Let’s get this out of the way — I am a big fan of Alienware — and I am no hardware tech guy. But after “guod” pleaded with me to offer thoughts on my newest hardware purchase, I decided to give it a go.
Back when I got into heavy gaming, I always wanted one of those sexy $6000 Alienware desktops. Being well out of my financial range, I had to settle for a Dell XPS system. Nice, but not the Alienware.
Then prices started dropping and Alienware started making laptops, Dell bought Alienware, and my interest was peaked again. I had my nearly-new Dell XPS desktop, and had owned Dell laptops before, but I eyed with lust the new Alienware M17 laptop. Two months before I went to my first E3Expo in 2009, I placed my order. It was as they had advertised — a true desktop replacement. I loved it.
While at E3Expo, Alienware pulled a fast one on me and introduced their newest laptop, the Alienware M17x. needless to say it was very cool. I will admit to being a bit ticked-off after just buying the M17 two months previously. Such is how these things go. But even though it was a powerhouse, it was heavy and bulky as could be expected for a gaming laptop. After E3Expo 2009, I used it less than expected, primarily because of its heft.
In January 2010 at the CES, Alienware announced the M11x gaming laptop. So light and compact, but still so powerful. I had to have one.
After doing research, reading reviews and technical reports, I placed my order and waited for the scheduled release date of March 2nd. Imagine my surprise when FedEx pulled up with it on February 18th!
If you have never purchased an Alienware product, then you don’t know the joy of receiving it. It arrives in a typical brown kraft shipping box, then you open that up to see another box that is solid black with just the Alienware head imprinted. Right from the start, you know you got something cool here. The components are always packed well; neat and strong. The laptop itself comes in a protective cloth cover with ALIENWARE stamped onto it.
Enter the Alienware M11x
The default Alienware M11x is priced at a surprising $799 USD. Its base specifications are:
- Intel Pentium SU4100 1.3GHz (2MB cache)
- Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit
- 11.6-inch wide HD 1366×768 (720p) LCD
- 1GB GDDR3 NVIDIA GT 335M video card
- 2GB dual channel DDR3 at 800MHz
- 160GB SATA II 5,400RPM HDD
I ordered mine with a couple of optional upgrades which made the price $1099 USD. The upgrades included the processor option to the Intel Core2 Duo 1.3GHz; 4 GB DDR3 RAM; and the 500 GB HDD.
The M11x is loaded with ports and input/output options. These include:
- IEEE 1394a (4-pin) port
- Integrated Ethernet RJ-45 (100 Mbps)
- 3 Hi-speed USB 2.0 ports
- DP / HDMI – Video Output
- 3-in-1 Media Card Reader
- 2 Audio Out Connectors
- Audio In / Microphone Jack (retaskable for 5.1 audio)
- Two Built-In Front Speakers
Two networking options are available:
- a/b/g/n 2×2 MIMO
- Internal WWAN Mobile Broadband
So you can listen to music, watch HD movies, surf the web, and browse your own files. If that’s not enough, hook-it-up to a video projector or an HDMI TV and you an instant HD and Surround Sound output device.
In my opinion, if you’re content with web surfing and basic games then go with the basic model. Its a nice package and well worth the $799 price. If you want to do more serious games and sims like ArmA2, DCS: Black Shark, Operation FlashPoint: Dragon Rising or Combat Mission Shock Force, go for the upgrades.
An Early Problem
Upon arrival, I quickly booted-up my new Alienware M11x. I installed Steam, then installed a few of my favorite games. Then my heart sunk. When I started each game, I was only getting single digit frames per second with every game setting on low. I was understandably concerned. What happened to that terrific framerate that was supposed to be a hallmark of the M11x? I was ready to box it back up, and send it back, thinking it was far less than I believed it was going to be.
I contacted Alienware support. My experience with Alienware technical support has been sterling. They offer some of the best computer hardware support I’ve ever encountered. I was on the phone talking with a tech within one minute. I explained the problem. Could it be using the onboard graphic processor instead of the NVIDIA GT 335M video card? The tech accessed the laptop remotely, and sure enough, within a few minutes he diagnosed and verified the problem. He instructed me to go back into the BIOS and change the graphic advance mode from “switchable” to “dedicated” where the NVIDIA GT 335M card would be used. I then had to download and install the driver, reboot and was good to go. It seemed they had forgot on my system to set the card as the default and load the drivers. Other owners I spoke to had no problems with their “switchable” graphic settings. Lets hope it was just unlucky me with the problem, and not a systemic problem with the M11x.
Anyhow, great support, and the M11x is back up-and-running full speed. Now its time for some serious play.
I jacked-up all my in-game graphic settings to MAX, ULTRA, HIGH, or whatever the ultimate settings were for each title. My previous anguish turned to joy. I was impressed. Very impressed.
The glowing Alienware head is always good for some comments when I use it for workday classroom presentations.
Now I can’t tell you why or how a 1.3GHz processor, even as a dual-core, can achieve such performance. But I can tell you my first-hand experience is, it does perform. Maybe SimHQ Technology Editor Joe Keefe can take a wireheaded-look at the M11x in some future article. All I know is, this thing kicks-arse.