- Best-in-class gaming performance
- Fantastic battery life
- LED-backlit keyboard
- Durable build quality
- Heavy for an 11-inch laptop
- Cooling fan sounds like a hair dryer
- Lackluster screen and no alternative screen options
- Expensive compared to previous version
If you want a compact, 11-inch laptop that can still play virtually any game on the market there is no other choice than the Alienware M11x R3.
The Alienware M11x R3 is the third version of the world’s smallest and lightest gaming notebook. Equipped with your choice of the latest second generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors and Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics, this high-performance 11-inch notebook is arguably in a class all by itself. Keep reading to see if the latest M11x gaming laptop is worth your money.
Our review unit of the Alienware M11x R3 features the following specifications:
- 1.40GHz Intel Core i5-2537M (3MB Cache, max turbo frequency 2.3GHz)
- 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (2 x 2GB)
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
- 11.6″ glossy WideHD LED Backlit display (1366×768)
- 500GB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive
- Nvidia GeForce GT 540M Discrete Graphics (1GB GDDR3) with switchable Intel HD integrated graphics
- Intel Centrino Advanced–N + WiMAX 6250 a/g/n 2×2, 10/100/1000 LAN
- 3-in-1 media card reader
- 8-Cell Li-ion 64WH battery, 90W Power Supply
- Dimensions: (W x L x H) 11.25″ x 9.19″ x 1.29″
- Weight: 4.4lbs
- Starting price: $999.99
- Price as configured: $1,099.99
Last year, the Alienware M11x and its updated “Revision 2” (M11x R2) version both received the NotebookReview.com Editors’ Choice Award for delivering a great combination of build quality, performance, and battery life at a reasonable price. Dell’s Alienware team regularly commented on the fact that the M11x was the best-selling Alienware notebook of 2010. It’s no surprise then that the engineers at Alienware were eager to improve upon their success with the Alienware M11x R3.
Build and Design
If you’re familiar with the original M11x and M11x R2, then you’ll surely notice that the M11x R3 is virtually identical to its older siblings. Likewise, anyone familiar with the other gaming notebooks in the Alienware family should instantly recognize the angular design, “Stealth Black” soft touch finish and AlienFX LED lighting that have become the hallmark of Alienware design. In many ways the designers at Alienware tried to make this 11-inch notebook look like a tiny twin of the 15-inch M15x or the 17-inch M17x.
That design descision (to make the M11x look like other Alienware gaming notebooks) has probably single-handedly contributed to the “love it” or “hate it” attitude toward the M11x that many people have expressed in our discussion forums. On one hand, you immediately recognize that this is a gaming notebook designed to play games and have fun. On the other hand, hardcore gamers recognize that you can’t fit extremely high-end gaming hardware inside an 11-inch notebook and they criticize the M11x for being not being a “real” gaming notebook.
Despite those divided opinions, the design of the M11x carries the same boxy shape as other Alienware laptops. Most laptops have a tapered edge that starts out thick near the center of the notebook and gets thinner as you move to the outside edge. The chassis of the M11x R3 (like previous M11x notebooks) doesn’t have that tapered edge because Alienware engineers needed all that space for the discrete graphics card, extra cooling, and the integrated battery. The integrated battery is also something to keep in mind when talking about the thickness of this notebook. The M11x might seem thick with its height of 1.29 inches, but many 11-inch netbook alternatives with extended life batteries are actually thicker than the Alienware M11x R3.
Build quality is quite good thanks to a magnesium alloy construction combined with matte black plastics and the previously mentioned “soft touch finish” which helps make the notebook scratch resistant. The exterior of the notebook feels rock solid with just a little bit of flex on the back of the screen lid when you apply pressure. The keyboard and palmrest don’t suffer from any noticeable flex even under heavy typing pressure. The M11x R3, like the previous M11x models, is the most durable 11-inch notebook we’ve reviewed in our lab. That said, we’ll be keeping a watchful eye on any reports of the hinge issue that has been reported by M11x owners in our discussion forum (see here). It’s too early to tell if the screen hinges on the M11x R3 are more durable than previous models, but we didn’t have any problems with the hinges on our review unit during testing.
Another essential element of the Alienware design is the use of customizable LED lighting in key areas around the notebook. The first thing that most people notice is the gorgeous backlit keyboard and two front panels, but my personal favorite is the backlit alien head located above the keyboard. Using the AlienFX software included on the M11x R3 you can set this logo to light up in a number of different ways to alert you of your battery status. I set the alien head on my original M11x to light up blue on AC power and red when it’s running on battery power. This is a fantastic way to alert the user if the power cord is accidentally unplugged during a game. Two additional areas that light up on the M11x are the alien head on the back of the screen and the intake vent on the bottom of the notebook. These two areas, however, aren’t configurable with the AlienFX software — the vent uses the same lighting as the keyboard and the alien head on the screen lid is illuminated by the LCD when the laptop is running. US customers also still have the option of getting a personalized, laser-etched name plate on the bottom of the M11x R2.
Speaking of the bottom of the notebook, the M11x is likewise stunning even from underneath. The bottom panel is largely flat and smooth with speaker grill holes for the downward-firing stereo speakers, the cooling fan intake, and battery meter. If you’re interested in upgrading the internal components on your M11x you’ll be happy to learn that all user-serviceable parts are located under a single access panel on the bottom of the notebook.
The single massive cover panel for the battery, hard drive, wireless cards and memory slots uses standard Phillips screws for easy disassembly. It’s also worth mentioning that Dell/Alienware were kind enough to use retention clips on all the screws … so when you unscrew the bottom panel the tiny screws won’t fall out and get lost on the floor. No warranty void if removed stickers were found anywhere inside. Alienware considers the internal battery, hard drive, RAM and wireless cards to all be user-serviceable parts. Also, the one-year, on-site service warranty should handle any issues that pop up during the first year and you can always buy extended service warranties if you desire. In short, all of the common parts that you might want to upgrade are easy to access on this notebook.
Ports and Features
The selection of ports on the M11x R3 is nearly identical to the port layout on the M11x R2. Keep in mind that your external display connections are the DisplayPort and the HDMI port … no VGA here for those old monitors and projectors. The Alienware M11x R3 includes two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, FireWire, a 3-in-1 media card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, all of the standard audio jacks, and the previously mentioned HDMI and DisplayPort connections.
You don’t get a built-in optical drive with the M11x and we’re not upset about it. Not only would a DVD or Blu-ray drive have taken up space and made the notebook heavier and more power hungry, but most consumers are downloading content rather than using disks. Alienware even pre-installs STEAM on your M11x when you place your order. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Steam, it’s an online store for PC games. Using the Steam software you can browse the online Steam Store and purchase almost any PC game which you then download and install on your PC.
Alienware still includes a DVD restore disk with the M11x rather than including a bootable USB flash drive or SD card. You can buy an optional external DVD drive at the time of purchase, but anyone who doesn’t will be unable to use the restore disk unless they already own an external optical drive. Come on, Dell, stop using DVDs with notebooks that don’t have DVD drives.
On a happier note, Alienware is finally using USB 3.0 on the Alienware M11x R3 so owners can connect high-speed external storage to this notebook. With that said, let’s take a quick tour around the M11x R3: