHz. The third and most important component, the graphics card is a Nvidia GeForce GT 555M with 3GB of GDDR3 memory. The card also has Optimus technology, which should help with the battery life. Other components include a 750GB hard drive, Bluetooth and Intel Wi-Fi ‘n’ module.
Go crazy with unlimited customization options
Dell bundles along a bunch of software applications and their own utilities. We have a 15 month trial version of McAfee Security Center and Roxio DVD creator. Dell’s own bundled software includes AlienRespawn, which is a system restore utility and Alienware Command Center, which let’s you customize the lighting on the notebook, change and create custom power profiles and adjust the sensitivity of the mouse, all through a single interface. Next, let’s see how this performs in our tests.
Before starting, we updated all the drivers as well as installed the updates through Windows Update. The M14x was set to ‘High Performance’ mode and these are the scores we got.
An admirable performer
The M14x manages to edge out the Toshiba X500 due to the faster CPU but is still no match for the Asus G74SX which is way ahead due to the butt-load of RAM and faster GPU. The similar situation is noticeable in 3DMark Vantage as well. In the pure CPU based tests like SiSOFT SANDRA and POV Ray, the M14x takes the lead once more. While it may appear the Alienware trumps the X500 in the real world gaming tests, remember, both the Asus and Toshiba were running at 1920 x 1080, while the M14x is limited to 1600x900 resolution.
The backlight is even across the keys
For regular use, the notebook is simply wonderful to use. The keyboard is extremely comfortable to type on even for long durations and the back-lighting is near perfect, illuminating all the keys without being too bright. You can’t adjust the intensity of the lights, but you can pick any colour from the RGB palette, which is a fair compromise. The trackpad is responsive and the buttons have a nice soft touch to them. There’s ample room on the palm rest to comfortably rest even large hands. The speakers are placed above the keyboard and sound quite good for notebook speakers. It's not as loud as the ones on the Toshiba X500, but for the size of the notebook, its decent.
Tweak the lighting to your hearts content
One annoying thing about the M14x is that intake fans are really loud. It sounds a bit like a jet getting ready to take off, which is not a sound you want when you’re gaming.
The M14x comes with a 8-cell battery as standard and we tested it using Battery Eater Pro. The notebook managed to get a battery life of 1hr and 10min, which is rather low. We made sure that the battery drain test used the onboard graphics, but despite that, the intake fans immediately kicked in which is what killed it faster. With regular use like surfing and office applications, the M14x will easily last you about 3hrs or even a little more.
The M14x that we received will set you back a whopping Rs.1,19,000, which is nearly the same as the Asus G74SX. You may argue that the high price is for the small form factor and portability, but the fact is that it’s just too heavy to be truly portable, you certainly won’t be lugging this around. If this was priced closer to 60K (wishful thinking, I know!), we would recommend this in a heartbeat. But at its current standing, it just makes more sense to get the Asus G74SX. There’s no denying the fact that Dell has built a really good notebook, the finish and features are really hard to find with the competition. However, the high price and the fact that there’s no USB 3.0 support and the noisy fan is what stops it from being truly a great gaming notebook.