Pros: Screen – Beautiful, Speakers – The best speakers on a notebook we've ever tested, Performance – Out of the box power, Beautiful backlit keyboard
Cons: Wicked Expensive! Touch Sensitive Volume Control – Hard to manage and control, Battery Life – Under an hour.
Back in April, people could begin configuring new Alienware m17x models, and Notebookforums finally got their hands on one to play with. The m17x is essentially the big brother of the m15x, the two key differences are the 2 extra inches of screen size and the dual mobile video cards. But there are also some features on the m17x that are not available the m15x and visa versa. This review will highlight those difference, so readers can determine which machine will best fit their needs.
- Display: 17" WideUXGA 1920 x 1200 LCD (1200p) with Clearview Technology – Black Includes AlienFX® Illuminated Keyboard – Exclusive Design!
System Lighting: Alienware® AlienFX® System Lighting - Blue
- Video/Graphics Card: Dual 512MB NVIDIA® GeForce® Go 9800M GT – SLI Enabled
- Processor: Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme X9000 2.8GHz (6MB Cache 800MHz FSB)
- Operating System (Office software not included): Windows Vista® Home Premium with Service Pack 1
- Memory: 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz – 2 x 2048MB
- System Drive: Dual Drive Configuration - 1TB (500GB x 2) 5,400RPM (8MB Cache)
- Smart Bay: 500GB 5,400RPM (8MB Cache) Smart Bay
- Smart Bay: 2x Dual Layer Blu-ray Disc Burner (BD-R, DVD±RW, CD-RW)
- Wireless: Internal Intel® Wireless 4965 a/b/g/Draft-N Mini-Card
- Sound Card : Internal High-Definition Audio with surround sound
- Port Adapters: HDMI to DVI-D Adapter
- AlienFX® Illuminated Keyboard – Exclusive Design
- Warranty: 1-Year AlienCare Toll-Free 24/7 Phone Support w/ Onsite Service
- Alienware Extras: Alienware® Mesh Cap
- Alienware Extras: Alienware® Mousepad
- Alienware Extras: Alienware® Mobile Binder
- Alienware Extras: Alienware® Personalized Nameplate
- Alienware Extras: Owner Identification Card
- Alienware Extras: Area-51® m17x Protective Cloth Sleeve
- Alienware Extras: Area-51® m17x Keyboard Diagram Overlay
- Alienware Extras: Area-51® m17x Smooth Mylar Touchpad
- Avatar: Alienhead 3D
- Window Style: Default Window Style
- Mouse Pointers: Standard Mouse Pointers
- Power Plan: Standard Power
- Plan Automatic Updates: Automatic Updates On
- Time Zones: (GMT - 5.00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)
Starting at: $3,849.00
What’s in the Box:
Like all of Alienware’s machines, the m17x comes safely packaged and shipped in a sleek black box with the Alienware logo. Inside the box is the notebook and the accessories box which includes the mesh hat, mousepad, driver discs and any additional options users configure from Alienware’s website.
Design and Build
The design of the m17x is the same as the m15x, but equally impressive when seen with two extra inches of screen and the deep blue glowing backlit keyboard. The default color of the backlit keyboard is blue, but that can be changed in the Alienware Command Center (which will be covered later). The m15x that Notebookforums had reviewed had a silver chassis and this time around Alienware surprised us with the black chassis.
The m17x almost feels intimating when resting on the desk, screen not even on when in hibernation or screensaver mode, as if the notebook is taunting the user, challenging him to be turned on. It is an impressive industrial design effort to evoke such feelings. The dark paint job does have its disadvantages. Skuffs and scratches will be much more visible on this model versus the silver chassis, so if you are wearing watches or rings, be sure to take them off if typing on the keyboard or using the mousepad.
As mentioned earlier, the Alienware Command Center and AlienFX have retuned in the m17x model and still feature the same customizable options. AlienFX allows users to change the LED colors on the notebook. All of these illumination elements; the backlit keyboard, to the LED rim around the edges of the mousepad, to the famous Alien trademark head on the lid, can have their color changed making each notebook a customized, unique unit for each user.
AlienFX & AlienFusion
The AlienFX can be found by clicking the icon on the desktop called, Alienware Command Center. Inside you can choose between the AlienFX and AlienFusion. AlienFusion is power-monitoring software where you can create profiles to manage your notebook’s power options. AlienFX can be used to change the color of different zones on the notebook without having to physically replace LEDs. The following areas can be changed.
- Alien Head (on the back of the display)
- Power Button
- Alienware Name (below the display)
- Quick Touch Controls
- Touchpad Outline
- Backlit Keyboard
Hardcore Alienware fans will notice there is no longer a “Light Pipe” trim around the edge of the LCD display like the m15x. The absence of this trim does in the least detract from the awesomness of the machines design.
