The M17x is Alienware's flagship gaming notebook. It features a stealthy design, aluminum chassis, and a customizable lighting system. Our review unit is packed to the gills with dual Nvidia graphics cards, an Intel Extreme processor, and 8GB of RAM. Does the M17x live up to Alienware's claim of being the fastest gaming notebook on the market? Read our review to find out.
Our Alienware M17x review unit has the following specifications:
The M17x starts at a modest $1,799, however our decked-out test machine sits at a lofty $4,649 as of publishing. The Intel Extreme processor ($1,000), 8GB RAM ($800), and dual GTX 280M graphics cards ($600) contributed the most to the end price.
Build and Design
The Alienware M17x is all about design. The M17x represents a step in a new design direction for Alienware; it is their first model to have the all-new ?Stealth? look. This notebook looks and feels like no other; having it on my desk as I type this review is probably as close to outer space as I'll ever get.
Let's start the the build materials. The M17x is constructed of high-strength aluminum that is rock solid; there is not an ounce of flex on this machine. It is available in three colors ? Black and Silver are no charge, while Red is currently a $99 extra. The sides, bottom, and back of the lid have a smooth anodized aluminum finish while the palm rest has a smooth, dry-feeling finish. All that aluminum is paid for in weight ? this monster weighs over 13 pounds, making it one of the heaviest notebooks on the market.
The lid is extremely sturdy; thanks to its one-piece aluminum construction it is difficult to twist and no ripples appear on the screen when pressure is used on the back of the lid. The hinges are also rock solid; the lid does not wobble.
Now let's talk design. The M17x does not have a cookie-cutter rectangular shape. The front and back of the chassis and screen are angled outward and fit together seamlessly. The M17x has clear-cut edges which are nicely finished so they are not too sharp. From the front, the M17x looks menacing; the speaker grills on either side of the palm rest look like intakes. The back of the machine looks like one giant vent for the exhaust air (which it basically is).
One of the M17x's hallmark features is its fully customizable LED lighting system called AlienFX. There are ten different lighting zones, including the keyboard, touchpad, speakers, Alienware logo, media keys, the power button, and the alien head on the back of the lid. The keyboard itself has four different lighting zones. Users can create lighting themes for every occasion. Alienware says they are working with game designers to incorporate AlienFX into games; for example, certain parts of the computer could change color to indicate health, ammo, and so on. AlienFX is easy to switch off by pressing [Fn] + [F11]. AlienFX adds to the uniqueness of this machine and is an attractive feature.
One last design feature that deserves a mention is the M17x's screwless design ? there are no visible screws on the M17x (other than the four holding in the name plate). That is quite a design feat and makes the M17x look even sleeker. While not everyone will like the looks, it is hard to deny the quality of the design and build. The M17x is one-of-a-kind and looks much more engaging than past Alienware machines.
Screen and Speakers
The M17x has an ?edge to edge? display, which means that the display is covered by a large piece of glass for a seamless look. The M17x is available with two resolutions: WXGA+ (1440x900) and WUXGA (1920x1200); our test unit has the latter. The M17x uses a 16:10 aspect ratio display unlike most newer notebooks that use 16:9, which is a good thing since the M17x has more vertical space by comparison. If the M17x had a 16:9 screen, it would only have a 1920x1080 resolution, or about 10% less pixels.
The display's quality is unfortunately average. It has dual lighting lamps (as opposed to one on most notebooks), but unless I was told that I would not know. It is neither particularly bright nor vivid. Viewing angles are on par with other notebooks ? side-to-side are good, but from above and below it washes out and darkens, respectively. The display is also not evenly lit, as some areas appear brighter than others (even if the screen is all the same color). None of the issues I mentioned affect gaming or everyday usage, but they are there and out of place on a notebook starting at close to $2,000. I would like to see a better quality display used.
The M17x has two full-range speakers underneath the palm rest. These speakers are as close to desktop quality speakers I have seen in a notebook (save for the Toshiba X205/X305). Bass is noticeable and the mids and highs are far stronger than typical notebook speakers. This machine has several audio output options ? two headphone jacks, HDMI, and surround sound out.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The M17x has a backlit full-size keyboard with number pad. The keyboard is quiet and has a durable matte coating. It feels slightly rubbery to type on which is not a bad thing. There is a slight amount of flex but it does not affect typing. The backlighting feature is convenient in darker environments.
The touchpad has a textured matte surface and is easy to use with dry or damp fingers. The buttons are quiet and have good feedback. The touchpad is automatically switched off when a mouse is plugged in, or it can be turned off manually by pressing [Fn] + [F12].
Ports and Features
The M17x offers a wide selection of ports especially when it comes to video out. HDMI is good for connecting to HDTVs and Display Port to monitors that support it. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Left Side: VGA, HDMI, Display Port, Ethernet, 2x USB, e-SATA, IEEE 1394 mini Firewire
Right Side: ExpressCard/54 slot, memory card reader, slot-load Blu-ray drive, 2x USB, headphone, surround sound center speakers, surround sound rear speakers, microphone
Back: Exhaust vents, power plug
In terms of operating system and software, Windows Vista 64-bit comes standard on the M17x; at the time of publishing, Alienware is offering free Windows 7 upgrade coupons. Alienware computers in the past have come free of junk software and that trend continues with the M17x.
