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Technology / Hardware

Alienware M17x

Alienware M17x performance laptop

Today Dell / Alienware announced the new M17x laptop. They described it as the “most powerful 17-inch laptop in the universe”. Indeed, the specs for the max performance model are very impressive:

  • Intel Core 2 Extreme quad-core CPU with 12MB cache and 1066 MHz FSB
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9400M G chipset
  • Dual 1GB GDDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280M GPUs in SLI
  • 8GB DDR3 @ 1333 MHz
  • 1920 x 1200 glossy LCD screen
  • 500GB 7200 RPM hard drive, or 256GB SSD (either config also available in RAID 0 or RAID 1 with two drives)
  • Slot-loading dual layer Blu-ray combo drive (Blu-ray ROM, DVD+/-RW, and CD-RW)
  • Illuminated keyboard characters
  • ExpressCard Digital TV tuner with remote
  • Analogue outputs for 5.1 audio
  • Draft-N wireless internet
  • 2 mega-pixel webcam integrated into casing
  • Anodized aluminum casing
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit

The M17x also boasts an impressive number and variety of ports along the two sides of the casing. Among these are:

  • 4-pin firewire
  • eSATA/USB combo port
  • Displayport
  • HDMI
  • VGA
  • Card reader
  • ExpressCard slot
  • Three 2-channel audio outputs
  • Microphone audio input

The M17x weighs in with a base weight of 11.68 pounds, which is seriously heavy for a laptop. As with all Dell laptops, the M17x can be heavily customized. The cheapest model (lower resolution display, no TV tuner, single GPU, etc.) comes to a total of $1,799 plus tax and shipping at the Dell web site. Configured with the specs shown above (including RAID 0 with two SSDs), the price is a whopping $5,449.

Matrox Triplehead2Go

Joe sat down with Mark Bush of Matrox (not Mark “Frugal” Bush) to discuss the progress with the TripleHead2Go technology. According to his business card, Mark’s title is Game Developer Relations & TripleHead2Go Technology Evangelist. His job is to work with game developers to get them to integrate proper Triplehead support into new and existing titles, and to spread the word about TripleHead2Go to interested communities. If you don’t know what the TripleHead2Go is, you might want to read or skim the two SimHQ TripleHead2Go reviews.

Matrox has teamed up at this year’s E3 with D-box, a motion simulation platform. You can read more about D-box below. They were demonstrating four titles on displays supported by digital TripleHead2Go units: Tom Clancy’s HAWX, Crysis, DiRT 2, and RACE On. Crysis and RACE On were shown on typical (but large) Triplehead setups: three 22” widescreen monitors each with a resolution of 1680x1050. HAWX and DiRT 2 were shown on special gaming display walls that comprised two triplehead arrays stacked vertically.

The extravagant 6-screen display walls were powered by dual digital TripleHead2Go units. Matrox advises that this custom configuration is intended for trade shows; home users can try it at their own risk. Doing so will require a standard high-end DirectX 10 compliant GPU. The display walls had a combined resolution of 5040x2100, and looked very impressive. One thing that stuck out was that the bezel edge between the two center monitors was rather distracting in HAWX. In DiRT 2 it was not nearly as much of an annoyance, since you don’t need to focus directly on the center of a display in a racing title.

One exciting piece of information that came from Matrox is planned triplehead support for some upcoming titles. These include Rise of Flight and RACE On. The RACE On support is actually bigger news than just that one game; it means full triplehead support is integrated for all SimBin titles henceforth — no more stretched movies and GUI, no more stretched HUD and chat text in-game, etc. These improvements can actually already be seen in the Volvo: The Game title that was recently released. Unfortunately, SimBin titles that have received their customary single patch, such as GTR2, will remain with their issues. It remains to be seen how the triplehead improvements to RACE On effect the RACE 06/07/GTR Evolution line of products and addons; since RACE On will be available as a standalone title or as a RACE/GTR Evo addon, there is the chance the triplehead improvements in RACE On could apply to the entire line of RACE products. Let’s hope.

Tritton Surround Headsets

A company called Tritton was demoing some high-end surround sound headsets. The first product we listened to was the AX900. This headset has a single transducer (i.e. loudspeaker) in each ear cup. It uses Dolby Headphone technology to virtualize a 3D soundscape. This can result in a large-sounding space, but limited directionality. The AX 900 takes stereo input via optical, 1/8” plug, or left/right RCA, which means it can be used with a PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, mp3 player, home stereo system, etc. In addition to the headphone output, there is also a left/right RCA out, which means the AX900 control box can be used to feed a pair of loudspeakers in conjunction with or instead of the headphones themselves; the Tritton representatives pointed out that this could be useful for applications such as Wii use (where user activity might preclude the wearing of headphones).

