The Alienware Aurora mALX is a show-offy laptop. Its 19-inch display is so massive that you need a huge Alienware backpack to carry it around. Its case features an extremely detailed custom airbrush paint job with a ribbon of metallic color that changes when viewed at different angles. And as with all status symbols, it's expensive: pricing starts at $4,499, and our review unit, which included a number of high-end upgrades, cost almost $5,600. The mALX isn't all bark and no bite, though. With two graphics cards running in a scalable link interface, the mALX achieved the highest frame rates to date on our gaming benchmarks. That said, the mALX didn't exactly blow away the competition; the 19-inch Eurocom M590K Emperor ($5,430) offers similar gaming performance, and the 17-inch Dell XPS M1710 ($4,215) trails just a bit behind it. And with Intel's Core 2 Duo chips just around the corner, we wonder how much longer the Aurora mALX will own the performance crown. For hard-core mobile gamers who want to turn a few heads as they frag the competition, the Alienware Aurora mALX is the laptop to buy today--but you might want to hold on to your five grand until we get the full picture on the Intel Core 2 Duo in just a few weeks.
There's a reason Alienware has opted to include a massive backpack with the Aurora mALX: the beast measures 18.8 inches wide, 13.5 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick, and it weighs 15.2 pounds--without its AC adapter. Unbelievable as it may seem, the Aurora mALX is actually a bit slimmer than the Eurocom M590K Emperor and the Acer Aspire 9800, and its weight falls right between the two competitors'. Add in a 2.9-pound power brick--which, incidentally, is about the size and weight of an actual brick--the monster mALX is really only portable enough to schlep to your next LAN party.
The 19-inch display on the Aurora mALX may be a backbreaker, but it's also a beauty. Though the native resolution of 1,680x1,050 is lower than that of some 17-inch laptops, the screen has plenty of real estate for multitasking, graphic design, or immersive game environments. The screen size alone is awe-inspiring: underwater scenes from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou were entrancing, and we actually got a bit dizzy while playing Doom 3. The display's glossy finish helped colors pop but was not overly reflective. Our only complaint is that the lid seemed to be made of cheap plastic; though it didn't seem likely to break or crack, it did creak and pop every time we opened it or adjusted the display angle.
The laptop's full-size keyboard and 10-key number pad are very comfortable, even with extended bouts of typing. It was difficult, though, to keep from grazing the touch pad and accidentally misplacing the cursor while typing. Though you can disable the touch pad using software, we wish the laptop had a hardware touch pad on/off button, especially given that our review unit's price included a Logitech G5 Laser Mouse painted to match the laptop's case. Nevertheless, the touch pad and the mouse buttons are amply sized, and there is a convenient scroll zone along the right side of the pad. Above the keyboard sit four launch buttons: one to control the Webcam above the laptop's screen, one to turn the system's wireless radio on and off, and two quick-launch keys for e-mail and Web applications. Given the Aurora mALX's massive screen and high-quality sound card--not to mention its four speakers with subwoofer--we were disappointed that there were no external buttons to control volume and media playback.
Because of its large case, the Alienware Aurora mALX has room to include nearly every possible connection for audio (headphone, microphone, and S/PDIF jacks), video (S-Video input and output, VGA and DVI ports, and a connector for an external TV antenna), and data (five USB 2.0 ports, one four-pin FireWire port). Networking connections include Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g wireless, and a V.92 modem; our system lacked Alienware's $39 external Bluetooth adapter. Finally, you get a PC Card slot (but no slot for ExpressCards); a 4-in-1 card reader that reads Secure Digital, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and MultiMediaCard formats; and a tray-loading DVD burner. That's virtually everything gamers will need, and it's identical to the list of ports and connections on the M590K Emperor. Also worth noting are all the goodies Alienware throws in with the mALX. In addition to the backpack mentioned above, our box was stuffed with Ozma 7 headphones, a luggage tag, a keychain, a pen, a mouse pad, and a polo shirt--all tagged with the Alienware logo, natch. We felt like we'd joined a cult.
Our Alienware Aurora mALX review unit is clearly not intended for amateurs; it includes nearly every upgrade the company offers, bringing the total price to $5,570. This configuration includes a top-of-the-line 2.6GHz AMD Turion 64 ML-44 processor, but there's no dual-core option, nor can you configure an Aurora mALX with an Intel CPU. The rest of the components include 2GB of 400MHz memory; dual Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS GPUs, each with 512MB of memory; and two 100GB hard drives, both spinning at a swift 7,200rpm. All these components are absolutely top-of-the-line today, though savvy buyers might want to wait until we gauge the performance of Intel Core 2 Duo chips (currently scheduled to start shipping at the end of August) before dropping five large on a single-core AMD laptop.
Like its sibling, the Aurora m9700, the Aurora mALX trailed the Intel Core Duo competition on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark, likely because the laptop's AMD CPU has less L2 cache than its Core Duo counterpart. (This discrepancy is likely only to increase with the release of Core 2 Duo, whose unified cache appears to be even better than the two separate reserves on the Core Duo chip.) The mALX scored only slightly higher than the Eurocom M590K Emperor, which includes a slightly slower Turion 64 processor. Still, these laptops are among the most powerful available, and the mALX felt responsive throughout our use.