With specs that ought to make most desktop PCs drool, the Alienware M17x uses of some of the fastest laptop components currently available and is aimed squarely at gaming enthusiasts. It only takes a quick look at the price tag to make you realise this is no ordinary laptop. Alienware supplied
us with pretty much the top M17x configuration, costing around £3,330. If you want to save
some cash, most components can be scaled back -- check out the Alienware Web site for full details. Prices start at about £1,700.
Weighing a monstrous 5.4kg and measuring 406 by 54 by 321mm, the M17x is perhaps best thought of as a portable desktop. Trying to make such a bulky laptop look attractive isn't easy, but Alienware has done a reasonably good job with the M17x.
Open it up and you're greeted by a full-size keyboard complete with numeric keypad. We weren't too impressed by the flex exhibited by the keyboard, but the keys benefit from a decent amount of travel. One area that Alienware seriously needs to reconsider, though, is the touch-sensitive control strip just above the numeric keypad. With each button far too close to the next, it's all too easy to switch off Wi-Fi when simply trying to turn the volume up, for example.
Aside from the power socket, which sits at the rear, all ports are located on the sides of the chassis. On the left, you get three USB ports (one of which doubles as an eSATA port), as well as mini-FireWire, DisplayPort, HDMI-out, VGA-out and Gigabit LAN connections. Over on the right, a slot-loading DVD writer is joined by a further two USB ports, audio in/out, a multi-format card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot.
A decent level of customisation is made possible thanks to Alienware's Command Center suite of utilities. The most eye-catching of these is AlienFX, which lets you change the colour of the ten LED-backlit sections of the laptop, allowing for an utterly garish rainbow effect or, if preferred, no lights at all.
Our review sample was powered by an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 CPU. With four cores and a clock speed of 2.53GHz, mobile processors don't come any faster than this. The processor is backed up by 4GB of DDR3 memory and you also get three graphics chips: an integrated Nvidia GeForce 9400M and two discrete GeForce GTX 280M cards running in an SLI configuration.
Given its powerful components, Alienware has sensibly furnished the M17x with a 17-inch screen that features a suitably high native resolution of 1,920x1,200 pixels. Other specs include 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and two hard drives -- 7,200rpm, naturally -- providing a total of 1TB of storage.
Unsurprisingly, the M17x absolutely tore through our benchmark tests. At a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels, it mustered up a mammoth score of 13,771 in 3DMark06. That's the fastest 3DMark06 score we've ever achieved on a laptop, but it doesn't tell the whole story. When we tested the M17x at its native resolution of 1,920x1,200 pixels, it still managed a barnstorming score of 13,074. Even when we turned on 8x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering (just the thought of this would make most laptops keel over and die), the M17x stood strong, with a score of 9,457.
It's worth noting, however, that, when we ran this final, punishing 3DMark06 test, the fans occasionally ramped up to a hurricane noise level. Slip on a set of headphones and you won't notice it, but anyone in the same room most definitely will. At all other times, the fans are still audible, but at a more acceptable level.
We also hurled Far Cry 2 at the M17x. With all detail settings at their highest level and the resolution at 1,920x1,200 pixels, it still managed just over 25 frames per second. Make no mistake: in terms of gaming performance, the M17x is the business. Thanks to its quad-core processor, the M17x also smashed our PCMark05 record, with a score of 8,724.
On a behemoth of a laptop such as this, battery life is relatively unimportant. For the record, though, in Battery Eater's Classic test, which runs the laptop at full pelt until the battery dies, the M17x lasted just 64 minutes, which, coincidentally, is about how long your arms would last before dropping off when trying to lug it around.
The Alienware M17x configuration we tested is undeniably expensive, and a clear case of overkill for all but the most enthusiastic and wealthy of gamers. Given the calibre of components used throughout, however, we can't criticise it in terms of value for money. It's a killer gaming laptop. Opt for a slightly slower processor and scale back some of the other components, and you can get the price down to a more realistic level.
Edited by Charles Kloet