Alienware Area-51 M9750 Review

by Reads (89,698)

by Charles P. Jefferies

Overview

The Area-51 M9750 is a top-of-the-line gaming notebook from Alienware. It features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and is available with dual Nvidia high-performance video cards.


Alienware M9750 (view large image)

Our review unit has with the following specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 (2.33GHz/ 667MHz FSB/ 4MB L2 cache)
  • DUAL Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX video cards with 512MB DDR3 each (1024MB total) – SLI enabled
  • 2GB DDR2-667 RAM (4GB available)
  • Two 160GB 7200RPM Hitachi TravelStar SATA hard drives in RAID 0 (RAID 1 available)
  • 17” WUXGA (1920×1200) glossy display
  • Windows XP Media Center 2005 with TV tuner
  • 8X DVD dual layer burner
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 4965AGN WLAN
  • Internal Bluetooth

Our system as configured is $4,448 with a one-year warranty. Two- and three- year warranties are available for $200 and $300 respectively.

Reasons to Buy


Lid view (view large image)

The Alienware M 9750 has a select user base. The main reason to buy this notebook is for extreme gaming. With the kind of components this notebook has, it is tough to beat. Its main competitor is the Clevo D900C (commonly known as the Sager NP 9260). Although the Clevo is slightly more powerful overall, the M9750 is significantly slimmer and lighter. For gamers who want the ultimate power in a reasonably portable package, the Alienware M9750 is the machine to beat. 

Build & Design

An Alienware is like a high-end sports car; pictures do not do either of them justice. The M9750 has Alienware’s famous out-of-this–world case design which instantly sets it apart from every other notebook in its class.

The M9750 is entirely of one color – black. The machine looks extremely sleek, like a stealth aircraft. Personally, I find the look to be visually stimulating and attractive. No matter where this machine is taken, it will turn heads. I took the M9750 to a local coffee shop and everyone there took a long, hard look at it.

Alienware nailed build quality on the head with the M9750. The machine is constructed from high strength plastic. I was not able to detect any flex in the chassis. Even though the palm rests are quite expansive, I could not get them to budge applying any amount of pressure. There might as well be two-by-fours lining the inside of the chassis.


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Usually, notebooks with 17” displays flex quite a bit when twisted from side to side, which is understandable given they are so large. However, the M9750’s 17” display hardly moves when twisted. The strength of the display is commendable; I believe Alienware’s unique lid design has something to do with this.

The surfaces of the M9750 with the exception of the area surrounding the screen and just below it are pleasing to touch as they are soft and rubberized. Fingerprints do not show easily. I did not get the usual “sweaty palm feeling” like I do with glossy-surfaced machines. The area around the display and just below it are glossy black plastic which does show fingerprints; however, this area is unlikely to be touched often.

The M9750 is one of the lighter 17” notebooks, weighing in at the rather low weight of 8.5 pounds. It is only 1.5” thick. Here is a shot of the M9750 next to some "real world" objects so you can get an idea of the size:


The M9750 next to a coke can and ThinkPad X61 ultraportable. The M9750 is about the size and weight of a cat. (view large image)

Overall I am extremely impressed with the build quality of the M9750. No corners were cut and none should be on a machine this expensive.

Screen


A look at the beautiful WUXGA screen on the M9750 (view large image)

Customers can choose between a WXGA+ (1440×900 pixels) or WUXGA (1920×1200 pixels) display; our review unit has the latter. Both displays have a glossy coating.

The picture quality of the display is excellent; images have crisp detail and colors look vivid. Blacks look like blacks and whites look like whites. I did not notice any hints of ghosting while gaming. Our test unit had a pixel-perfect display. Viewing angles are generally good; from the sides, the picture does not lose anything; from above, colors appear slightly washed out but the colors are still there. From below however, the image gets darker than one would expect and the viewing angle is not the best.

The high resolution of the 1920×1200 WUXGA display is amazing for gaming and general tasks. There is so much real estate for multiple windows and multitasking. Since the display is so wide there is basically no side-to-side scrolling. This is a true high-definition resolution – the M9750 is available with a Blu-ray disc player and based on the beautiful quality of the HD clips I watched, I can only imagine how awesome a full high-definition movie would be.

On the whole the 17” WUXGA display on our test unit is phenomenal for gaming, movies, and generally anything one would do on a computer. It is very enjoyable to use and look at.

