The Aurora mALX is arguably the most audacious gaming laptop in Alienware's line-up. Not only is it airbrushed to give it a 'gamer's' aesthetic, but it's also the first laptop to use 1GB of dedicated graphics memory -- giving it arguably the greatest graphics performance seen outside of a high-end gaming rig.
The Alienware Aurora mALX uses a familiar Clevo M590K chassis -- a case we've seen used by countless other laptop vendors. It's not the most stylish chassis we've seen, but credit where it's due: this model has a glossy black coating that gives it a certain menace.
The lid of the laptop has a custom paint job. Alienware has airbrushed an image of what we can only describe as the feet of a six-toed mutant ninja onto either side of the lid. This comes across better than the moulded plastic 'ribs' that can be found on the rest of the high-end Alienware laptop range. The lid also has the familiar Alienware head and a painted section that changes from blue to purple depending on the angle it's viewed from.
The laptop has a large keyboard with a dedicated numerical keypad. As with many laptops that use the Clevo M590K chassis, there are some build-quality issues. The keyboard on our Aurora mALX was coming away from the chassis at the top-left edge and although it doesn't hinder the usability of the laptop, this sort of thing is likely to get worse over time.
Above the keyboard is a pair of upwards-facing speakers, and between them a set of circular shortcut keys and a power button with a blue LED. The shortcut keys control the activation of the laptop's integrated webcam at the top of the screen, the Bluetooth capability and the launch of your default Web browser.
The mouse touchpad is finished in a rather plain grey colour, which isn't very in-keeping with the dominant black and silver theme. But we were glad to see that far-right side of the touchpad has a vertical scroll section which makes it easier to read through long documents.
The mALX doesn't have any serial or parallel ports, but we were happy to see a total of five USB ports, which is a lot for a laptop. There's also a mini (4-pin) FireWire port and a 4-in-1 memory card reader that supports SD, MS, MSPRO and MMC cards.
Alienware uses both Intel and AMD components but the company tends to favour AMD chips for its ultra high-end machines. The Aurora mALX gets the dubious honour of using an AMD Turion 64 ML-44 CPU running at 2.41GHz. It's slightly surprising not to see a more modern chip, particularly given the laptop's high price.
By using this older technology, AMD has also had to stick with standard DDR PC3200 memory running at 400MHz. Although there's a healthy 2GB of the stuff, we'd have preferred it if Alienware supplied faster DDR2 memory as seen on AMD laptops with more modern foundations.
The mALX is extremely well equipped in the graphics department. It ships with a pair of Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX graphics cards -- the fastest mobile graphics processing unit (GPU) available. Each has 512MB of dedicated memory. This gives the laptop phenomenal gaming power, but the processor acts as a slight system bottleneck, as we'll see when we investigate the laptop's overall performance below.
The mALX's 19-inch screen hinders its gaming performance slightly. Its comparatively limited resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels doesn't allow it to take advantage of the SLI graphics configuration's ability to run at super-high resolutions (1,600x1,200 and beyond). Secondly, the display's widescreen aspect ratio can cause a couple of slight problems for gamers. Few games run in a widescreen aspect ratio, so many titles will simply run in a 4:3 box leaving borders at each side of the screen, or stretch the image to fit a 16:10 aspect ratio, blurring and distorting it slightly in the process.
The good news is that an increasing number of games are being created with widescreen modes, and patches are being released to run existing 4:3 games in native widescreen.
The screen itself is of a good standard. It uses the same glossy coating as seen on many other laptops in order to help improve the contrast levels and make colours appear more vibrant. We found it great for watching DVD movies and viewing pictures on. Unfortunately the enhanced contrast and vibrancy meant it wasn't precise enough to use as a serious image editing machine unless the video signal was routed to an external monitor via the laptop's DVI port.
Most laptops rely on their integrated audio chips for audio processing, but the mALX comes with a high-end Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS PC Card. This delivers a very high signal to noise ratio of 104dB and is fully THX certified. If you want to make the most of this, we'd recommend you get some 7.1-channel speakers -- game soundtracks will sound really awesome through them.
Given the laptop's high price, we were surprised Alienware didn't include a two-disk RAID array. Instead, storage is provided by a single 100GB Seagate Momentus ST910021AS hard drive. This is ample storage for most users, as large games such as F.E.A.R. only occupy around 5GB of disk space. But prolific gamers will have to uninstall games to make room for new ones at some stage, particularly if they install a wealth of other multimedia content such as videos or music.
Alienware has opted for an NEC ND-6750A DVD rewriter drive that is compatible with DVD plus and minus formats at up to 8x. It's also dual-layer-compatible so it'll let you write up to 8.5GB of data at up to 4x. The drive is fine for most uses, but again, we'd love to see a more advanced drive, perhaps Blu-ray or HD DVD for this sort of money.
There's an integrated 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi adaptor so you can get on the Internet or network with other PCs without cables, but if you do use wires you can get network throughput at up to 1,000Mb/sec thanks to the Marvell Yukon 88e8053 Gigabit ethernet adaptor, provided the other PCs on the wired network also have a Gigabit Ethernet card.
There's little in the way of software. The mALX only comes with Windows XP Professional Edition, but there's some compensation in the number of accessories it ships with. There's an exclusive ALX backpack to help you carry the laptop around in, an ALX portfolio, name plate, mouse pad, polo shirt, keychain, pen and there's even a Razer Diamondback gaming mouse to help you get the edge over your 3D shooter rivals.Performance
The mALX wasn't quite as impressive as the 20-inch Dell XPS M2010 in its core processing ability, as indicated by its PCMark 2005 score of 3,877. The Dell machine's dual-core processor helped it achieve 4,122 by comparison. That said, the mALX wasn't far off, and absolutely obliterates the Dell machine when it comes to raw gaming power.
It racked up a huge 3DMark 2006 total of 5,905 at a resolution of 1,280x1,024 -- which is a lot when you compare it to the Dell's tally of 2,244. In real-world terms, this equates to a Doom 3 frame rate of 133fps at 1,024x768 with 4x anti-aliasing -- the fastest we've ever seen on any laptop. F.E.A.R. performance was also impressive at 86fps.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield