The M11x has a deceptive amount of heft to it for an 11.6-inch laptop — in a size that's usually closer to the 1kg mark, it comes out as being double. Of course, being Alienware, this is because every pore is crammed with ridiculous power. This pint-sized portable powerhouse contains a Core i7 for goodness' sake.
The M11x carries the fine tradition of Alienware's distinctive style, this time in attractive matte black with harsh, sci-fi/military-style angles. Ah, yes, and almost everything lights up, from the Alienware logotype, alien head that doubles as a power button and status indicators under the monitor, to the vent-shaped headlights on the lip, to the much more useful illuminated keyboard. You can change the colour of all of them too through the AlienFX software, either to whatever colour you like, or off if you find them distracting.
The 1366x768, glossy 11.6-inch screen is wonderful to use, and the speakers sound better than most 15.6-inch laptops, with beefy bass, excellent volume and good clarity.
As an enthusiast laptop, ports are a little strange compared to the mainstream: the M11x features both HDMI and DisplayPort out, for example, with nary a VGA port in sight. Three USB ports are supplied (although oddly the integrated eSATA port is not here), dual headphone jacks are present along with a microphone jack (which can be reassigned for 5.1 audio), FireWire port, SD card reader, 100Mb Ethernet port and, strangely, an externally facing SIM card slot; however, no software dialler was bundled on our particular sample nor was a WWAN card available as an option. The 100Mb Ethernet port is particularly a disappointment — with the 7200rpm hard drive included and the beefy processor, surely it'd have no trouble keeping up with a Gigabit connection.
Internally, we have the aforementioned Core i7 U640 at 1.2GHz, although it can Turbo Boost up to 2.26GHz. This is complemented by 8GB RAM, a 500GB 7200rpm hard drive and Nvidia GeForce GT 335M graphics, which is Optimus enabled. This means that when hefty 3D or video decoding isn't needed, the M11x switches back to Intel graphics to save on battery.
All of this runs on Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, with Alienware bundling in McAfee for internet security, and CyberLink YouCam. It's also themed Windows to buggery, which at first looks cool, but then you realise you can't find anything in Windows Explorer as all the icons have become something non-descript. You can't switch it off through the usual theme switcher either; you'll need to load the MyColors to be rid of it, a Stardock program that's been heavily customised by Alienware.
As an Alienware laptop, you'd expect it to be gaming capable, and you won't be disappointed here. Firing up 3DMark06 it netted a score of 7147, making it fully capable of modern games at modest settings. The PCMark05 score of 4510 isn't as amazing as we'd hoped, but the machine is still more than capable at productivity, office and web browsing tasks, especially thanks to the 8GB RAM.
Battery life was where the surprise kicked in — along with Optimus and the low voltage Core i7 processor, the M11x created magic, lasting three hours, 24 minutes and 59 seconds while playing an XviD file back at full screen, with all power-saving features turned off and screen brightness/volume set to maximum. This is a particularly harsh test — casual use will see better battery life.
Alienware's M11x is an incredibly impressive laptop at a temptingly affordable price. About the only thing we can find fault with is the ridiculous 100Mb Ethernet port, and the inclusion of a SIM slot that does nothing. If these don't bother you, then this pint-sized yet potent laptop will likely make you happy for years to come.