Speakers

The Alienware M9750 has two stereo speakers located along the front of the chassis below the palm rest, and it also has an integrated subwoofer. For a notebook there is very little to complain about in regards to the sound. It is detailed and the speakers can get very loud. While listening to CDs at high volume levels, the sound is a bit tinny and the speakers lack in the mid to full range. These speakers will not match a pair of desktop speakers but they are clearly a few steps above traditional notebook speakers. Game playback was better than CD playback and the sound was most impressive.

For better sound, the M9750 has an optical out port for connecting directly to high-end sound systems. This is the first time I have seen this port on a notebook. It sounded fantastic plugged into my stereo. The M9750 also has 4.1 surround sound jacks along with the standard headphone and microphone.

A rare feature I do not see on many notebooks is the external volume control wheel, located on the right side of the machine. It makes raising/lowering the volume very easy and it is a nice feature.

Processor & Performance

The M9750 is based on Intel’s previous Centrino Duo platform. Even though it does not use Santa Rosa, it is still more than capable of handling any task.

Our test system has maxed out specifications, something which the price reflects. Let’s take a look at how it performed.

Prior to testing, I fully tuned up the machine, defragmented the hard drive, and disabled all unnecessary services. I did a Windows Update and downloaded all critical updates available. All Internet connections were disabled (except for online games). I did not overclock any component. All games were updated with the latest patches. This machine was optimized for dual-core – please see the Windows XP Multi-core Configuration Thread in the forums for further details. This ensures that Windows is properly handling the dual-core processor.

Overall System Performance

PCMark05


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PCMark05 Comparison Results

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Alienware M9750 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 2.33GHz, Nvidia go 7950 GTX video cards with 512MB) 6,243 PCMarks
Sager NP9260 (2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700, 2x Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX video cards with 512MB DDR3) 6,871 PCMarks
Alienware m5790 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1800 256MB) 4,411 PCMarks
Fujtisu Siemens Amilo Xi1554 Review (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1900, Windows XP) 5,066 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus Z84Jp (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600) 4,739 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks

 

Processor Performance

Processor Specifications

Super Pi

 

SuperPi Comparison Results

Notebook Time
Alienware M9750 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7600) 55s
Sager NP9260 (2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700) 46s
MSI M677 (1.8 GHz Turion X2) 1m 53s
Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s
LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo) 1m 11s
Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 16s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 1m 29s
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 53s

wPrime

Please see the Measure your Dual/Multi Core Notebook CPU Speed – Bye Bye to SuperPI in the forums for comparisons.

Cinebench 9.5

Cinebench is a rendering benchmark tool based on the powerful 3D software, CINEMA 4D. Its rendering tasks can stress up to sixteen multiprocessors on the same computer. It is a free benchmarking tool, and can be found here: http://www.cinebench.com/

CPU Rendering Benchmark

  • 1 CPU: 378 CB-CPU
  • x CPU: 679 CB-CPU
  • Multiprocessor Speedup: 1.80x

SiSandra Arithmetic


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SiSandra Multimedia


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Synthetic Gaming Performance

3DMark06


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3DMark06 Results and Comparison:

Notebook 3D Mark 06 Results
Alienware M9750 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 2.33GHz, Nvidia go 7950 GTX video cards with 512MB) 7,308
Sager NP9260 (2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700, 2x Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX video cards with 512MB DDR3) 9,097
Alienware m5790 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1800 256MB) 2,625
WidowPC Sting D517D (Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz, Nvidia 7900GTX 512MB) 4,833
Apple MacBook Pro (2.00GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 128MB) 1,528
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB) 2,183
ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 512MB) 1,973
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB) 4,744

3DMark05


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Real World Gaming Performance

I did a number of game tests on the M9750. Please see the results below.


Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 4


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Resolution: 1280×720. All settings maxed out

Average FPS: 48

The game was not very playable at the highest 1920×1200 resolution option. However dropping to the next lowest resolution, the game was more than playable.


Oblivion


Settings (view large image)

Even running at the highest 1920×1200 resolution with High Dynamic Range enabled and every other setting maxed, the M9750 had no problem tearing through this game.

Maximum FPS: 61

Average FPS: 54

Minimum FPS: 30


Neverwinter Nights 2


Settings (view large image)

Average FPS: 35

Minimum FPS: 15

The game was definitely playable although there were a few areas where I experienced slowdowns. Keep in mind I am running this at the full 1920×1200 resolution with shadows maxed.


