By August 2, 2011

Alienware M17x R3 Review

Alienware M17x R3The Alienware M17x is now in it’s third-generation and it is one of the most powerful laptops in the world: Available with SSDs, a 3D 1080p screen, quad-core Intel I7 processors, up to 16 GB of RAM and top end NVIDIA graphics cards.

The M17x is definitely a top-shelf gaming notebook on paper but is that the case in practise? Read on to find out!

 

 

10 Second Review:

  • Device: Alienware M17x R3
  • Price: Starting from £1,299
  • Summary: An insanely large  notebook from Alienware with a 17.3″ 3D capable screen, AlienFX lighting system and next generation internals for a top-shelf gaming experience
  • Best: Fantastic gaming performance, design, screen, speakers
  • Worst: Noise, heat, build quality,

 

What is in the box?

  • Alienware M17x R3
  • Power Supply : Alienware 240W AC Adapter 1 S
  • Power Cord : UK 250V 1 S
  • Laptop sleeve
  • Mouse Mat
  • NVIDIA GeForce 3D Glasses, Case and Wipe
  • Getting Started Guide
  • Resource DVD
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Re-install disc
  • Application re-Install disc
  • Backup disc
  • Safety Information
  • Software License Agreement

 

General:
When the lid of the Alienware M17x is closed, you can only see the shiny Alien head, embezzled into the casing. But when it is up, you are presented with a full sized keyboard, full sized number pad, trackpad, power button, Alienware logo and hardware widget buttons. On the left you have the Ethernet, VGA, HDMI-out, mini display port, 2x USB 3.0, SPDIF, Microphone Input, 2 headphone jacks and a Kensington lock.
Whereas on the right you have a HDMI-in port, eSATA and 2x USB 2.0 ports. This is also where the 8-in-1 Card Reader is and the Blu-Ray drive or DVD drive (depending if you upgrade or not).
Looking forward, you only see the characteristic Alienware grills that light up!
On the back, you see the power plug and vents.

 

 

Alienware M17x R3 Standard Unit Specification – Configured cost: £1,299.00:

  • Alienware M17x R3 : Base Stealth Black 1 S
  • Processor: Intel® CoreT i7 Processor 2630QM (2.00Ghz, 6MB, 4C) 1 S
  • Display: 17.3″ WideHD+ (1600 x 900) WLED LCD)
  • Camera : Integrated 3.0 Mega Pixel HD Camera 1 S
  • Memory: 4096MB 1333MHz Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM [2x2048]
  • Hard Drive: 320GB (7,200rpm) SATA Hard Drive
  • Graphics card: 1.5GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 560M
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW (DVD, CD read and write)
  • Wireless: Dell Wireless 1501 wireless-N – EUR
  • Bluetooth : European Dell Wireless 375 Bluetooth Card 1 S
  • Battery: Primary 9 cell Li-Ion Default Base Battery
  • Power Supply : Alienware 240W AC Adapter 1 S
  • Power Cord : UK 250V 1 S
  • Weight: 4.4 kg
  • H: 45 mm D: 304 mm W: 410 mm
  • Operating System: English Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium (64 BIT)

 

Alienware M17x R3 Review Unit Specification – Configured Cost:  £2,259.00:

  • Alienware M17xR3 : Base Stealth Black 1 S
  • Processor : Intel Core i7 Processor 2630QM (2.00Ghz, 6MB, 4C) 1 S
  • Display : 17.3in 120Hz w/ 3D Bundle WideFHD (1920 x 1080) WLED LCD 1 S
  • Camera : Integrated 3.0 Mega Pixel HD Camera 1 S
  • Memory : 4096MB (2×2048) 1333MHz DDR3 Dual Channel 1 S
  • Hard Drive : 256GB Dell Mobility Solid State Drive 1 S
  • Optical Drive : Blu-Ray Disc (DVD+/-RW + BD-ROM) Drive including software 1S
  • Power Supply : Alienware 240W AC Adapter 1 S
  • Power Cord : UK 250V 1 S
  • Battery : Primary 9-cell 93W/HR LI-ION 1 S
  • Graphics : 1.5GB GDDR5 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M w/ Optimus Technology 1 S#
  • Bluetooth : European Dell Wireless 375 Bluetooth Card 1 S
  • Wireless : European Dell Wireless 1501 wireless-N
  • Weight: 4.4 kg
  • H: 45 mm D: 304 mm W: 410 mm
  • Operating System: English Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium (64 BIT)

