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Alienware M15x (Intel Core i7 720QM review: Alienware M15x (Intel Core i7 720QM

Alienware M15x (Intel Core i7 720QM

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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6 min read

Keeping the same revised look and feel as the recent 17-inch M17x version, the Alienware M15x is an imposing black slab of computing power that's thicker and heavier than most 17-inch laptops.

OVR
8.0

Alienware M15x (Intel Core i7 720QM

The Good

Amazingly powerful for a 15-inch laptop; highly configurable; adds 16:9 display.

The Bad

Configuration options can get expensive; far from portable.

The Bottom Line

Alienware's big and bulky 15-inch M15x pulls out most of the stops, thanks to a superpowered CPU.

We love having high-end options such as Intel's uberpowerful Core i7-920XM CPU, and it's a plus that Alienware has finally gotten onboard the 16:9 display bandwagon; but if you want serious gamer options such as dual video cards or two hard drives, you'll have to trade up the bigger 17-inch model.

While it starts at a deceptively promising $1,499, our review unit clocked in at $3,199, which is a steep premium for a system with a single GPU and hard drive (not even a solid state one, at that). Still, the Alienware mystique counts for something, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better built, or faster, 15-inch laptop.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,349 / $1,499
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-920XM
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR2
Hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel PM55 Express Chipset
Graphics 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 14.9x12.2 inches
Height 1.9 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 9.4/10.9 pounds
Category Mainstream

The new look of the M15x is essentially a slightly shrunken clone of the current 17-inch M17x. Much like that model, this M15x has a modern minimalist design. There are fewer distracting flourishes on the keyboard tray than on previous Alienware systems, and there's a slick edge-to-edge glass overlay on the display. The front edge, rather than squared off, has an angled automotive-inspired grille that helps the overall look from being too slablike, complete with adjustable glowing lights.

The anodized aluminum case is built like a tank, but also about as heavy as one. Even though this is technically a fairly portable 15-inch laptop, we don't see it taking too many trips out of the house.

Alienware's Fusion FX lighting and settings control system is a unique selling point. You can set the color for the backlit keyboard in four separate zones, meaning you can create a rainbowlike design across the keys. The same software package also provides a fairly comprehensive power control suite, which offers more detailed options than the basic Windows power settings, as well as security controls, including facial recognition log-in software.

The keyboard has a more traditional tapered key design, rather than the wider, flat keys many laptop makers are partial to these days. When we reviewed the similar-looking 17-inch model, Alienware explained that these tapered keys provide more space between the individual letters, which is better for first-person shooters, which make heavy use of the WASD keys.

The 15.6-inch wide-screen LED 16:9 display offers a 1,920x1,080-pixel native resolution, which is as good as you'd find on any 17-inch or larger laptop. That matches the 1080p standard for Blu-ray and other HD video, making the M15x well-suited for media watching. For $100 less, you can opt for a lower resolution 1,600x900-pixel screen, but we don't see why anyone would.

  Alienware M15x Average for category [mainstream]
Video VGA-out, DisplayPort VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio 5.1 speakers, headphone (2x)/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion ExpressCard/54 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner/Blu-ray player DVD burner

Dell continues to push the DisplayPort standard as an alternative to HDMI, and having only three USB ports may be a bit limiting for a gaming machine, but other than that, the M15x is well-equipped for networking, expansion, and accessories.

As expected from Dell and Alienware, there are enough configuration options to create some very different final products (as well as easily doubling the price). The most notable is the new Intel Core i7-920XM CPU. It's a whopping $900 upgrade over the default Core i7 720QM (itself nothing to sneeze at), and includes a requirement that you also choose the larger nine-cell battery option.

With that superpowerful processor, we saw some of our best performance numbers to date, even beating a hybrid laptop built with desktop quad-core components. Make no mistake, you're paying a lot for the privilege, but at least for right now, no one will have a faster laptop if you go for the most expensive processor upgrade.

Actually using the Alienware M15x was a smooth, pleasing experience--windows snapped open and shut instantly, annoying pauses were virtually nonexistent. Gaming was likewise excellent, even with only a single video card. Running Unreal Tournament 3 at a whopping 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, we got 99 frames per second. A few SLI dual-card laptops, such as the Asus W90, could beat that, but not by much, and even those systems fell behind at lower resolutions. The combo of a killer CPU and a good single GPU was a powerful one, and we can only imagine what we'll get from the first system we test with a Core i7-920XM plus dual Nvidia GeForce 260M or 280M video cards

Annual power consumption cost
Asus G51J-A1
$23.07 
Alienware M15x
$24.55 

Juice box
Alienware M15x Performance (Avg watts/hour)
Off (60%) 0.36
Sleep (10%) 1.73
Idle (15%) 36.36
Load (15%) 125.68
Raw kWh Number 216.33
Annual Energy Cost $24.55

As one would expect, the Alienware M15x won't run very long away from a wall socket. Even with the extended nine-cell battery (required by the Core i7 920 processor), the system ran for 1 hour and 46 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. That's alright for a high-powered desktop replacement, but very low for a 15-inch system with at least pretensions of portability.

Alienware includes an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the system, which includes in-home service. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $299, and several other options are available for purchase, including "Tech Team" coverage for all your Dell products. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base and driver downloads.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Unreal Tournament 3 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x800, 0X AA, 0X AF*  
1,440x900, 4X AA, 8X AF*  
1,920x1,200, 4X AA, 8X AF*  
Alienware M15x @ 1,280x768 / @ 14x10 / @ 19x10
165.7 
128.9 
99.4 
Asus W90VP-X1 @ 1,280x768 / @ 14x10
143.3 
129.6 
119.4 
iBuyPower M865TU @ 1,680x1050
142.7 
111.4 
94.1 
Gateway P-7808u
124.8 
100.3 
N/A
Asus G51J-A1 @ 14x10 / @ 19x10
118.2 
102.4 
78.8 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Alienware M15x
Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-920XM; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Asus G51J-A1
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-720QM; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M; (2) 320GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q850
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-720QM; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTS 250M; HDD #1: 64GB, Toshiba SSD / HDD #2: 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Gateway P-7808u
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Asus W90VP-X1
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600; 6GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Dual ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4870 X2; 320GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Malibal Veda Clevo M980NU
Windows Vista Ultimate (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9300; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; (2) 512MB SLI Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M; (Nvidia Stripe) 250GB 5,400rpm / 80GB Solid Sate Drive

iBuyPower M865TU
Windows Vista Home Premium SP2 (64-bit); 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9800; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm

OVR
8.0

Alienware M15x (Intel Core i7 720QM

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Support 6
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