Star Wars: Battlefront II

All settings maxed – 4X AA – light bloom ON – 1920×1200 resolution

Level: Jabba’s Palace

Average FPS: 74

Level: Death Star

Average FPS: 77

The game is definitely more than playable at the highest possible settings. Note that this game is capped at a maximum FPS of 80 so getting very close to that at these extreme settings is impressive.


F.E.A.R. Combat Online Multiplayer

All settings maxed – no AA – 16X AF – 1920×1200 resolution

Level: Evacuation

Average FPS: 80

Level: Docks

Average FPS: 55

FEAR was very playable at 1920×1200 in most levels. In others the resolution will need to be turned down to 1680×1050 to have the best playability.


Call of Duty 2 Online Multiplayer

All settings maxed – no AA – Antistrophic Filtering – 1920×1200 resolution – DirectX 9 rendering

Level: Toujane, Tunisia

Average FPS: 55

Level: Caen, France

Average FPS: 60

Call of Duty 2 was playable although there were some slowdowns at the highest resolution. I found that running this game at the slightly reduced resolution of 1680×1050 was much better for fluid game play.


Half-Life 2: Lost Coast HDR Video Stress Test

All settings maxed – 4X MDAA  -16X AF – 1920×1200 resolution – color correction disabled – full HDR

Average FPS: 58.39

This demo did not run as well as I expected it to although it was still playable. Once again, reducing the resolution one notch to 1680×1050 means a much more playable game.


Counter-Strike: Source Video Stress Test

All settings maxed – 4X MSAA – 16X AF – 1920×1200 resolution – color correction disabled

Average FPS: 119.18

On the whole, the gaming performance of the M9750 is good although not the best when compared to other SLI systems. It does not match up to the performance of the SLI enabled Clevo D900C (Sager NP9260), but the M9750 comes in a considerably smaller package. Most games will be playable on the M9750 at the 1920×1200 native resolution of the monitor. Some games will need to be toned down to lower resolutions in order to achieve a comfortable frame rate.

Heat & Noise

With two of the most powerful graphics cards available for notebooks and a fast Core 2 Duo processor, the M9750 needs a heavy-duty cooling system that can deal with the tremendous amount of heat created. Thankfully, it does. Two relatively large and high-powered fans jet air out the back of the notebook through two wide vents. The air coming out of the vents is scorching. It comes out very fast and in large volume – standing behind the notebook, even four to five feet away, I could feel the heat being propelled out of the vents.

The visible surfaces of the M9750 stay exceptionally cool. The only part of the notebook’s surface that gets more than room temperature is the area directly below the LCD. The bottom of the notebook can get quite warm towards the back where the vents are located. Even after hours of playing Call of Duty 2, the M9750 never got any warmer on the surface. The cooling system had no problem coping with heat over extended periods.

As expected the M9750 is not a silent notebook. However, the noise level is surprisingly low. The sound coming out of the M9750 can essentially be described as a very fast rush of air. It is always present and I can tell the fans kick into a “turbo mode” or higher RPM while gaming because the rush of air sounds noticeably faster. I did not notice any actual fan noise – I never heard the motors running. The only audible sound is the very fast rush of air.

Overall I am thoroughly impressed with the M9750’s ability to deal with heat.

Keyboard & Touchpad

Keyboard


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  1. Finger touch-button LED – lit temporarily when any of the finger touch-buttons is pressed
  2. Wireless LED – lit when wireless is on
  3. AC adapter LED – lit when system is connected to AC power
  4. HDD/ODD activity LED – lit when hard drive or optical drive are accessed
  5. Touchpad LED – lit when touchpad is activated
  6. Caps lock LED
  7. Number lock LED
  8. Activate default Internet browser
  9. Activate default email client
  10. Media buttons (left to right: play/pause, stop, previous track, next track)
  11. Multimedia buttons (left to right: launch TV program, DVD program, music program)

The Alienware M9750 has a full-size keyboard with separate number pad. The keyboard is very solid – there is no flex anywhere. The tactile feedback is very pleasing and I enjoy typing on this keyboard. It is fairly quiet and should not annoy anyone.

Above the keyboard is a series of touch-sensitive controls. There are keys for email/Internet as well as multimedia controls. Please see the diagram above.

I have two qualms with this keyboard, and both deal with the layout. My first complaint is the lack of dedicated pgup/pgdn/home/end keys. It baffles me how on a 17” notebook with all of the available space to integrate a keyboard that these keys are not dedicated. Instead, they reside as secondary functions in the arrow keys; in order to use them, the Function (Fn) key must be pressed in combination with the corresponding arrow key. There is another set of these keys in the number pad, so if number lock is not on they are essentially dedicated keys. However if number lock is on, then the Shift key must be pressed in order to use the keys.