 

Highlights:

  • Fantastic gaming performance
  • Screen
  • Speakers
  • Design

Low-lights:

  • Noise
  • Heat
  • Build Quality

 

Review:
For those who know me personally, I am the quintessential Mac guy and I have been for years. Normally, I would never touch a Windows PC or any non-Mac computer without a ten-foot pole, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience the highest end of the PC market with the Alienware M17x.

The one thing that Alienware is not famed for is the portability of their laptops. It has a 17.3″ screen, weighing 4.4 kg and with dimensions of 410mm x 304mm x 45mm you will need some serious muscle power to carry this around with you, whether it is a 10 minute commute to work or a while travelling for 10 hours with it on your back. This truly is a monstrous machine.

Despite weighing a ton, the design of the laptop is one of true uniqueness. Sharp edges and interesting angles, all reminiscent of a stealth aircraft. Very modern and definitely good looking.

The outer shell is entirely made of plastic and for that I am truly grateful, mainly because if it was made of metal, it would weigh even more than it already does.  However, as is to be expected with the use of plastic as a material, it does reduce the quality of the build. Almost every single time I touch the laptop, it squeaks, creaks and complains. But it is soft touch plastic which is intriguing as it is very nice to touch and very easy to clean.

Alienware M17x R3 Nebula red

The lid is supported by a strong hinge connected to the main part of the laptop therefore making it quite difficult to lift, but not impossible. When you grab the top corners of the screen, it does twist slightly but you don’t get the feeling like it will instantly fall apart.

And upon lifting said mighty lid of the M17x, you are greeted by a full sized keyboard, with the addition a full sized number pad as well. I have found the typing experience on  this keyboard surprisingly good as I have been used to the island style keyboard that resides with the MacBook line of laptops. You do not need much effort when typing when using this keyboard and I have been able to type relatively fast with it, approaching the speed that I type when on my MacBook. It is also a very comfortable keyboard to type on and I can vouch for this as I wrote this entire review plus the Samsung Galaxy Mini and the LG Optimus 3D reviews on the M17x keyboard as well.

However i can’t see the need for the numeric pad that sits just to the right of the QWERTY keyboard. Some veteran PC users may disagree but I do not see the point of decentralising the keyboard to make room for some keys whose functions can already be accessed on the main keyboard.

Alienware M17X Notebook

In the top right hand corner, there are some hardware buttons that control things like the volume, media controls, eject and Wi-Fi on/off. Most modern laptops have this feature nowadays and I am glad that they are here for quick access on the M17x.

Beneath the keyboard you have the decentralised trackpad, that is actually one of the best I have ever used. It is very responsive and my finger literally glides over it. Underneath the left and right mouse buttons are quiet and tactile, making it very nice to use. However, I still cannot fully understand why most trackpads nowadays are positioned on the left of the laptop. I really like how the Macbook trackpads are in the centre but that might  just me and it may be different for you.

One of the coolest features about the Alienware range of laptops is that you can change the colour of everything under the lid to your hearts content through AlienFX software. This includes 9 sections that can be altered: three on the keyboard, the number pad, the trackpad, the Alienware power button, the Alienware logo, the caps lock indicator, the grills on the front and the toggle buttons. You can make any of them be any colour of the rainbow, you can make them morph between colours and you can even make them pulse! You can make it extremely garish or you can turn them off if you so please.