The screen, high def/Blu-ray/TV Tuner options is something I played with much more on the m17x than the m15x. The m17x is ideal for todays demand for high definition media. The first thing I took advantage of is the Blu-ray driver by throwing in Hancock on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I may have been a bit too hasty because the installed movie player, Cyberlink Power DVD immediately informed me of an update that I needed to download in order to watch the movie. The update was 87 MB and took me 45 minutes downloading at 30 KB/Sec off the Cyberlink website.
The viewing angle of the m17x is as impressive as previous Alienware models. LCD technology seems to improve almost daily, providing us users brighter and sharper displays. What customers should worry about most is whether or not the LCD screen will come with any dead pixels. In the eight Alienware notebooks I have used in five years, none of them have had a single dead pixel including this m17x.
Like most Alienware notebooks, and most notebooks everywhere, there are 8 levels of brightness that can be controlled by holding the FN key and hitting the F4 and F5 keys.
Alienware kept the keyboard the same from the m15x, with the exception of adding a keypad to the right (a typical upgrade in between 15 and 17 inch screens). They also kept the function key naming conventions the same! For example, "suspend" is printed on the F1 key so it is obvious that pressing Fn+F1 will suspend the notebook. In addition, there is also a convenient function key F2, which brings up your battery level in the middle of the screen, F3, which mutes the sound, F4 and F5 which raise and lower the brightness on the LCD respectively, F6 toggles the output on the LCD screen or via the HDMI port, F8 which ejects the DVD tray, F9 which loads the Cyberlink YouCam software, F10 brings up Windows Mobility Center (where you can manage your battery life, wifi and other windows components, F11 loads the AlienFX software.
Of course the most impressive feature of the keyboard is the backlit functionality. Using the software AlienFX (discussed above) you can change the color of your keyboard to create any scheme your little heart desires. As for comfort, on a 15 inch notebook the keyboard feels great and there is no cramped feeling at all.
I normally prefer different texture on the scroll pad with, or at least a raised line or boundary so your finger knows when it is in the touch pad area and when it is in the scroll pad area. The m17x has neither of these. The touch pad is the same texture as the rest of the chassis around the keyboard and there are no markings or raised bar providing tactile feedback to the user to determine hand position. The last thing we want on a great performing notebook is a crappy method of maneuvering your mouse (like the Alienware Sentia had). However, this new touch pad design works and it has the best scroll pad I’ve ever used. You will not find the touch pad difficult to use for it is outlined with a colored box and the acceleration is fairly low, but it can be adjusted depending on a user’s preference.
Multimedia Keys – The new features on the keyboard are the touch sensitive buttons right above the keyboard. There are four buttons and a touch sensitive volume control, which is a bit difficult to use. Sometimes touching the volume control does not always work and you need to press it a few times for the notebook to respond.
LEDS - Part of the Alienware redesign and exclusiveness comes with some fancy LED icons that indicate what state the notebook is in.
Wifi – When you combine a great wifi card like the Intel Wireless 4965 and Windows Vista, it takes seconds to connect to your wireless network.
Speakers – The m17x has abosultey the best speakers of any notebook I have ever reviewed. This is due to the fact that the m17x actually has a 2 inch subwoofer installed on the bottom of the notebook. Movies sounds incredible, youtube, music and and movie trailers at Apple.com sound much better than any notebook I have ever tested.
As with the m15x and the ALX Crossfire, it is not easy to capture screenshots of your favorite Blu-Ray movies with the stock PowerDVD Software and Windows Vista. You cannot even disable hardware acceleration to use the Print Screen option. But that does not take away from the clarity and high definition picture of Blu-Ray. In addition to the player, the m17x also has a 2x Blu-ray writer. However, watching Blu-Ray movies on battery and Power Saver mode, the video becomes very choppy. The video plays fine in Balance and [i]High Performance mode.
Input and Output Ports
Front: Infrared Sensor
The pictures from the webcam are just as good as the pictures you can take on your cell phone using the built in 2.0 MP camera installed above the LCD screen, however the Cyberlink YouCam Software (like on the m15x) makes taking pictures and video a lot more interesting as you can see by the shots I made below. YouCam has all sorts of effects that you can instantly add to video and photos as you take them. Its useful software like this that adds fun in the most simple of forms, on top of the fact that every video you take with your webcam can easily be updated straight to Youtube.com.
Right Side: (from left to right) 7-in-1 Media card reader (SD/MS/MSPRO/MMC), HDMI, USB 2.0, IEEE 1394B Firewire port, Ethernet port and secuity lock
Left Side: (from left to right) Power jack, Optical port, CATV jack, 3x USB 2.0, headphone, microphone, line out, Smart Bay ( Blu-ray/DVD/CD/tray or Smart Bay Hard Drive)
Rear: GPU & CPU exhaust vents
Bottom: Normally there is not anything very interesting on the bottom of notebooks, but the m15x comes with a custom, engraved nameplate making the m17x even an more personalized machine.
Size and Weight
The m17x is by no means a machine designed for everyday mobility. It is a heavy portable gaming system that is great for bringing to LANs, or bring to college to game (AND do school work) and bring home on the weekends but if you are buying this notebook for use in college to take to class every day, the m17x will definitely result in some back pain and sore arms.
