Friday, June 17, 2011

Alienware m17x

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:

* 17-inch WUXGA (1920x1200) edge-to-edge display
* "Space Black" chassis
* Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
* Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 (2.53GHz/12MB/1066MHz) quad-core processor (overclockable)
* Dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M 1GB graphics cards in SLI
* Switchable to integrated Nvidia GeForce 9400M 256MB graphics card
* 8GB DDR3-1333 RAM (2x 4GB)
* 1TB RAID 0 (500GB 7200RPM x2) hard drive array
* Slot-load Blu-ray reader
* AlienFX lighting system
* 9-cell battery

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.
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