Alienware’s M17x is a supersized beast in an Ultrabook world. Can it prove there’s still a need for the desktop replacement laptop?
Alienware M17x – introduction
It weighs-in at a massive four MacBook Airs or six iPads, but the M17x isn't even the biggest laptop made by Alienware. Most of us have an eye on the brave Ultrabook future, so is Alienware fearless or foolish in its defence of the supersized gaming desktop replacement?
Alienware M17x – chassis and design
The M17x retains exactly the same physical design as last year's model, which itself was barely changed from years before that. It's not new, but it's still one of the best put-together cases around: as physically imposing as it is brightly lit, in fact, and it’s very brightly lit indeed. There are no less than seven arrays of LEDs that can be set to different colours and flashing routines. But for all its external giganticism and tricked out fairy lighting, it's what's inside that counts.
Alienware M17x – gaming performance
There are various options for you to customise and specify your own vision of (sort of) portable gaming perfection, but this particular M17x comes with one of AMD's new Radeon HD7970M mobile graphics chips. It's a completely new processor design from AMD and, in terms of gaming performance, is more or less on a par with desktop PCs featuring an HD7850 chip. For a laptop, that's frighteningly fast and means every game currently available runs at playable speeds with image quality settings up near the rafters. It does need a lot of cooling, though, so when gaming heavily the fan noise can get close to unbearable.
Alienware M17x – processor
Alongside the graphics card, the other big update to the M17x is the inclusion of Intel's new Ivy Bridge family of processors. A lot of the benefits – cool running and extended battery life – are lost on the M17x, though, which never makes it through more than an hour and half between charges and isn't likely to be used much on the go anyway.
Alienware M17x – screen
There's no point having all that realtime rendering ability if the LCD panel is rubbish, so it's a relief that the Alienware's screen is a good 'un. The 1080p monitor is richly coloured and sharp. Its only weakness is that viewing angles are a little tighter than hoped – not so much that you'd notice while sat in front of the screen, but anyone watching you play from the side will suffer.
Alienware M17x – speakers and sound
Special mention should be made of the audio abilities of the M17x. Klipsch speakers and a Creative Recon3D processor combine for a meaty soundscape that's bass rich and easy to configure for games or media. You'll still want external speakers if it's going to be permanently docked, though, especially as there's a noticeable tail-off in the high frequencies that can make music sound a bit muddy.
Alienware M17x – verdict
So, we like the M17x a great deal. Gaming performance is better than most ‘proper’ PCs and it’s twice as fast as the majority of gaming laptops released just a year ago. The only flies in the ointment are the fact that it’s too heavy and power inefficient to be considered genuinely portable, and that you could buy a full gaming rig and an ultrabook for the same price. Still, if you don’t have the room for a big rig, the M17x is an excellent, compact alternative.