Friday, June 17, 2011

Alienware's Area-51 m17x

The Area-51 m17x is Alienware's highest-end gaming notebook. Notable features of this all-black monster include an Intel Core 2 Extreme processor, dual Nvidia GeForce 9800M-GT graphics cards, and a 500GB RAID 0 array. It is one of the most powerful machines we have tested.

Our review unit has the following specifications:

* 17-inch WUXGA (1920x1200) glossy display
* Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 (2.8GHz/ 4MB L2/ 800MHz FSB) processor
* Dual Nvidia GeForce 9800M-GT 512MB graphics cards in SLI
* 4GB DDR2-667 RAM
* 500GB RAID 0 (2x 250GB 7200RPM Samsung) hard drive
* Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
* AlienFX lighting and backlit keyboard
* Internal TV tuner & remote control
* Alienware Orion messenger bag

As of writing, the Area-51 m17x starts at $3,849; our configuration totals $5,899. Note that our test unit includes several costly items such as the Intel Extreme processor and RAID 0 array. The m17x is only available from Alienware directly.

Build and Design
This all-black monster is one of the largest notebooks I have tested. It is 2.1 inches thick and tips the scales at 11 pounds. The physical design of the m17x is traditional – there are no fancy curves or other design elements. It has a box-like design with rounded edges. The rubberized matte black finish of the Area-51 m17x lends it a high-end feel and look. The only glossy finish to be found on the m17x is on the borders of the LCD.

In addition to being one of the largest, this notebook is also one of the most solidly-build notebooks I have tested. The entire base of the notebook is inflexible. The palmrests do not budge under pressure, and neither do the other surfaces surrounding the keyboard.

The base of the notebook does not bend when twisted, and the lid resists twisting better than the majority of 17-inch notebooks. The m17x’s lid is thicker than most. Pushing in on the back of the lid does not yield any ripples on the screen unless extreme pressure is used. 

The hinge holds the display in place well; there is some display wobble, though it takes effort to induce (such as shaking the table where the notebook is sitting). Given the size and weight of this display, I think the wobble is reasonably kept under control. The display does not have any latches but is instead held closed by a pair of small magnets.

The lighting system, called AlienFX, is what makes the m17x stand out from the crowd. Five areas of the notebook feature LED backlighting:

* Keyboard
* Touchpad
* Touch buttons
* Alienware logo below display
* Alien head power button and emblem on back of display

Each zone can be changed independently to one of 12 colors. In addition, it is easy to completely disable AlienFX by pressing [Fn] + [F11]. Overall, the design of the m17x is traditional yet attractive; it has a quality finish and feel. The machine is solid and well made.

The m17x comes standard with the only display available, a 17-inch glossy widescreen with a WUXGA resolution (1920x1200 pixels). The picture quality of this display is stunning – colors are vibrant and the brightness level is high. This screen is ideal for gaming, high-definition video, and general use. The crisp contrast makes reading text easy. 

Viewing angles are excellent from above and side-to-side, however like a typical LCD, the picture darkens viewed from below. The backlighting is generally even, with only a hint from the bottom of the screen. On the whole, the m17x definitely has one of the best displays I have seen on a notebook
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