Performance and Benchmarks
One of the essential hardware elements that made the original Alienware M11x possible was 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 (both essential for an ultraportable gaming notebook). The new Intel Core i5 and Core i7 low voltage processors provide similar power and heat savings with better performance. The base price of the M11x R2 still includes the older Core 2 Duo processor, but a few hundred dollars extra gets you the newer CPU options.
Our review sample of the M11x R2 came with the 1.20GHz Intel Core i7 640UM processor. This is the fastest CPU option for the M11x and comes with 4MB cache and automatically overclocks up to 2.266GHz thanks to Intel turbo frequency technology.
Speaking of automatic features, the M11x R2 also includes the same Nvidia GeForce GT 335M discrete graphics card with 1GB of dedicated GDDR3 memory as well as automatic switchable graphics thanks to the Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics and Nvidia Optimus technology. For those who don’t know what Optimus is, it’s basically a technology that allows the computer to automatically use discrete graphics when you need them (like when you’re playing a game) and switch to integrated graphics when you don’t need extreme graphics performance and need maximum battery life.
In terms of day-to-day activities the new Core i7 processor feels “snappier” than the overclocked SU4100 processor in my personal M11x. That said, in average applications like Microsoft Office or Internet Explorer you won’t notice a difference. The Core i7 processor provides a noticeable speed boost when playing CPU-intense games, but that’s the only time the difference is obvious.
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 as well as the original M11x with SU4100 processor at stock speed, overclocked, and overclocked with SSD.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark Vantage measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
Heat and Noise
I was a little concerned about how hot and noisy the M11x R2 might be thanks to the new Core i7 processor, but there are still basically just two noise levels you get from 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 external temperatures on the M11x R2 are still “lap friendly” but it is a few degrees warmer than the earlier release of the M11x thanks to the new processor and the discrete graphics card. All temperatures shown below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit and were recorded when the CPU and the discrete graphics were working hard playing Mass Effect 2 for more than one hour.
Thanks to the Nvidia Optimus switchable graphics inside the M11x R2, you don’t have to worry about checking your laptop to see if you left your discrete graphics card running. This notebook automatically detects when you need the discrete graphics and when you just need the best possible battery life. That said, thanks to the higher performance processor and the inability to lock the GPU in integrated mode, the battery life of the new M11x R2 is lower than the older M11x. 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 5 hours and 2 minutes of battery life. This is well below the 6+ hours of battery life we got from the original M11x, but it’s still pretty impressive.
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 1 hour and 58 minutes before the notebook shut down. 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 90W 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.