Alienware M17X: Portable Gaming System
We have had the discussion on the show more than once about gaming laptops and even a few listener requests to talk about them. So when Dell and Alienware offered us the chance to take a high end gaming laptop for a test spin we jumped at the chance. Equipped with an Intel i7m processor and a nVidia GTX 680M for video this brute packs a punch and is at the upper end of laptop performance.
The outside of the laptop is covered is a rubberized coating that is super durable, non skid and after over a month of testing does not show wear easily. This coating gives the laptop a kind of stealth fighter look from the outside. From the outside you also become aware of the size of this brute. While this might be technically a laptop it is hard to imagine that word fitting this product accurately. Pushing the scales at almost 13 pounds this brute is less portable and more luggable.
Opening the laptop we are treated to a large 17” display, that has arguably the best screen I have ever seen on a laptop for image quality. In fact it looks nicer than many desktop monitors I have seen over the years. These cell phone pictures I took yesterday for this article do not do the display justice. With a 1080 resolution this screen demands movies and high ending gaming on it. Despite what the flash did for the picture, this display is actually really good about not having glare. In fact the bevel around the display, a glossy back, causes more glare than the screen.
The keyboard is fully backlit and is actually divided into three zones that can be individually lit. In fact all of the lighting can be modified thanks to Alienware’s software package that give you complete customization of the bling on this beast. The lighting goes even further with the software sensing a number of games and changing the lighting automatically when events within the games occur.
Once you get past the bling the keyboard is a very nice membrane design with a real effort made to give the membrane some quality in the response, the result is a serious cut above the typical laptop keyboard and equal to many quality desktop keyboards. It has a full number pad and while still using a chiclets square design that is typical for laptops, it is large and open enough to make this a none issue.
The touchpad has a rubberized feel to it and is not slick but not sticky at the same time, if that makes sense. It really must be used to understand what I mean. While still not as nice as a mouse for moving around the screen it is very serviceable for day to day use.
Alienware did not put all the bling however in the looks of this laptop. For sound they put in a SoundBlaster Recon3D and let that power a pair of speakers produced by Klipsch. The result is the best sound I have ever heard from a laptop. Other companies have tried various combinations of sound and speakers and used some big names to do it but they sound like crap compared to this setup. However even the mighty folks at Klipsch cannot produce great speakers this small and stay reasonably priced. So while the sound is really good the audiophile in us wants more. To accommodate us they put two headphone jacks on the side for sharing the sound, we put them to use with our Draco signature headphones and were suitably impressed. The sound was deep and rich in music and movie playback.
When it comes to gaming machines one of the things I love is tinkering with them. Adding more RAM and maybe more HD space or even an SSD is something we all think about. Alienware made sure that there was an upgrade path for you and it was easy to reach. The back panel uses a slide on system like a computer case side panel and is held in place by two screws under the battery. Pop those screws and the back slides off the reveal the system RAM, two HD cages, only one occupied in our system and the serious effort Alienware has made to cool this beast.
The dual fans with heat pipes provide the cooling for your CPU and GPU, they do an awesome job. Even in room at 80F the system never showed signs of overheating, despite being pushed hard and with some pretty hot hardware. This system is to big to ever really consider gaming on your lap so the bottom of the system heat is not a big deal but we tested anyway and found that the bottom of this system under load was cooler than that of the other two laptops I tested. Now these we simpler and more generic builds but they also used less powerful hardware that should generate less heat. This shows me that the solution the people at Alienware came up with for cooling this system works well.
Okay so this computer has great hardware and a lot of bling, but can it game, that has a mixed answer. We threw World of Tanks, Start Trek Online, Borderlands 2 and Civilization V at this to see how it faired under gaming load. All of the games played smooth and at high detail level with the 1080 resolution in place. Sounds good right? Well yes and no, while it provided a great gaming experience it also highlighted the “laptop” tax that I have referred to in the past. Priced at $2500 for the build we looked at the system was actually slower when we looked at frame rates than a $1200 DIY gamer build.
What does this all mean, well it means what I have been saying on the show for years is true, no laptop will ever be equal to a desktop system for gaming within the same price point. However that is just common sense. A lot of the price of a laptop system is for the use of special components to fit the smaller design and you pay for the portability.
When I shared my views with the folks at Alienware I was surprised, pleasantly so, to find they agreed with me. They agree that this kind of a laptop is a pure niche market product. Now if you have a job that keeps you on the road and in hotels all the time. Say a trucker or insurance adjuster, even traveling scrub nurse, okay I think you get the idea; then if you are a gamer this type of portability for you is priceless. It means you get to enjoy your gaming with a great experience and still having it with you every night after work.
For the everyday consumer however this is not a product that really fits well. As a laptop is great but has a short battery life, even just browsing the internet we only got about 2 hours and if you are gaming forget it, maybe 30 minutes. It is heavier than other laptops we have looked at, so much so that it actually requires a lot of shoulder shifting to carry in the bag when walking around.
However if you are the group of people of mentioned, that travel all the time and want to game this beast stands out of the crowd and begs to be played on. The raw horsepower makes it more powerful than most cookie cutter systems sold today so this could be more powerful than many peoples home PC. t The horsepower along with the fact that real gaming grade components are used means this will paly your games and deliver a great gaming experience. Add to that bling factor that will make you the envy of a lan party or be a great talking point with friends, you have something that can fit your mobile life style and looks cool doing it.
While there are other gaming laptops on the market and come in at lower prices, I think I would go to Alienware first. This design is zero compromise with every aspect of the system being well thought out and executed. The system is not just great hardware but it is well put together in an effort to maximize the geek and gaming experience and it delivers in spades.
Show segment as aired on our weekend edition the weekend of 17 November 2012