The notebook has an automated recovery feature, Alien Respawn 2.0. Pressing [F10] on startup initiates the procedure; it can back up files and re-install the OS from there, or do a complete wipe. Recovery disks, and instuctions come included in an extremely attractive leather-bound user manual:
Heat and Noise
A good cooling system is the foundation of a high performance notebook. The M17x manages heat extremely well. Its three fans draw air in primarily from the bottom but also the sides and top and send it straight out the back. Half of the bottom of the M17x is essentially a giant intake vent. This proved to be an excellent setup in our testing. The internal components remained well under their rated temperatures and the temperatures of the surface and bottom of the notebook were overall docile.
The fans can get loud but there is no whine; while gaming the noise is not noticeable. At idle, the M17x is nearly silent. Overall, Alienware gets an A+ for the M17x's cooling system.
The M17x has a feature called Stealth Mode which turns off the high-performance GTX 280M graphics cards and switches to an integrated GeForce 9400M graphics card. This configuration reduces power usage and as a result, I was able to use the M17x for two hours and fifteen minutes in Stealth Mode with the display at one-third brightness. That is a respectable number for a gaming notebook. Our test unit has some power-hungry components such as two 7200RPM hard drives running in RAID 0 and the Intel QX9300 quad-core processor. With a power-saving SSD (Alienware offers one or two 256GB SSDs) and a dual-core processor, I have no doubt the M17x could go for at least another half hour.
Performance and Benchmarks
Our M17x has the Intel Extreme QX9300 processor that can be user-overclocked. We ran each benchmark at the stock 2.53GHz clockspeed, and also at an overclocked 2.93GHz speed. Pressing [F2] at startup enters the BIOS and allows for overclocking. We used the stock Nvidia 179.85 video card drivers for all testing.
CPU-Z Processor Readout
Below are the specifications of our M17x?s QX9300 processor when overclocked to 2.93GHz.
wPrime Processor Performance Benchmark (lower scores mean better performance):
The QX9300 is the fastest mobile processor in the world ? these results are exceptional for a mobile processor. It is possible to get notebooks with faster desktop processors (the AVADirect Clevo D900F), so the M17x will not win every battle.
HDTune Hard Drive Performance Benchmark
The 1TB drive is actually two 500GB 7200RPM hard drives running in a RAID 0 array. The performance results are amazing but these performance benefits do not materialize in everyday tasks. I noticed no difference between the 1TB RAID 0 array in the M17x and the traditional 500GB hard drive in my own laptop.
PCMark Vantage Overall Performance Benchmark
|PCMark Vantage x64||Stock 2.53GHz||Overclocked 2.93GHz||% Difference|
PCMark Vantage x64 Stock 2.53GHz Overclocked 2.93GHz % Difference
Score 5614 6010 7.1
Overclocking the processor yields a 7.1% performance improvement. A 6,000+ point score is more than double what a typical mainstream notebook gets.
PCMark05 Overall Performance Benchmark (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 is an older benchmark and gets more of a boost from the processor overclock than PCMark Vantage, which is newer.
These are extremely impressive results, but the Clevo D900F soundly beats it thanks to its faster Core i7 processor. Almost 10,000 points is nothing to be ashamed of though!
Synthetic Gaming Performance using 3DMark06 (higher scores mean better performance):
Gaming applications will not benefit as much from a processor overclock as an overall system benchmark like PCMark Vantage, so the performance increases we see here are accurate. These scores are the fastest we have seen on a notebook.
We patched Crysis to v1.21 and ran it at a 1920x1200 resolution with all settings at ?Very High?
|Crysis 1.21||Stock 2.53GHz||Overclocked 2.93GHz||% Difference|
Talk about insane ? running Crysis on any machine two years ago at Very High settings was near impossible. Today, the M17x can do it at the ultra-high resolution of 1920x1200. Wow!
Stalker: Clear Skies
We ran the Stalker: Clear Skies benchmark at a 1920x1200 resolution, default settings, and full DirectX 10 lighting.
|Stalker: Clear Skies||Stock 2.53GHz||Overclocked 2.93GHz||% Difference|
Stalker CS results (default clock speed)
Stalker CS results (overclocked)
Overclocking the processor boosts the already excellent performance by seven percent.
Devil May Cry 4
We used the Devil May Cry 4 Demo?s built-in benchmark and ran it at 1920x1200 in DirectX 10 mode, maximum settings, and 8X anti-aliasing.
|Devil May Cry 4||Stock 2.53GHz||Overclocked 2.93GHz||% Difference|
The M17x destroys this game; the slight performance decrease when overclocking the processor can be attributed to benchmarking error.
As our benchmark numbers show, the Alienware M17x is the fastest gaming notebook on the market. It is not as fast as the Clevo D900F in processor-dependent applications since it has a much more powerful Core i7 desktop processor, but for gaming, the M17x with dual GTX 280M video cards is as fast as it gets.
The M17x is without a doubt a superb gaming notebook, leading the desktop replacement market in build quality and design. The M17x has an effective cooling system that kept it cool during our testing, and we liked the AlienFX lighting system and different case color options. The switchable graphics are handy and equates to good battery life (2:15). Our biggest issue with this machine is the subpar screen, which is out of place on a machine of this caliber. Other than the screen we found it difficult to fault the M17x and give it our recommendation.