Alienware M17x R3 review: Alienware M17x R3

CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
Review Date:
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The Good Huge amount of power. HDMI-in lets you use the screen as an external monitor. Lighting system allows customisation, or can be turned off.

The Bad Big and heavy. AMD switchable graphics are awful.

The Bottom Line The M17x is a glorious piece of kit. The sheer size of the thing means that it isn't for everyone, but for those who want outrageous gaming ability from their laptop, this is it. Unless you get the bigger one ...

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Power — it's something that Alienware has chased since inception. When it comes to thumping big laptops that have the ability to drive a small economy, let alone a mere AAA title, Alienware's usually been right at the bleeding edge.

The "R" in this particular lappy's title isn't just for decoration; rather, it means that it's the third revision, and quite a powerful lap-warmer it is, too.

Coming in a typically huge Alienware box, what's supplied is somewhat scant to previous releases: a soft cloth cover, a manual and a 3.5mm to TOSLink converter. The rest is all packing foam and cardboard.

Prying out the blood-red and black laptop, it's hard to ignore that it's been fitted out in a style that recalls both sports cars and a healthy dollop of sci-fi goodness. It's also hard to ignore that it's the weight of a toddler, and is unlikely to leave your desk frequently.

You can pick one of these up now with a GTX580M inside, which will be important to gamers for one and a half reasons: 1) it's bloody fast; and 1.5) it'll enable stereoscopic 3D using Nvidia's brain-smooshing active shutter glasses. We're thoroughly in the "meh" camp for sterescopic 3D gaming, but we're quite sure that there's someone, somewhere, who thinks it's a good idea (and who's not on a marketing team).

Radiating pain

Our clam-shaped contraption had a Radeon HD6970 inside, sparing us the 120Hz headaches. It introduced a new pain, though, in the form of AMD's switchable graphics. That is to say, they're unfathomably awful.

While Nvidia's Optimus offers seamless, auto-detecting and auto-switching of when to use discrete graphics for power, and when to use integrated graphics for battery saving, AMD offers multiple schemes, none of which really work.

The most elegant is an auto-detect, but non-auto-switch software, which recommends that you switch to discrete graphics when it detects them. It often tends to break games the first time you run them, as the game launches with Intel graphics and then gets dumped out by AMD's recommendation that you switch. Frustration ensues.

The worst is found on Alienware's M18x, the M17x R3's bigger brother. We can only assume that it's due to the CrossFire configuration (that's two AMD cards working in tandem for those not aware), but the machine insists on restarting Windows to switch between the video cards.

Then there's the middle ground: the direct switch. We've seen it supplied in both hardware and software switches, leaving it directly up to the user when to switch between the two. It's archaic, but it works. Well, mostly — while we've never had a problem with the hardware switch, the software switch in the M17x R3 often wouldn't switch between the two until we'd reset, and created annoying pop ups that didn't even do you the benefit of telling you which graphics card was enabled. While having Intel graphics inside is a benefit to battery life, we can imagine that to save themselves from the pain of this system, users will just leave the AMD graphics enabled.

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Where to Buy

Alienware M17x R3

Part Number: CNETAlienware M17x R3

Typical Price: $2,698.99

See manufacturer website for availability.