Alienware M17 review: Alienware M17

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The Good High-resolution screen; twin graphics cards option; quad-core CPU option.

The Bad Poor battery life; uneven lighting on backlit keyboard.

The Bottom Line The Alienware M17 is a magnificent beast. It's attractive, can be kitted out with just about any component you need and is blisteringly quick. Alternatives exist, but few laptops can match this polygon-munching monster's customisation options and features

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8.8 Overall

The M17 is yet another polygon-munching monster from the games-obsessed fanatics at Alienware. Unlike the identical-looking Area-51 m17x, which sports Nvidia graphics hardware, the M17 uses an ATI graphics solution, in addition to a choice of quad-core mobile CPUs. Prices start at around £1,050.

The M17 probably shouldn't be called a laptop, since hauling this beast onto your lap may cause you physical damage. It measures an enormous 397mm by 299mm by 45mm, which is approximately the same size as two copies of the Yellow Pages laid side by side, and weighs a considerable 5.4kg. It is, incredibly, seven times heavier than the 12-inch Toshiba Portege R500.

The M17 is available with a choice of lids. The first of these, the 'Skullcap' design, has the rib-like protrusions we've seen on countless other Alienware laptops. The alternative 'Ripley' design, which we prefer, is totally smooth. Both sport the grey alien-head logo and are finished in a matte black plastic that doesn't attract grease and grime.

The M17 is fairly attractive on the inside, too, mainly because it's so minimalist. Again, matte black is the order of the day, except for the screen and surrounding bezel, both of which are glossy. The keyboard is backlit, which means it's easy to use in dimly lit or completely dark rooms, but the blue LED light it uses isn't very evenly spread, so some keys appear more brightly lit than others. This makes the M17 look cheaper than it otherwise would.

Just above the keyboard is a row of capacitive touch-sensitive buttons, for launching a Web browser or email client, and controlling multimedia playback. Below the keyboard, you get a large mouse trackpad and a fingerprint reader for logging in without using a password.

Interestingly, this isn't the only means of securely logging in without the use of a password -- you can also use the highly advanced facial-recognition system, which works in conjunction with the webcam above the screen. More on this later.

The sheer size of the M17 means the laptop can accommodate a wealth of input-output ports and other physical features. The right side is home to a volume adjuster wheel, headphone and mic ports, four-pin FireWire port, two USB ports and an optical SPDIF audio port. The front edge houses a DVD rewriter drive, the left side has an SD memory card reader and ExpressCard/54 slot, and the rear has HDMI and D-Sub video outputs, Ethernet, USB, eSATA and coaxial ports.

The M17 is heavily geared towards gaming. As such, it uses an ATI Radeon HD 3870 CPU with 512MB of dedicated memory. Gamers who want more oomph can opt for two HD 3870 graphics cards running in a tandem CrossFireX configuration, but that'll cost you an extra £205 or so over the base model.

The M17 comes with a range of CPU options, too, starting with a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400. Our sample shipped with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000 2GHz chip, but serious (or seriously rich) gamers have the option of buying the 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme quad-core QX9300 -- although that carries a £980 premium.

Alienware provides plenty of memory options for the M17: 2GB, 3GB or 4GB of DDR3 1,067MHz RAM is available, but, if you buy the latter, be sure to make the most of it by upgrading the operating system from the standard copy of Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit to Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit.