Forget the cataclysmic events forecast for 2012 -- the world's already imploded. Both Ferrari and Porsche have made hybrids, somebody's invented a jetpack you can actually buy, and Alienware has made a netbook.
It's no ordinary netbook, either. Alienware says the 11.6-inch M11x will deliver the sort of gaming and graphics performance you'd normally expect from 15- or even 17-inch laptops, while still offering a relatively compact body. The M11x starts at about £750, although our review sample, which sits near the top of the range, retails for around £1,185.
Floats like a butterfly
The M11x is noticeably larger than your average netbook. Its chassis measures 286 by 33 by 233mm, and weighs 2kg, so it has more in common with a small ultra-portable laptop than an Eee PC.
That's not to say it's particularly hefty, though. Both the M11x and its power supply will slot into a medium-sized man-bag with ease, and it's light enough to carry pretty much anywhere you go. Given its gaming credentials, which we'll explore later, it's the perfect machine to take to a LAN party.
The M11x may be highly portable, but it's not something we can see our mums using in public. In typical Alienware fashion, its styling is aggressive, and there are enough flashing lights to put your local disco to shame.
The power button, the keyboard, the left and right front corners of the chassis, and the status lights above the keyboard can all be assigned their own independent colour from a palette of 19, or told to cycle between a pair of colours. Consequently, there's no need for your M11x to look the same as anyone else's.
Connect the slots
One upshot of the M11x's extra girth is its awesome connectivity. The right side of the machine is home to a mic jack, two USB ports and two headphone jacks -- so multiple users can listen to headphones in relative privacy.
On the opposite site, portmageddon has broken loose. There are three video output ports (D-Sub, HDMI and DisplayPort), a third USB socket, an Ethernet port, a 4-pin FireWire port, and a memory-card reader. There's also a SIM-card slot into which users can connect their own 3G SIM card for true go-anywhere Internet access. Unfortunately, Alienware has yet to install a 3G modem in UK-spec M11x machines, but the company will add this as an optional extra 'in a few months'.
High-speed components are what really sets the M11x apart from its rivals. The basic model uses an ultra-low-voltage, dual-core, 1.3GHz Intel Pentium SU4100 processor with 2MB of L2 cache. If this doesn't quite meet your performance needs, Alienware will chuck in an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 for an extra £55. This chip has much in common with the SU4100, but is marginally quicker, thanks to its 3MB of L2 cache.
The M11x has 2GB of DDR3, 1,066MHz RAM as standard -- upgradeable to 4GB or 8GB -- and a choice of hard drives. The basic system comes with a 320GB, 7,200rpm unit, although users can upgrade to a 500GB, 7,200rpm drive for an extra £30, or a 256GB solid-state drive for £300 more. Sadly, the M11x lacks an
optical drive, which means gamers will have to resort to digital download services such as Steam.
All versions of the M11x come with an 11.6-inch, 1,366x768-pixel display, and not one but two graphics cards. The first is an Intel integrated graphics processor unit designed for basic everyday tasks like browsing the Web. Hit the Fn button plus F6, however, and the M11x switches to high-performance mode, kicking the Intel CPU to the kerb in favour of an HD-chucking, polygon-flinging Nvidia GeForce GT 335M.
In high-performance mode, the M11x wipes the floor with everything else in its size and weight class. It achieved a very impressive score of 5,654 in the PCMark05 benchmark test -- more than three times what you can expect from an ordinary netbook. This tally is also greater than the 5,190 achieved by 17-inch Samsung R720, which uses a 2.1GHz Core 2 Duo T4300.
Incredibly, it's also capable of running almost any game thrown at it, including graphics-intensive titles such as Crysis. With the medium graphics settings applied and at a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels, the M11x ran Crysis at an average of 36 frames per second, which is unheard of for a machine of this size, and relatively rare even with larger laptops. Its 3DMark06 score of 5,968 reinforces its gaming credentials further, eclipsing the 3,340 scored by the Samsung R720.
Run, Forrest! Run!
One could easily be forgiven for thinking this sort of performance would affect the battery life, and it does, but Alienware has a solution. While using the Intel integrated GPU, the M11x can last as long, and often longer, than many of its similarly sized rivals.
In Battery Eater's Classic test, which simulates a worst-case scenario for battery life by running the CPU at full pelt until the battery dies, the M11x lasted an impressive 3 hours and 44 minutes. That's well shy of Alienware's claimed 8 hours and 39 minutes, but, with more frugal use, there's every chance the machine could achieve something close to that time.
The Alienware M11x is a stunning piece of kit. It's bigger, thicker and more expensive than your average netbook, but it blows everything else out of the water with its astonishing performance. If you want a machine that's comfortable to use, highly portable and brutally quick, there simply is no alternative. Miss it at your peril.
Edited by Charles Kloet