For about £165 more than the laptop's base price, you can upgrade the panel to one that runs at 1,920x1,200 pixels. Alienware, rather confusingly, describes this as '1200p', but it is most closely related to 1080p 'Full HD' televisions. We'd recommend the 1200p panel if you're interested in running games or movies at a high resolution, or simply need more room to manoeuvre application windows around the desktop.
Earlier in this review, we mentioned that the M17 has face-recognition technology. This isn't so unusual -- many Vista laptops do -- but Alienware has implemented the most comprehensive commercial face-recognition technology we've ever seen. The accompanying AlienSense software uses the webcam to continuously monitor for faces, logging in when a face is detected, logging out when a user walks away from the laptop, and logging in as a different user if another face is detected. If an unrecognised face is detected, the laptop takes a picture of the 'intruder' so that you can take appropriate action -- whatever that may be.
Alienware sells a range of accessory options for the M17, including hybrid digital/analogue TV tuner cards with remote controls, and Blu-ray drives, for example. Before thinking about these, we'd recommend investing in some form of gaming mouse. The Logitech MX Revolution is our current favourite.
Our review sample shipped with a Core 2 Quad Q9000 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and an ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards, so it's no surprise it's the fastest gaming laptops we've tested. It refused to run our PCMark05 benchmark, but we'll forgive it that, because its 3D performance more than makes up for this. With a single HD 3870 card enabled, it stormed its way to 11,315 in our 3DMark06 test, at a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels. With twin cards enabled in CrossFireX formation, gamers can expect scores above 15,000. The Dell XPS M1730 chalked up 8,870 with twin GeForce 8700M graphics cards at 1,024x768. Rubbish, eh?
Battery life is laughable, but that's to be expected from a gaming laptop. It lasted a miserable 48 minutes in the Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt until the batteries are exhausted. With that in mind, you probably won't want to venture too far away from a mains supply.
The Alienware M17 is an awesome piece of kit. It's attractive, can be kitted out with a good range of high-end components and is blisteringly quick. There are alternatives, such as the Asus G71V, but few laptops can match the M17 for customisation options, features and speed.
Edited by Charles Kloet