Alienware M17x review: Alienware M17x

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The Good Subtle improvements to Alienware's dorm-room-chic design; amazingly fast and powerful; highly configurable.

The Bad Good configs can get very expensive; no 16:9 display; garish lights don't scream "high end."

The Bottom Line Alienware's new version of the M17x makes some welcome design tweaks and offers the best laptop gaming hardware you can get. Just be warned: it ain't cheap.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 5
  • Support 7

With a brand-new look and some of the highest-end tech available in a laptop, we're semi-surprised that Alienware has kept the M17x name for its newest 17-inch laptop (even if it loses the X-Files-esque "Area-51" moniker). While the system starts at a reasonable $1,799, you'll need to configure something closer to our $4,849 review unit to really get the benefit of Alienware's years of experience making high-end gaming PCs.

We appreciate the evolved design of the new M17x, which does away with some of the dorm-like qualities of past Alienware systems, making for a (slightly) more sophisticated-looking package. The somewhat goofy custom lighting system remains, but the automotive-inspired front-end grille and edge-to-edge glass on the display offset that.

With an Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9300, dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M GPUs, and 1TB of hard-drive space, this is about as powerful as laptops get without resorting to stuffing actual desktop parts in a chassis (as with the ). We often point to less expensive gaming laptops, such as the or the as offering a better bang for your buck, but if you want the very best, and are willing to pay for it, dropping several Gs on the new Alienware M17x will make you the coolest nerd on your block.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $4,849 / $1,799
Processor 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9300
Memory 8GB, 1033MHz DDR3
Hard drive (2) 500GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Nvidia MCP79
Graphics (2x) SLI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280M
Operating System (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 16.0 x 12.7 inches
Height 2.0-2.1 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 17.0 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 12.6 / 14.8 pounds

We've always gotten down on Alienware for its dorm-room-chic design sensibilities, which seemed more like adolescent sci-fi fantasies than anything someone who could actually drop five grand on a laptop would be interested in. The previous M17x made a few steps in the right direction, de-emphasizing the brand's iconic glowing alien head design and offering a smart matte black finish.

This new version continues the march toward modern minimalist design, with fewer distracting flourishes on the keyboard tray, and a slick edge-to-edge glass overlay on the display. The front edge has also gotten an overhaul, with an angled automotive-inspired grille that helps the overall look from being too slablike. The anodized aluminum case feels heavy and substantial--but also means you won't be taking it on too many trips outside the house (unless you like lugging around almost 15 pounds of computer equipment).

Alienware's Fusion FX lighting and settings control system returns--even more over-the-top than ever. You can now 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 Vista power settings, as well as security controls, including facial recognition log-in software.

The previous version's flush touch pad--previously demarcated only by a backlit outline--has been improved, with a very subtle texture, so your finger can more easily tell when it's actually on the touch pad (even if most gamers will plug in an external mouse).

The keyboard has a more traditional tapered key design, rather than the wider, flat keys many laptop makers are partial to these days. Alienware explains that for its core gamer audience, the traditional keys provide more space between the individual letters, which is better for first-person shooters, which make heavy use of the WASD keys. There's also a strip of touch-sensitive controls above the keyboard (also with an adjustable backlit color), but their response was a little slow for us, and there was a confusing lack of onscreen confirmation for some of the commands.

The 17.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,920x1,200 , which is what we'd expect from a high-end 17-inch laptop (less expensive desktop replacements can have 1,440x900 displays). The screen looks crisp and bright, and the edge-to-edge glass overlay adds a seamless feel, but it is subject to glare from light sources. We also wouldn't mind seeing Alienware embrace the trend toward 16:9 displays.

  Alienware M17x Average for category [desktop replacement]
Video VGA-out, HDMI, DisplayPort VGA and HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio 5.1 speakers, headphone/microphone jacks, surround sound audio outs. Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.
Data 5 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), FireWire, SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/54 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner/Blu-ray player DVD burner [high-end: Blu-Ray]

No shortage of ports and connections here, including a rarely seen mini-Firewire port and three separate video output options, including DisplayPort. Multiple audio-outs mean you can easily hook up a set of big PC speakers, which is a plus for high-intensity gaming.

While our review unit was configured with nearly every high-end option available and cost almost $5,000, the M17x actually starts at a much more reasonable $1,799. The specs for that system are somewhat less impressive, with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600, a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M GPU, 4GB of RAM, a 250GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a DVD burner, and a lower-resolution 1,440x900 screen.

In contrast, we had a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9300, along with 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and dual Nvidia GeForce GTX280M graphics card, which moves the M17x to the top of our laptop performance list. One laptop we recently reviewed used a desktop PC 3.33GHz Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Quad Core processor, and was technically faster--but putting desktop parts in a laptop chassis is an entirely different animal. The quad-core Extreme-edition CPU helped in our multitasking tests, but the real-world difference between this and the non-Extreme Core 2 Quad Q9000 found in other high-end desktop replacements isn't enough to call it a must-have upgrade (especially for $750 more than the Q9000).

The real star here is the SLI configuration of Nvidia's GeForce GTX280M. With two of these powerful GPUs working together, we got 168 frames per second at 1,920x1,200 in Unreal Tournament 3, making this our gaming laptop performance leader by a wide margin. Anecdotally, we fired up F.E.A.R. 2 at 19x12 and set most of the graphics options to medium or high for a smooth, impressive experience. Of course, with very few high-profile PC games currently in development, there may not be that many titles that deserve this kind of high-end treatment (one exception may be , one of the few buzz-worthy upcoming games that's being developed for the PC and ported to consoles, rather than the other way around).

Nvidia's GeForce GPUs also include the company's CUDA technology, which lets the GPUs provide extra processing power to certain nongaming tasks, such as video rendering. Keep in mind that you'll have to use CUDA-compatible software, such as CyberLink PowerDirector 7.

Juice box
Alienware M17x  
Off (watts) 0.98
Sleep (watts) 1.24
Idle (watts) 46.13
Load (watts) 166.95
Raw (annual kWh) 286.22
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $32.49