With the same look and feel as its 17-inch M17x sibling, the 15.6-inch Alienware M15x is an imposing black slab of computing power that's thicker and heavier than most 17-inch laptops. We love having high-end options, such as Intel's uber-powerful Core i7-920XM CPU, and it's a plus that Alienware has finally hopped aboard the 16:9 display bandwagon. But, if you want serious gamer options, such as dual video cards or two hard drives, you'll have to trade up to the bigger, 17-inch model.
While the M15x starts at a deceptively promising £1,200, our review unit clocked in at around £2,700, which is a steep premium for a system with a single GPU and hard drive (and not even a solid-state one, at that). Still, the Alienware mystique counts for something, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-built or faster 15-inch laptop.
Built like a tank
The M15x is essentially a slightly shrunken clone of the current M17x. Much like that model, the M15x has a modern, minimalist design. There are fewer distracting flourishes on the keyboard tray than on previous Alienware systems, and there's a slick edge-to-edge glass overlay on the display. The front edge, rather than being squared-off, has an angled, automotive-inspired grille, complete with adjustable glowing lights, that helps prevent the laptop's overall appearance from being too slab-like.
The anodised aluminium case is built like a tank, but it's also about as heavy as one. Even though this is technically a fairly portable 15-inch laptop, we don't see it taking too many trips out of the house.
Alienware's Fusion FX lighting and settings control system is a unique selling point. You can set the colour for the backlit keyboard in four separate zones, meaning you can create a rainbow-like design across the keys. The same software package also provides a fairly comprehensive power-control suite, which offers more detailed options than the basic Windows power settings, as well as security controls, including facial-recognition log-in software.
The keyboard has a more traditional, tapered-key design, rather than the wider, flat keys many laptop makers are partial to these days. Alienware says these tapered keys provide more space between individual letters, which is better for first-person shooters, since they make heavy use of the W, A, S and D keys.
The 15.6-inch, 16:9, widescreen LED display offers a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is as good as you'd find on any 17-inch or larger laptop. That matches the 1080p standard for Blu-ray and other high-definition video, making the M15x well-suited for watching movies. For £80 less, you can opt for a lower-resolution, 1,600x900-pixel screen, but we don't see why anyone would.
Dell continues to push the DisplayPort standard as an alternative to HDMI, and having only three USB ports may be rather limiting for a gaming machine, but, other than that, the M15x is well-equipped for networking, expansion and accessories.
As expected from Dell and Alienware, there are enough configuration options to create some very different final products, with some very different price tags. The most notable option is the new Intel Core i7-920XM CPU. It's a whopping £890 upgrade over the default Core i7-720QM (which is itself nothing to sniff at), and includes a requirement that you also choose the larger, nine-cell battery option.