- Ivy Bridge CPU
- Surround sound
- Slick gaming
- Poor battery life
Alienware is back with a bang - with a threefold attack on the PC gaming arena. Along with the M14x and the M18x, the Alienware M17x R4 has had an Intel Ivy Bridge-flavoured refresh for 2012.
In the 17-inch laptop gaming category the Alienware M17x is still the daddy of the bunch, with the likes of the Medion Erazer X7815, the MSI GT70 and the Samsung Series 7 Gamer playing second fiddle. And, at this point, it's only MSI that has matched Alienware by playing its Ivy Bridge hand.
Looks-wise, the Alienware M17x 2012 version isn't any different to theAlienware M17x gaming laptop that wowed us last year. It's a colossal 17.3-inch HD machine, complete with garish lights and a neo-industrial design that wouldn't look out of place onboard the spacecraft Prometheus. The exciting new additions are all buried deep within the M17x's brutish chassis.
The most notable of these additions is the inclusion of a third-generation, Ivy Bridge, Intel Core CPU. The model we reviewed packed an i7-3610QM processor; a four-core monster clocked at a nominal 2.3GHz, which can be pumped full of Intel Turbo Boost steroids to achieve a top-speed of 3.3GHz.
There are also new graphic processing options on offer from both Nvidia and AMD and, proving that the third-dimension fad isn't dead just yet, you can also opt for a Full HD 120Hz 3D display.
This being an Alienware machine, you can choose to configure the setup to match your exact gaming needs. Prices start from £999/$1,099, with our review model costing £1,089 in the UK and $1,274 in the US. You can seriously max out your credit card if you decide to go for the top CPU (i7-3820QM), extra RAM, a larger SSD hard drive and some of the other bits and bobs on offer from Dell's gaming brand.
We managed to configure one up to over £4,650/$3,514 before we had heart palpitations and had to stop. And that's without touching accessories or peripherals.
The smallest Alienware model, the 11-inch Alienware M11x, has seemingly been put out to pasture, with the company telling TechRadar that the focus going forward was on 14, 17 and 18-inch machines.
But the Alienware M11x wasn't really a machine suitable for a serious gaming session. For the purists, 17 inches of screen real-estate is the bare minimum.
The combination of the latest generation Intel CPU technology and the latest graphics cards makes the Alienware M17x a colossal gaming machine that is more than capable of smashing through the latest blockbuster titles such asDiablo III, Batman: Arkham City and Sniper Elite V2.
Our review model was packing a quad-core 2.3GHz Intel i7-3610QM processor, which can be topped out at 3.3GHz using Intel's second-gen Turbo Boost technology.
Combine this with a seriously powerful GPU punch courtesy of an AMD Radeon HD 7970M configuration and you're looking at a top-end gaming machine more than worthy of its hefty price tag. There's also Intel HD 4000 graphics as part of the Ivy Bridge package, meaning DirectX 11 support.
You can opt for a beefier CPU should you wish, with two more i7 chips available for selection - with Turbo Boost-assisted speeds of up to 3.7GHz - and you can also go for Nvidia graphics with both the GeForce GTX 675M and the GTX 660M on offer.
The impressive spec sheet doesn't end there, however. You can select up to 32GB of RAM (our review sample cruised through everything we threw at it, just fine, with 8GB installed), the 17.3-inch display is of the Full HD 1080p variety and there's a 2.1 megapixel webcam. It also has a slot-loading optical drive on the side; the review model had a DVD combo drive, but you can opt for a Blu-ray reader if you wish.
You might think that all of this rugged power may result in an explosion of noise, fan activity and a heat overload but, as with previous Alienware notebooks, this is not that case, thanks to its large heatsinks and dual rear exhausts that provide dedicated cooling for all threads and cores of both the CPU and GPU.
If you've not laid eyes on one of Alienware's gaming rigs before, prepare your peepers for an assault of colour and gare. The Alienware M17x certainly doesn't shy away from extravagance with its unique sci-fi-esque casing and its (in)famous AlienFX lighting system that enables you to set the backlight colours for the keys, speaker grills, buttons, ports and logos.
If you want a nice, calming, cool blue effect then you can have it. Equally, if you want your Alienware M17x flashing bright red neon lights at you continuously, like a panicking air traffic control warning system, then that's an option too. With 512 trillion distinct lighting combinations, we'll stop with specific examples now.
And you'll not be found wanting when it comes to connectivity and port-based fun. As well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, you've also got access to four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 1.4 port, a mini-DisplayPort, Ethernet action, an SD card reader, a VGA socket, optical digital output, separate headphone and microphone jacks, and a dedicated headset output. It leaves no boxes unticked.
Travel-friendly the Alienware M17x is not, however, despite the improved battery life on previous generations of 133 minutes under stress. You'll not only need a big bag to slide the M17x into, since it measures a chunky 410 x 304 x 44.5mm, you'll also need a strong back to handle its 4.4kg weight.
As you'd expect with the hardcore engine room, the Alienware M17x had little trouble dealing with any task that we threw its way. HD video was handled with a buttery smoothness, recent games titles caused it no signs of despair, and high-resolution photo editing was done with hardly any fuss.
In terms of raw benchmarking scores, the Alienware M17x recorded some of the highest totals that we've seen on a mobile PC.
Most people who decide to splash their hard earned pennies on the Alienware M17x will be doing so with some hardcore gaming sessions in mind. And those buyers won't be disappointed, since it has no issues with the top settings of graphically demanding titles and you'll comfortably get 60fps+ if you turn things down just a little.
There's also a plethora of onboard configuration settings at your disposal, including the AlienAdrenaline feature that enables you to customise your M17x's software behaviour when certain games are running; AlienTouch, which gives you complete control over the trackpad's sensitivity and means less annoying accidental movements; and AlienFusion for souping up the performance levels (or indeed, toning them down) at the touch of a button.
Boot times are also quick, thanks to the dual SSD and HDD setup. The machine we tested had a 64GB mSATA SSD to take care of Windows 7 booting, as well as a 500GB HDD for storing your digital life.
You can configure the hard drive setup on your own Alienware pretty much any way that you choose, with an array of RAID and high-speed mSATA caching configurations available.
The audio quality of the Alienware M17x is fantastic, thanks to the Creative Sound Blaster THX 7.1 setup and the stereo speakers designed by audio specialist Klipsch. There are a number of pre-set equalisations installed for you to get the most out of this setup - we particularly liked the Crystalizer mode.
Although of the non-3D variety, the Full HD 17.3-inch display on our review sample impressed us greatly. It's a bit reflective so is better suited for indoor, darker environments, but then the Alienware M17x isn't exactly the type of laptop you'd want to take to the park with you anyway.
Viewing angles are great and colours are incredibly vibrant thanks to the 621:1 contrast ratio and 298cd/m2 maximum brightness.
The keyboard keys, whatever colour you choose to have emitted from them, are soft to touch with a comforting rubber-like bounce that makes them not only great for gaming but also for more day-to-day tasks such as browsing the web, tapping out an email or knocking up a quick spreadsheet.
The trackpad, which is offset just to the left of centre, also has a smooth rubberised finish, and you'll not hear a peep from either of its buttons, such is the soft travel that is provided.
Battery eater: 133 mins
Battery eater: 133 mins