Performance and Benchmarks
One of the essential hardware elements that makes the Alienware M11x possible is the use of Intel dual-core consumer ultra-low voltage (CULV) processors. These CPUs consume only a fraction of the power that other Intel processors use and also produce less heat. Since Alienware needed to squeeze a power-hungry discrete graphics card inside the tiny M11x they needed to limit the amount of heat inside the notebook as well as the amount of power consumption for maximum battery life. Of course, another key factor was price. Dell was able to keep the price of the Alienware M11x under $1,000 by offering only two options of these low-voltage processors.
Interestingly enough both theIntel SU4100 and SU7300 CULV processors are virtually identical. Both processors run at 1.3GHz by default and the frontside bus on both processors can be overclocked from 800MHz to 1066MHz thus creating an overclocked speed of roughly 1.73GHz to 1.6GHz with Intel SpeedStep. Alienware includes a simple overclocking option in the BIOS, so all you have to do is press F2 during startup and enable the overclocking feature. As long as you don't use alternative methods of overclocking this feature is part of the design of the M11x and is covered under warranty. As you'll see in the benchmarks below, overclocking the CPU is essential if you want the M11x to perform as advertised on the Dell website.
In terms of day-to-day activities the overclocked SU4100 processor in our review unit works flawlessly. The overclocked processor provides a noticeable speed boost over the default clock speed, and is more than enough to handle Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop CS4, and your library of photos, videos and music. Alienware admits there isn't much (if any) difference in day-to-day or in-game performance between the SU4100 and the SU7300. The SU7300 offers an extra 1MB of cache and virtualization, but this won't make any practical difference to most consumers.
Rather than spend the extra cash on the SU7300 I would recommend buying more RAM and a faster hard drive. The default 160GBhard drive with 5400rpm speed delivers average performance, but a simple upgrade to a 7200rpm hard drive or SSD will provide much faster application launching in Windows and faster level load times in various games.
The M11x also includes the Nvidia GeForce GT 335M discrete graphics card with 1GB of dedicated GDDR3 memory as well as switchable graphics thanks to the Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics. For the sake of simplicity we benchmarked the M11x using only the Nvidia discrete graphics. However, you can safely assume that the performance of the M11x is nearly identical to the Dell Inspiron 11z or Toshiba Satellite T135 when using the Intel integrated graphics.
We'll get to our in-game tests later in the review, but in the meantime here are a few synthetic benchmarks to see how the M11x compares to other ultraportable notebooks and how it compares to the larger Alienware M15x.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
Heat and Noise
There are basically two noise levels that you experience with the Alienware M11x: whisper quiet or a loud fan that sounds like someone is using a hairdryer in the next room. The default fan speed is always on at a low setting that is so quiet that you might think the fan is off. However, when overclocking the CPU or gaming the fan will frequently kick into high mode pushing hot air away from the CPU and GPU inside the notebook. On one hand this is good because you know that dangerous heat isn't roasting your laptop, but it means that the M11x might be annoying to coworkers or classmates in a quiet office or classroom environment. The externaltemperatures on the M11x are mostly "lap friendly" but there are a few hot spots thanks to the overclocked processor and the discrete graphics card. All temperatures shown below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit and were recorded when the CPU was overclocked and the discrete graphics was working playing Mass Effect 2 for two hours.
Thanks to the switchable graphics inside the M11x there are essentially two battery life ranges you can expect with this notebook: extended battery life mode using the Intel integrated graphics or high-performance mode using the Nvidia GeForce GT 335M discrete graphics. Dell claims that the M11x can deliver more than 8 hours of battery life when using the Intel integrated graphics. In our lab tests with the screen set to 70 percent brightness, Windows 7 set to a "balanced" power profile, and Wi-Fi on and loading a new website at a regular interval we obtained 6 hours and 59 minutes of battery life with the SU4100 processor overclocked and the graphics set to the Intel integrated mode. It's safe to assume that you can get closer to 8 hours if you turn down the screen brightness, disable overclocking, and disable Wi-Fi when it's not in use.
We also tested the M11x while gaming with CPU overclocking enabled, Nvidia discrete graphics on, brightness set to 70 percent and Wi-Fi on while running Mass Effect 2 using the Steam application. The M11x was able to play Mass Effect 2 flawlessly for 2 hours and 48 minutes before the notebook shut down with a power draw of 22 to 27 watts while gaming. The amount of in-game time could have been extended by lowering the screen brightness.
The integrated 8-Cell Lithium-Ion battery inside the M11x is rated at 64WH and is powered by a standard 65W power supply. Although we're talking about an integrated battery this is one of the most powerful batteries we've seen in an 11-inch notebook. Also, despite the fact that we prefer to see removable batteries this internal battery is quite easy to remove and replace using the instructions included in the user manual.
Another element of the battery that we really like to see is the one-touch battery indicator located on the bottom of the notebook. Five white LEDs let you know how much battery life is left and whether you need to bring your AC adapter with you when you go to class or that next office meeting. The battery meter works even when the laptop is powered off, so it's a fantastic way to check your battery status when you're in a hurry.
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