Under the hood of our review unit, there is the Intel Core i7 2630QM quad-core processor clocked at 2.00 GHz. It can be upgraded to a 2.20 GHz or even a 2.30 GHz version but in my use, I couldn’t imagine needing more horsepower in this laptop; The 2.00 GHz version is more than capable of dealing with almost everything you could throw at it. The quad-core processor is also accompanied by 4 GB of DDR3 RAM and that also can be expanded in size, this time it can go up to 16 GB.

Our review unit came pre-configured with a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M graphics card with 1.5 GB of dedicated memory but it can be upgraded to a the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M with 2 GB of memory. I will cover this in more in more detail later on when I cover the gaming performance of this laptop.

One of the reasons that I was astounded with the performance of the M17x is that it has a 256 GB SSD inside. This obviously isn’t standard but I think that this is the one area where you should definitely upgrade: boot up times can now be measured in seconds rather than minutes, programs boot up almost instantly and it just generally makes everything so much faster. It may cost £460 more than the standard 320 GB 7200 RPM hard drive in the base model of the M17x but trust me when I say it is well worth it.

Now,  as you would expect with such a powerful and expensive laptop, it also has a high end screen. There is a 17.3″ edge to edge LCD on the M17x and the base model’s resolution is 1600 x 900 but it can be upgraded to a full 1080p screen or you can even go a step further and bump it all the way into the third-dimension with the addition of a 3D; The latter being the screen included in our review unit. As it is such a large resolution, text, images and almost anything else on the screen will appear small so unless you have a good eyesight or want 3D, the cheaper version should be fine for most users.

Alienware M17X Notebook

As for the quality of the display, it is one of the best I have seen on a laptop. The brightness is excellent and with the already vibrant colours it’s even better. The contrast is extremely good, blacks are deep and the colours are alive as well. Another good thing about the display on the M17x is the viewing angles. From side to side and from underneath but there is some slight distortion when looking at it from above. However, some people will not like the fact that the screen is glossy which is extremely reflective, almost mirror like and there is no remedy for it – a matte display is not an option.

Above the screen there is the 3 MP webcam that can be used for taking photos of yourself, Skype or any other kind of video conferencing software. In playing with it for a brief amount of time, the quality seems decent enough for most things you could task it to do.

Another great thing about the Alienware M17x is the quality of the speakers. It comes with two custom-designed Klipsch speakers that sound great! A full sound with plenty of bass and as long as you don’t turn it up to the max, there shouldn’t be any distortion.

On the right handside of the M17x you have the Blu-Ray drive which is still pretty rare amongst laptops nowadays, despite the format having been out for years. Once again you will need to pay extra for this feature as only a DVD drive comes as standard but if you are a movie person, I do recommend you configure it to be in your M17x as the quality of playback is very good and the added bonus of having a Blu-Ray player with you at all times is very appealing. That is if you have the strength to carry the additional weight around.

As you would expect, the Alienware M17x comes with the latest version of software from Microsoft, Windows 7. The M17x comes standard with Home Premium but of course it can be upgraded to Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate if you so wish.

Desktop

As I previously mentioned, I am an OS X aficionado and as such only really felt comfortable touching  Windows with the protection of  a ten-foot-pole. However , with hindsight I think I may have come to this conclusion because I have only used Windows on cheap netbooks and underpowered desktops and  now I realise that my previous opinion of Windows was a bit harsh. After experiencing the software on a top-shelf machine, I really have come to appreciate how good of operating system Windows 7 is.

But as it is Windows, I am not going show what is in the OS as most likely you have either used it or used previous versions and they are pretty much the same in operation.

 

Gaming Performance:

The gaming aspect of this laptop is probably the most enticing feature for those who can stump up the cash to pay for the M17x. As I mentioned earlier, the hardware inside the M17x is designed specifically for fraggin’ n00bs.

