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Hands-On with a Monster: Alienware’s M17x

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to getting a new notebook from Alienware. This is one of the few companies that seem to understand that a gaming notebook needs to look like it eats Apple products for lunch and scares the hell out of small children before dinner. The M17x is one of those products. You actually have to see in person to get a sense for how impressive it is.

Alienware’s M17xOut of the Box

The Alienware out-of-box experience is designed to give you the feeling that you just bought something as rare as The Lost Ark of the Covenant out of the first Indiana Jones movie. The FedEx delivery guy who dropped off the huge box simply didn’t believe that there was a laptop inside. It’s big, but as you open box after box (even the tape they use appears to require a combat knife to cut it, and just seemed to laugh at my little letter opener) the excitement builds until you get to the black-wrapped notebook itself.

This is no feather weight, and you almost need to bend your knees and lift with your legs to get it out of the box without injury. The power supply is the biggest laptop power supply I’ve ever seen, and while they make it very thin, it won’t be mistaken for a wimpy Apple unit, or from any other vendor, for that matter. I have netbooks that probably weigh less than this power supply, and it uses the same cable that a desktop system typically uses.

While the lid doesn’t latch, this huge 17-inch screen has one mother of a spring holding it in place. I think you could likely do repetitions and work on your upper arm strength just opening and closing it. It fires up fast, and once those speakers fire off, you know you don’t have your momma’s notebook computer sitting in front of you.

Alienware’s M17xSpecs and Dollar Signs

While this monster starts at a reasonable (for its class) $1,799, at this price it is more of a power poser against the monster you can build for over $4,000. Let’s walk through that configuration.

Your first choice is silver or black, and I really can’t imagine getting anything but the black beauty I have sitting in front of me. Processor selection starts with an adequate Intel Core 2 Duo P8000 with 3MB of cache and a 1066 MHz front side bus. But for a measly $1,000 extra, you can get the most powerful mobile processor in the world: the Intel Core 2 Extreme Quad ZX93000 with 12MB cache and a 1066MHz front side bus. You can also pay extra for Windows Vista Ultimate, but since Ultimate is discontinued with Windows 7, I wouldn’t bother.

Next is the video card. An Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M 1GB card is standard, and makes a nice performer. But for a trifling $600 more, you can get twin Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M cards with 2GB of memory and SLI enabled, making it the most powerful graphics setup I know of for a notebook computer. The standard display is a very nice 17-inch WideXGA 1440×900 screen. For a measly pittance of $150 (this is kind of a no brainer), you can get a 17-inch Wide UXGA 1920×1200 kickass display. Memory starts at an adequate 4GB DDR3 level, running at 1066MHZ. But for $1,000 more you can get 8GB of DDR3, running at a blinding 1333MHz. (I’d probably go for 4GB of 1333MHz, since its only $50 more).

For storage, base level is a 250GB 7,200 RPM drive, which is more than adequate for most, but $400 extra will get you a blazing 250GB third-generation SSD. Finally, for an optical drive, you start with a fine slot-loading DVD burner, but for $300 more you can get a Blu-Ray burner. I doubt you’ll use it, though, and you can split the difference with a Blu-Ray combo drive (which plays Blu-Ray but burns standard DVDs or CDs) for $150. And presto, that how you go from under $1,800 to over $4,100 in a few simple steps, and reach close to 13 pounds of weight, like my test system.

Alienware’s M17xExperience

One of the most impressive things about Alienware laptops are the lights all over the product, which you can adjust and customize to your taste. They don’t have to be the same color, either. The logos, keyboard (which can be divided into parts), speakers and the alien-head logo can all be adjusted individually. Once done, you are ready for some gaming.

The rig they sent over was similar to the $4,000 configuration I described above, and I loaded Unreal Tournament III and prepared to frag some folks. First, I needed a mouse, but fortunately I had the amazing Microsoft Sidewinder X8 sitting around, so off I went (this is a truly great mouse). With everything cranked up, gaming was smooth, sounds were wonderful, and game play was as good as either of my desktop gaming systems, both of which use multiple graphics cards. I promised Alienware not to benchmark this unit, because it was pre-pre-production sample, but I had no complaints (other than being out of practice with Unreal and getting shot a lot).

Next, I loaded Kill Bill Volume 2 on Blu-Ray and cranked up the sound. I was playing it in my great room – which is about twice the size of most living rooms – and was surprised to find the sound filled the room. It is by no means as loud as my 5.1 setup in the room, but you could actually live with this sound. I can’t recall another notebook that put out this much volume without noticeable distortion, but this puppy did it. I was actually impressed with the low end as well, because most laptops can’t put out good lows.

At the end of playing with this, only one word came to mind, and since we can’t print that, I’ll leave you with “wow.”

Wrapping Up

If there was ever a laptop that puts lust in the hearts of both engineers and gamers, the M17x is it. With features and performance that exceed anything I’ve ever tested or used, this product has earned a place in my heart and memory, while kicking the collective butt of most gaming desktop computers currently in the market. Most of you can’t afford it, few of you will ever even see it, but for those that game, there likely will not be another product more worthy of your lust anytime soon. The Alienware M17x is adrenaline in solid form, and one of the most impressive products I’ve ever touched.

Editors' Recommendations

Rob Enderle
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rob is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. Before…
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