Our only complaint about the ports is that the USB sockets are clustered quite closely together. If you're hoping to plug in bulky peripherals, you might find that they obscure more than one USB port. That's quite aggravating.
This is the part of the review where we talk about performance. For those in a rush, we'll paraphrase the section below: using the M17x feels like being punched in the face by God -- in a good way.
Slicing into the abdomen of this beast, we find its beating heart -- an Intel Core i7 CPU. Our machine had a dual-core, 2.66GHz i7-620M processor with 4MB of cache, but more powerful i7-720QM, i7-820QM and i7-920XM CPUs are also available. If you opt for the best-possible CPU, you're looking at adding £930 onto the total price. At the other end of the scale are less potent and cheaper Core i5 CPUs.
Teamed up with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, the M17x achieved a staggeringly high score of 11,399 in our PCMark05 benchmark test. That easily bests the previous M17x's 8,724. That machine was running a quad-core, 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 CPU.
As for graphics performance, our review sample came with a dual 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870 GPU. A single 1GB Radeon HD 5870 option is available if you want to save some cash, but, if you don't want to, you can go for the top-end option of two HD 5870s in a dual configuration.
When we ran 3DMark06 with the display at a resolution of 1,280x1,012 pixels, the M17x scored a blistering 15,381, which is significantly higher than the earlier M17x achieved when running the test at a lower resolution. Running the benchmark again at the M17x's maximum resolution of 1,920x1,200 pixels, it still managed a shockingly high score of 14,457. We're pretty sure that running PC benchmarks isn't supposed to feel this pleasurable.
Using frame-rate monitoring software Fraps, we tested Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on the M17x. While not the most cutting-edge game, it's still up there in terms of really throwing pixels around. We found that, even playing through the most graphically intensive levels with the settings up as high as they'd go, the frame rate never dipped below 50 frames per second, making gameplay incredibly smooth and enjoyable. All in all, the M17x puts in a simply wonderful performance.
Before we move on, we have to give a word of warning, however. The M17x is the most powerful gaming laptop ever to grace CNET Towers, and we're not even playing with the best configuration. But, while this laptop may be peerless now, it's extremely expensive, and it's impossible to predict for how long it'll remain a system capable of chewing through anything you choose to throw at it.
A machine this powerful is bound to have rubbish battery life. In a sense, it's not a big deal -- we can't imagine a situation in which you'd want to use the M17x away from the mains. Still, when we ran Battery Eater's Classic test, which runs the CPU at full belt until the battery is exhausted, the M17x conked out after only 51 minutes, despite the hefty nine-cell lithium-ion battery stuck up its backside.
Our configuration of the latest Alienware M17x is very expensive, but we have to admit that it still represents pretty good value for money, considering the stonking array of components you're getting your hands on in the process. The Core i7 CPU makes a positive difference in terms of performance, and everything's wrapped up in an appealing chassis. There's no telling for how long it'll be the king of gaming laptops, but, for now, the M17x wears the crown.
Edited by Charles Kloet