The quad-core Intel I7 Processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M graphics card on top of 4 GB of RAM makes gaming silky smooth both in 2D and 3D.

When playing Team Fortress 2 at 1920 x 1080 with all the settings turned up to the highest possible, which results with great FPS, ranging anywhere from 48 to 299 frames per second with the average being 128 FPS. Even in the most intense fire fights, the Alienware M17x performs without breaking a sweat. P.S. by the way, the general consensus is that around 30 FPS is needed for smooth game play.

TF2 2DTF2 3D

TF2

Crysis is still the most hardware intensive game and therefore the benchmark that all computers have to face even 4 years after the game’s release. As for the results, the M17x got around 19 frames per second on average on the highest settings at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 – not many can boast that fact. This frame rate is still playable however, if you bump it down a bit. It becomes even more so, averaging around 25 frames per second on high but it becomes extremely smooth at medium with an average FPS of 42 frames per second.

Crysis MediumCrysis HighCrysis Very High

Crysis

Civilisation V is yet another one of the most intensive games for any computer and when I cranked all of the settings on to the highest and set the resolution to 1920 x 1080, it spat out beautifully smooth and detailed game play in the 2D mode averaging 35-39 frames per second with the highest being in the fifties – impressive!

Civ 5 2DCiv 5 3D

CIV 5

But as you would expect, when I turned it on to the 3D mode, the frame rate did drop slightly. On TF2 with the same settings and resolutions the average was 34 frames per second compared to the average FPS of 128 in 2D mode.

 

3D:

However, I think that the slight drop in FPS is well worth it because of the quality of the 3D experience. When you look at the screen, the game really pops out at you, adding another layer to the  immersive gaming experience.

You view the 3D effect by looking through the (included in the price) Active 3D glasses from Nvidia. The glasses themselves cost £100 and do so because of the active 3D technology. This means that is uses batteries to flicker in sequence with the screen to create the 3D effect and in my opinion, the best of all of them out there.

6604_5851

You get used to wearing the glasses after around 10-15 minutes, but in those first few moments they do weigh your head down ever so slightly. Also, when you are playing, you need to sit up to have a line of sight between the receiver built into the laptop. The location, as far as I can tell is somewhere near the Alienware logo just beneath the screen.

 

Noise and Heat:

As you would expect with such powerful internals, it takes some powerful fans to cool them. There are two vents on the back of the M17x to eject hot air and two underneath to take in air to cool them down. As far as I can tell, the cooling system on the M17x is decent enough but I have noticed when playing intensive games such as Crysis, that the fans do produce a loud sound but it is consistent, much like a fast flowing air rather than a whining sound.

The palm rests do get slightly warmer than the surrounding area but the rest of the top part of the laptop remains a normal temperature. However, the chassis on the bottom does produce a significant amount of heat when playing intensive games: this sometimes makes the metal signature plate on the bottom get too hot to touch! Therefore, you shouldn’t be playing games on your lap if you don’t want burnt thighs.

 

Battery Life:
With general laptop use: web browsing, email, some YouTube videos, etc, I managed to get around 3 hours on average before I needed to grab the charger. It may seem little but that should be expected from a device with such a large screen and such powerful components. But when I played some games without being connected, I got little over an hour so I highly recommend you be powered from the mains when you venture into the gaming world.

 

Conclusion:
I can comfortably  say that the Alienware M17x is the best computer I have used. Even though I am Mac through and through, I have been persuaded and turned by my experience with this computer. Windows 7 runs beautifully, the screen is gorgeous and the whatever you throw at it game-wise, it handles it beautifully.

The sharp stealth fighter looks, the colourful keyboard,  the great speakers and the awesome internals make the M17x R3 a brilliant entry by Alienware into the high end laptop gaming space. I would highly recommend it to any gamer because of the fantastic hardware and software of the M17x, even though the build quality is slightly lacking and it weighs a ton!

 

Review by: Patrick

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