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My second qualm is the layout of the number pad. It has three columns of keys instead of the standard four, and many of the keys are in different spots. The layout takes some getting used to but after a while it becomes natural.

Overall I really like this keyboard – it has excellent tactile feedback and no flex, but the layout can be frustrating and does have a learning curve.

Touchpad


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The touchpad is fairly simple on the M9750. It is slightly recessed into the surface of the M9750’s palm rest and is of the same material. I actually used the touch pad the majority of the time I had the M9750 in my possession. I found it to be more than usable – I experienced no tracking issues and the buttons functioned normally.

The touchpad can be easily turned off by pressing the Function + F5 keys. I imagine most owners of the M9750 will have external mice plugged in so the ability to disable the touchpad is convenient.

Input & Output Ports

The Alienware M9750 is the most port-loaded notebook I have used. It has all of the commonly used ports such as USB as well as a few rarities, including DVI and optical out. Fancy a picture tour?

Front View


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  1. LCD latch
  2. Two speakers
  3. Optical drive

Optical Drive Detail


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Rear View


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  1. Audio-in
  2. TV-in
  3. S-Video in
  4. RJ-11 modem/fax
  5. Vents
  6. Power
  7. USB 2.0 port
  8. S-Video out
  9. DVI
  10. VGA

Left View


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  1. Kensington lock slot
  2. Vents
  3. RJ-45 Ethernet
  4. 2x USB 2.0
  5. IEEE 1394 mini Firewire
  6. Two hard drive doors
  7. Media card slot
  8. ExpressCard slot

Right View


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  1. Volume dial
  2. Headphone jack
  3. Microphone jack
  4. 3x audio-out ports (front/surround/center speakers)
  5. SPDIF-out
  6.  USB 2.0 port
  7. Vents

Bottom View


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  1. Subwoofer
  2. RAM compartment
  3. Battery latch
  4. Battery pack
  5. Vents

Wireless

The Alienware M9750 has two forms of wireless communications: Bluetooth 2.0 and wireless LAN. The M9750 houses the latest Intel wireless card, the PRO/Wireless 4965AGN, which supports the draft N wireless protocol. I was unable to test the N feature because I do not have access to an N router, but I am pleased to report I had no issues connecting to a variety of secured G networks. The wireless signal was quite strong, and I did not have any trouble maintaining a wireless connection.

The Bluetooth wireless also worked well – I connected to my Bluetooth-enabled ThinkPad and transferred files back and forth without issue.

Battery

While surfing the Internet wirelessly with the display set at 3/7 brightness, our M9750 held out for one hour and three minutes before giving the ten percent left warning. I actually think that is not a bad result – the 12-cell battery is powering not one but two video cards, two hard drives running in RAID, and a large 17” display. My one hour and three minutes result can be looked at as the lowest possible time under the given conditions – with a single video card and single hard drive I would expect longer life. Still, the M9750 at least allows for some cordless freedom which should be considered a luxury in a machine this powerful.

Operating System & Software

Our test Alienware M9750 came preinstalled with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. The M9750 is also available at the time of this review with Windows XP Professional, Vista Home Premium, and Vista Ultimate.

The OS install of our test system was clean. Alienware fortunately does not install any junk software on any of their systems. All of the recovery CDs and driver CDs are included with the system along with printed documentation.

Customer Support

Alienware offers 24/7 toll-free phone technical support and onsite service with all of the warranty options on the M9750, including the base 1-year. Two- and three-year warranties are available for an additional $200 and $300 respectively at time of purchase.

Conclusion

The Alienware Area-51 M9750 definitely ranks as one of the most impressive systems I have used in almost every aspect, from its striking visual appearance to the fast overall performance. The M9750’s beautiful customized case design is only half of the experience – the other half belongs to the array of top-of-the-line components inside. Despite the fact that the M9750 can house two video cards, it is fairly light and thin so taking it on a trip is not out of the question. Combine that with an excellent cooling system and high-resolution 17” display, and we have ourselves a winner.

Pros:

  • Fast gaming performance
  • Out-of-this-world case design
  • Extremely well built
  • Keyboard has a great feel
  • Excellent cooling system – system stays cool
  • Available with Windows XP
  • Relatively thin and light
  • Great-looking display

Cons:

  • Missing certain dedicated keyboard keys
  • Odd number pad layout
  • Vertical viewing angles could be better


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