Our Alienware M14x R2 review unit features the following specifications:
- 14-inch glossy “edge to edge” full HD display (1600×900 resolution)
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- Intel Core i7-3610QM quad-core processor (6MB Cache, up to 3.3GHz w/ Turbo Boost 2.0)
- Intel HM67 chipset
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M w/ 2GB GDDR3 dedicated video memory using NVIDIA Optimus technology
- 8GB DDR3-1600 (2x 4GB)
- 750GB 7,200 RPM SATA HDD + 32GB mSATA Caching SSD
- Killer Wireless-N 1202 wireless network adapter
- Internal Bluetooth 4.0 wireless
- Integrated 720p webcam
- Slot-load DVD burner (Matshita DVD+-RW UJ8A7)
- 8-cell Li-ion battery (63WHr)
- Weight: 6.48 lbs.
- Dimensions: 1.49 x 10.17 x 13.27 inches
- 1-year limited warranty
- Starting price: $1,099
- Price as configured: $1,604
Our review unit of the Alienware M14x R2 has several key upgrades that add an extra $500 to the base price; the Core i7 processor, 1600×900 resolution screen, 8GB of RAM, and 750GB hard drive with mSATA SSD caching drive all added to the cost of the notebook.
Performance and Benchmarks
Gaming PCs require greater performance than any other category of consumer PCs. The M14x R2 packs some noteworthy improvements over the original M14x including a 3rd-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, an all-new graphics card based on the NVIDIA Kepler GPU core with NVIDIA Optimus technology (automatically switching between the discrete graphics and the built-in Intel graphics to give you high performance when gaming and extra battery life the rest of the time). Those technologies combined with 8GB of system memory are pretty good, but my favorite feature is actually the 750GB hard drive combined with a 32GB mSATA SSD. The HDD and SSD work together as a single hybrid drive to give you the storage capacity of a hard drive (essential for a library of the latest games) and the startup speed of a SSD.
Without comparing it to other gaming notebooks, the Alienware M14x is an extremely powerful system that can handle playing even the latest games like Max Payne 3 or Mass Effect 3 at high detail settings at the screen resolution of 1600×900 with fast frame rates.
Unfortunately, the Alienware M14x also has to compete against other gaming notebooks priced between $1,000 and $2,000. As of this writing every custom gaming notebook maker that sells Clevo-based laptops is offering an 11-inch notebook that also packs a 3rd-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core processor and NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics … essentially the same performance as the M14x R2 but in a MUCH thinner and lighter shell. Similarly, you can buy 15-inch and 17-inch gaming notebooks in the same price range as the M14x R2 but those larger notebooks have more powerful graphics cards and often better screens.
The fact that NVIDIA’s new Kepler-based graphics cards have lower thermals than the previous generation cards should have (in theory) allowed Alienware to put at least an entry-level GTX card into the M14x rather than being limited to the GT class. Right now we would have a hard time deciding to buy this instead of a larger notebook with better specs at the same price.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is the latest synthetic benchmark measuring overall system performance in Windows 7 (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 measures overall graphics performance for gaming with DirectX 11 (higher scores mean better performance):
In terms of in-game performance the Alienware M14x averaged around 55 frames per second (fps) in Mass Effect 3 running at 1600×900 resolution with detail settings on high. The average frame rate in Max Payne 3 was 23 fps at 1600×900 at high settings (DX10). When you consider that a feature film plays at 24 frames per second the M14x R2 is doing a great job. That said, there are more powerful gaming notebooks in the 15-inch and 17-inch class that are available for the same amount of money.
While we’re on the subject of things that matter to PC gamers, we should mention that, at the time of this writing, Dell restricts the drivers that can or cannot be installed on the M14x R2 and we couldn’t update the NVIDIA drivers to the latest version available on the NVIDIA website. This means the GeForce GT 650M graphics may encounter problems with new games but you cannot easily install the latest drivers.
Heat and Noise
The M14x R2 pushes hot air out the single exhaust vent on the back of the chassis. The two large intake vents on the bottom of the notebook provide the air for cooling. At idle the cooling system switches between total silence and light fan noise that is just loud enough to be heard by someone sitting next to you in a quiet room. Once under full load, however, the noise level increases quite dramatically; it sounds like a very fast rush of air and a low-pitched fan spinning very quickly. Unfortunately, the volume of the fan and fast-moving air is loud enough that someone might hear it even if they are in another room nearby.
The top of the chassis mostly remains lukewarm with only one or two hot spots. The bottom center of the chassis didn’t get quite as hot as last year’s M14x so it isn’t too hot for “laptop” gaming while you’re waiting to board a flight. That said, most M14x owners are likely to leave this notebook on a table for extended periods of time while playing games.
During our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active, and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds), the M14x delivered 2 hours and 31 minutes of battery life from its 8-cell battery. This is surprisingly much worse than the original M14x which delivered exceptional battery life in the same test. It’s also worth mentioning that the AlienFX lights were turned off for the test, so if those had been on the power drain would have been even more substantial. We repeated the tests multiple times so we can only assume that the hardware in the new M14x either consumes more power than the previous generation or there is a driver issue causing excessive power consumption. Still, 151 minutes isn’t that much worse than a typical gaming notebook.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):