AX Pro

The second product we listened to was the AX Pro. This is a true 5.1 Dolby surround sound headset, with 4 transducers in each ear cup. The center and sub channels in each ear receive the same signal, while the front and rear channels in each ear receive discreet signals. Since there is no signal processing once the audio signals leave the source device, this product results in a smaller-sounding soundscape but exhibits better directionality. The AX Pro supports inputs from PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Both models come with detachable boom microphones and feature voice volume controls independent from the main volume. The AX Pro has a small controller that is inline with the headphone cord, which can be used to individually adjust the levels of the center, front, rear, and sub channels. Backlit text in one of five colors indicates the approximate level of each channel.

The AX900 comes with cloth earcup pads, while the AX Pro comes with interchangeable cloth and faux leather earcup pads, allowing the consumer to indulge his or her own preferences. Chunx tried both, but actually found the cloth pads to be more comfortable. Joe had no preference. For further customizability, ear cup outer plates can be removed and replaced to allow the consumer to apply customized ‘skins’ to jazz up the headset’s looks.

Chunx’ and Joe’s subjective opinions of the headsets’ sound quality differed (as opinions of headphones so often do). Chunx liked the AX Pro better, while Joe preferred the AX900. Chunx thought the AX Pro delivered crisp and clear audio with more depth than the AX900. Joe though the AX Pro’s sound was too harsh and preferred the fuller-sounding AX900. Chunx and Joe both failed to identify much actual “surround sound” (i.e. the ability to locate sounds to the side or behind of the listener). Both headsets were very comfortable.

The AX900 and the AX Pro have an MSRP of $169.99.


D-box is a French Canadian company that makes motion platforms. We can write plenty about them, but to really “get it” you need to watch some video.

There are three levels of D-box products. Only the entry level is being shown at E3; it has two actuators, located at the front of the motion platform, and comes with a seat and a mounting arm for controllers. The MSRP is $3500. The three-actuator D-Box is considerably more expensive, and with the seat and controller mount has an MSRP of about $10,000. The third D-box product level is a do-it-yourself platform, which is just a platform, power supply, and three or four actuators. The intent for this product is for those who wish to a build a home cockpit from scratch. The three-actuator model has an MSRP of about $6,000.

The D-box is certainly not your run-of-the-mill hardware peripheral. However, it’s an absolute blast. Chunx and Joe got to drive some laps in a Radical SR3 in RACE On’s Laguna Seca track. We turned off all of the aids except for Autoclutch and had at it. As you can see in the video, the D-box pitches down under braking, pitches up under acceleration, rolls in the corners, and kicks when changing gears. When sitting in it you can feel the pulsing of the engine, tire shudder when locking up wheels, and the onset of oversteer. It certainly can make driving more difficult, however; we found it difficult to hold the wheel straight because of all of the motion. We adapted quickly, though, and would certainly recommend the entry-level D-box device to anyone who has the money to spend and is serious about racing sims. Magnum says he can see his next Christmas present.

Chunx at the wheel

Joe drives Race On in the D-box

Some technical notes: each actuator can, at a minimum, support 250 pounds. Larger actuators, which are designed for faster and stronger motion, can also support twice that weight. The actuators are electro-hydraulic devices, with all hydraulic fluid contained only in each actuator assembly at the base of the D-box. Power draw for the control system is only 2.5A @ 110VAC.

There are 27 parameters that D-box users can adjust to achieve the desired performance of the device. We don’t know what they all are, but suffice it to say that the product is very tweakable. In a racing sim, for example, you can set the D-box’s response to RPM, engine torque, wheelspin, shifting, etc. D-box actually recommends that you do this for every vehicle type in a title!

We were told that Embry Riddle has about 10 D-box units that they use for training purposes. Supported titles that SimHQ readers may be interested in include: FSX, DCS: Black Shark (and future DCS products), X-Plane 9, Rise of Flight (planned), Battlefield 2, Crysis Warhead, Need For Speed Undercover, GRID, rFactor, Live for Speed, GTR2 (planned), and obviously the RACE lineup of titles/add-ons.


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E3Expo 2009

Report 1: Arrival
Report 2: Day 1
Report 3: Day 2
Report 4: Day 3


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