Synthetic Benchmarks like PCMark and 3DMark help provide a rough idea of how one laptop performs compared to another, but when it comes to serious gaming the only way to know how a notebook performs is to test it with the specific game you want to play. Another key thing to consider is how the notebook performs when it's plugged in and how it performs on battery power. Most gaming notebooks "throttle back" the graphics card (GPU) and sometimes even the CPU when you unplug the power cord. This is great for battery life but horrible for gaming performance. Alienware engineers designed the M11x so that it continues to provide maximum CPU and GPU performance even when it's unplugged. To that end, the in-game performance benchmarks listed below are an accurate indication of what you'll experience with the M11x regardless of whether you're playing with the laptop plugged in or unplugged.
The Nvidia GeForce GT 335M card is an upper mid-range card that lacks the horsepower of the discrete cards used in the Alienware M15x or M17x, but still delivers MUCH more power than any other ultraportable notebook. The 1GB of dedicated GDDR3 memory helps keep frame rates running at consistent levels in most games and we were pleasantly surprised that we didn't have to turn down detail settings all the time to get playable frame rates with modern games.
Although we didn't have the time to test every single game on the market in our lab, we spent hours slaving away with a variety of games late into the evening and the early morning. We conducted all tests using the Nvidia discrete graphics. If you're interested in getting the most battery life and want to game with the Intel integrated graphics instead .... well ... there's always Space Quest. We selected a range of games that we believe reflect the most common styles of games being played today.
Call of Duty: Modern Warefare 2 was one of the first games used to demo the in-game performance on the M11x when Dell announced this laptop at CES earlier this year. This up-to-date first-person shooter game is a joy to play on the M11x. Frame rates always remain playable and it's safe to assume Alienware engineers spent considerable time testing this game on the M11x to ensure a near flawless gaming experience. With a few tweaks to the detail settings and the CPU overclocked the frame rate never dropped below 25 frames per second ... essentially motion picture quality.
Left 4 Dead 2 is another modern first-person shooter, but we were concerned about how well this would play on the M11x when all those zombies rush on the screen at once. Again, the M11x didn't fail to impress us. With moderate settings we managed to keep the frame rates at playable levels with only a modest amount of lag during attacks by zombie hordes.
I've been playing Mass Effect 2since the day it was released, and this combination of a role-playing game and a shooter is easily one of my favorites. Since I've spent hundreds of hours playing this game on my desktop at home I was very curious if the M11x could handle this space adv enture. Once again, the M11x was nearly perfect. The only setting that was disabled on Mass Effect 2 was dynamic shadows and the frame rate only went below 20 frames per second one time. The frame rate usually remained above 30 frames per second during game play.
After three impressive gaming experiences I was starting to think the M11x was the greatest thing since sliced bread ... so I decided to put this little gaming laptop in its place with a CPU-intense game: Shattered Horizon. For those of you who aren't familiar with Shattered Horizon, this is an online first-person shooter game set in outer space where everyone is weightless and you're bouncing around asteroids shooting one another from every direction possible. This game requires a significant amount of math from the CPU to calculate acceleration, drift, angle of trajectory, etc. ... not only for your character but for every character you're playing against.
This is where the limitation of the CULV processor inside the M11x really became obvious. Frame rates regularly dropped into the single digit range and it was essentially impossible to track the movement of other players on the screen and shoot them while avoiding being shot. Interestingly enough, the frame rates were mostly unchanged regardless of the detail settings. The Nvidia GeForce GT 335M graphics card is strong enough to render the detail on the space suits and the asteroids but the Intel low-voltage CPU just isn't fast enough to handle all the calculations required to maintain a playable frame rate.
Since Shattered Horizon made the Alienware M11x look horrible I decided to play nice with a slightly older strategy game such as Sid Meier's Civilization IV. Although there's a fair amount of math going on behind the scenes in Civilization IV the overall pace of the action is much slower. There's still plenty of detail to render on the surface of the globe, but once again the Nvidia graphics card took it in stride. Frame rates remained playable at all times with this game.
A more graphically intense strategy game is Warhammer Dawn of War II. This sci-fi strategy game is more fast-paced than Civilization IV and the rendering is a little more detailed than what you see in other strategy games. In-game frame rates are pretty solid with this game, but there are occasional frame rate dips below 20fps when there are lots of enemies and explosions on the screen. Despite the occasional frame rate drop, I consider Dawn of War II to be perfectly playable on the M11x.
As a final test we decided to kill a few more zombies in another game, this time trying our luck with Resident Evil 5. Not only did the M11x handle Resident Evil 5, but the frame rates were so high at the default settings that we had to double the length of our frame rate chart to fit the numbers! In short, it's safe to say that the Alienware M11x likes shooter games that rely on the graphics card more than the CPU.
At the end of the day the Alienware M11x exceeds our expectations for gaming power. Sure, the M11x doesn't have a CPU option that can handle extremely processor-intense games, but this is indeed the most powerful 11-inch notebook on the planet. If you want to play first-person shooters or RPGs while you're on the road then the M11x provides an impressive balance of performance and portability.
The Alienware M11x remains as awe-inspiring today as it was when Dell announced it back in January. The solid design, compact size, capable gaming performance, and impressively affordable price make the M11x a fantastic choice for PC gamers who already own a high-performance desktop and want a gaming solution when traveling.
Yes, we would have liked to see at least one mid-range Intel CPU available as a configuration option on this notebook. Likewise, the lack of a matte screen option or removable battery may bother some people. Is the M11x the ultimate gaming notebook? No. Is it the first gaming notebook that is small enough and light enough so you can genuinely take everywhere? Yes!
People who buy the Alienware M11x need to understand the limitations of the weak processor: Some CPU-intense games simply can't be played effectively with this notebook. That said, the M11x is currently the ONLY ultraportable notebook that can play "most" modern games. If you need a compact laptop that you can take anywhere and you can live with the fact that "some" games aren't playable then the M11x is indeed the perfect laptop.
More to the point, the Alienware M11x is your only choice if you're looking for an ultraportable gaming notebook.
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