It’s the most expensive laptop we’ve looked at yet. David Hollingworth ponders if you get the right amount of bang for your buck.
On the design front, Alienware’s high-end gaming rigs tend to turn people on or off based on their looks alone. The design ethic of the company is pretty unique, and it is often either loved or hated; which is why we were quite surprised by this rather understated notebook design when it crossed our testbench.
In fact, it could almost be called retro in its simplicity, and where it not for the alien-head logo smack in the middle of the clam-shell you could be forgiven for thinking it’s an ancient desktop replacement from the days of yore. Flip that lid, though, and you’ll see that the design bods at Alienware are still earning their crust.
The standard notebook keyboard and fascia may not be much to look at, apart from the non-standard font gracing the keys, but turn the m15x on and it’s a whole other story. The keyboard lettering, outlines and sundry other bells and whistles light up from within. There’s even a thin strip of lighting around the entire edge of the screen bevel and the touchpad!
This might seem like excessive bling, but if you’ve ever peered at your keyboard in a dark room trying to find the B key to bandage yourself in a game, and grenned yourself to death instead with the G key, for instance, this is pretty neat. Neater still is the completely indulgent ability to tweak every lit bit of kit to one of ten or so colours, from icy blues to dangerous looking reds.
Jo, our ad gal, was very impressed with the pink lighting (I am so dead… -ed).
There’s an elegant sufficiency of ports scattered about the left and right hand sides of the m15x, and thankfully none at the rear. Of particular note is USB 2.0 ports on either side of the keyboard, and HDMI out for some hi-res output on larger screens.
Speaking of larger screens, another thing that’s obvious from the get-go is that the 15.4in screen on the m15x is, well, only a 15in screen. A lot of ‘gaming grade’ laptops plump for a 17in model – and subsequently weigh a tonne and kind of miss the point of being portable. At 15in, you still get a perfectly serviceable screen, and less lugging. An interesting choice, and one we think is a wise one in the long run.
However, all the wise choices in the world don’t add up to a hill of beans if your wisely kitted gaming lappie can’t cut the pixel mustard. With a single 8800 GTX onboard, you might expect good performance – and you wouldn’t be disappointed! Once we realised that someone had stealthily turned on the m15x’s ‘Stealth’ setting – and therefore throttled performance in favour of battery life – and got our machine purring along at maximum speed, both 3DMark06 and Crysis returned some pretty impressive scores.
The former returned a damned pleasing 9312 3DMarks, easily beating the Dell M1730 to top place, as well as managing Crysis at 1280 x 1024 and all settings turned way the hell up – averaging 12fps is no mean feat. Drop those resource-hungry settings down a notch and you’ll have even smoother gameplay, but frankly it’s more than playable on even high settings.
About the only grip we have – and it’s common one with high-end systems – is the choice of 4GB of RAM. The m15x is not running a 64-bit OS, so with the onboard video’s 512MB cutting into Vista’s allocation limit, you’re simply wasting all that RAM. 2GB would be a much more realistic figure, and cut the price a wee bit to boot.
That said, while you do pay a pretty penny for the m15x, you do at least get some serious performance, great peripherals – like the Blu-ray drive – as well as some unique lighting and bling.