HOME / PRINT
Alienware. The name itself causes eyebrows to rise, pulses to race, and wallets to cry out for mercy. Post its acquisition by Dell, the cult American boutique computer maker known as much for its insanely powerful machines as for its unique sci-fi themed designs is now in India. Dell has in fact phased out its older gaming line, the XPS laptops and desktops, and Alienware takes their place at the top of the technology food chain.
The line will eventually include laptops and desktops, but the first model in India is the M17x, a ridiculously powerful machine that is easily the largest, heaviest and most imposing portable computer we’ve seen in a long time. Weighing over 5 kilos and measuring 40.5 cm wide by 32 cm deep it dwarfs even other 17-inch laptops, but all the space is put to good use with a stunningly clear LCD screen, spacious keyboard with full number pad and arrow cluster, brilliant speakers, and a wrist rest big enough to use a full-sized mouse on. Nothing about this anodized aluminum machine looks dainty or delicate: the corners are sharp, the angles are bold, and it feels like a tank could run it over without causing any harm. And to make it look just that much more hardcore, there are customizable lights in the glowing alien head logos, keyboard, trackpad edge, media control buttons, and speaker grills.
Out of this world
No corners have been cut or budgets considered when it comes to powerful hardware. At the heart of the beast is a quad-core Mobile Core 2 Extreme QZ9300 CPU running at 2.53 GHz with a 12 MB L2 cache. 4 GB of RAM is standard, and you can have up to 8 GB. Graphics are handled by dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 260Ms in SLI mode with 1 GB of RAM each, with the option to upgrade to dual GTX 280Ms. The chipset is the GeForce 9400M, which means you also have the option of HD-capable onboard graphics (Hybrid SLI). You also get two 250 or 500 GB hard drives in your choice of striped or mirrored RAID. You also get a slot-loading Blu-ray reader/DVD-RW combo drive and a multi-format card reader and ExpressCard slot. The screen is an IPS panel rather than the TN panels used in most other laptops, and the color reproduction and viewing angles are simply amazing. It runs at 1920x1200, bucking the current movie-centric 16:9 trend, but surprisingly isn’t LED backlit.
You have Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi b/g/n for networking along with Bluetooth 2.1, four USB 2.0 ports, a USB/eSATA combo port, four audio jacks for line in and headphones or surround sound output, one FireWire port, as well as VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort for video output. The only disappointing thing is that there are absolutely no matching accessories in the box: no carry case of any kind, no headset, no mouse, not even a mousepad! These little additions and maybe some other branded goodies could have done a lot to fuel the enthusiasm that people feel when they look at Alienware as a cult.
Using the M17x is quite an experience. This is clearly not the kind of laptop you’ll carry to college or work every day in your sling bag. It’s portable, but definitely not mobile—the 240 Watt power brick by itself is about half the size and weight of a netbook. Power-wise, it’s pretty intelligent, shutting down the discrete graphics cards and downclocking the CPU when it’s not plugged into the mains. You can even enable “stealth mode”, which reduces power consumption enough to run the M17x off a standard 60W adapter if you just need to get basic work done in a pinch.
One big headache we had with the M17x was the horrible implementation of the lighting effects. Sadly your only choices are solid colors, pulsing colors, and flashing between colors. You can change themes based on which program is currently active and even set the tempo, but there’s no brightness adjustment or ambient light detection. The only event notification supported is receiving email, that too only in Outlook. In fact you can’t even have simple dim white backlighting—there’s just no option.
The Alien Command Center software is also frustratingly difficult to use. Out of its four modules, AlienFX controls the lighting. Screen space is wasted along the edges, forcing you to scroll around inside a tiny area in the center. You can’t switch between Basic and Advanced modes without creating a whole new theme. You have only 20 preset color choices, and can’t mix your own. The other three modules are Fusion, which manages your power profiles and shows a few options that are hidden in the Control Panel; Touch, which lets you adjust the touchpad sensitivity, and Sense, which controls the face-recognition security system. If enabled, this module locks the screen when you move away from the laptop and logs you back in again when you return.
In most respects, the M17x is an absolute joy to use. There’s really nothing else like it. HD movies shine on the brilliant screen, and the sound from its speakers is full and rich, if not crystal clear.
It didn’t take very long at all for us to load up the M17x with our benchmark suite. We were fully prepared to be blown away by its performance scores, and it did not disappoint us one bit! Needless to say, the scores were infinitely better than any laptop we’ve reviewed to date. In fact, this machine makes all other “gaming laptops” look bad.
Benchmark scores were comparable to high-end desktop PCs, thanks to the intelligent and non-budget-constrained choices of hardware. We recorded 4429 points in 3DMark Vantage, and an overall score of 9017 in 3DMark, which stress the overall performance and graphics subsystems respectively. Our tests which simulate real-world tasks such as audio and video transcoding took around 40 percent less time than other leading mainstream laptops. All the latest games, including Crysis Warhead and GRID were treats to play on the beautiful HD screen at reasonably high if not full quality settings. This is basically as good as it gets in a portable computer today—for a price that’s not that much higher than other stylish or top-end notebooks.
If you need a souped-up gaming machine but have no space for a huge PC, if you regularly hop around to LAN parties, or if you just want the absolute bragging rights on your desk, you should definitely check it out. For everyone else, even hardcore multimedia enthusiasts, it would be massive overkill—but fun anyway.
The MRP of the Alienware M17x laptop we received for review is Rs. 1,39,000.