Rated: 17" WUXGA 16.1" (w) x 11.5" (d) x 2.1" (h) and 10.5 lbs
Actual: Weight: 10.9 lbs
Heat and Noise
The Alienware m17x gets hot.
As expected, the m17x does not have very good battery life. Boasting two mobile graphics card and a powerful CPU, poor battery life is the price you pay. But battery life is not something gamers are looking for in a machine like this.
However, just like m15x, the m17x also features “Stealth Mode”, and Alienware’s exclusive “Stealth Mode” button, which will lower the clock speed of your GPU and CPU to conserve power. But unlike the m15x, there is no option to switch from dedicated video, to on-board intergraded video. As a result, battery time is much shorter on the m17x. You can see below the difference between using the different power saving modes.
Each rating is measured when the 10% battery warning pops up in Windows Vista, with the exception of the Blu-Ray movie where the movie took up the whole screen and the m17x shut down completely.
1/8 – 37 minutes – Watching a Blu-ray movie (Balanced/No Stealth Mode)
8/8 – 50 minutes – Surfing the internet/youtube (Power Saver/No Stealth Mode)
8/8 – 56 minutes – Surfing the internet/youtube (Power Saver/Stealth Mode)
Here is a list of tested synthetic and gaming benchmarks. All results are with stock hardware settings.
The 3Dmark Benchmarks are the most common benchmarks used to determine if the notebook is configured to play the latest games. More specifically, it is used to determine the direct X performance of the graphics cards. The higher the score, the more suited your notebook is to playing games. The number behind the 3dMark Benchmark (3dmark2001, 3dmark03 etc) is related to the year the test relates to technology, which is why the 2001 scores are always significantly higher than the 06 scores. You can compare the scores of this notebook to other notebooks by going here.
Aquamark is an older graphics benchmark that was designed to see how well a graphics card is performing in DirectX 9 environments.
Cinabench runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances.
wPrime is an "application designed to use a highly multithreaded approach to calculating the square-roots of large amounts of numbers (up to 32 billion at this stage!)".
Windows Experience Index
|The Windows Experience Index is a new feature built into Windows Vista that is designed to help you better understand how well Windows Vista and other software will perform on your PC.
Your computer, running Windows Vista, is assigned a rating number called a "base score" that is achieved by measuring the capability of your computer's hardware configuration. This base score rating will help you to more confidently buy additional hardware, programs, and software that are matched to your computer's base score.
The scale of the Windows Experience Index ranges from 1.0 to 5.9. A higher base score generally means that your computer will perform better and faster than a computer with a lower base score, especially when performing more advanced and resource-intensive tasks.
Super Pi, is a synthetic benchmark that calculates Pi to a certain amount of digits you prescribe, and the faster it does it, the better your notebook performs. All of the benchmarks submitted in the NBF database are set to calculating Pi to the 2 million digits of accuracy.
This next benchmark I ran is called HD Tune which measures raw performance of transfer rates, access times, CPU usage, burst rate and the overall health of your hard drive setup. A couple of obvious notes; the burst rate should always be higher than the maximum transfer rate of your score. In this case it is. The second number to look at is the Access Time. The bigger the number, the better the performance.
The m15x hard drive, which is a 200 GB 7200rpm SATA, did not boast the best read score, but it does perform fairly well versus the competition. The 200 GB drive was able to pull off an average of 48.9 MB a second. Compared to the Sager NP6790 (100 GB) that reads an average of 53.9 MB a second and the Sager NP9260 (240GB) 60.9 MB a second. However, the NP6790 test was done on a considerably smaller hard drive and the NP9260 was in Raid 0 so these scores should not be directly compared, but it is really good to know the difference in read/write times when comparing different configurable options for notebooks. Alienware has greatly improved their performance of hard drive options which date back to the Area-51 m5750 which a 60GB hard drive got an average read time of 26.5 MB a second. Below are the screenshots.
Alienware m15x ------ Sager NP6790 ------ Sager NP9260 ------
Every benchmark/screenshot in this section is run on the highest settings available, with AA off, unless otherwise noted. Every resolution is run at 1920x1200p (unless noted) on Vista with stock Alienware NVIDIA Graphics Driver 184.108.40.2060.
A lot of these benchmarks may not seem very impressive, but you must take into consideration that these settings are the highest possible, with AA on the highest setting (when tested), unless noted. All of these games play beautifully on the most recent graphically intensive games.
Crysis CPU Stress Test
25.32 @ 1920x1200 Resolution -
Compare Benchmark Here
Crysis GPU Stress Test
28.32 @ 1920x1200 Resolution -
Compare Benchmark Here
World in Conflict: (steam)
World in Conflict is actually a bit more graphically challenging to the m17x, but the stress test shows that even during the most active battles, the game still manages great frames on the highest settings.
With Anti-Aliasing Off
Company of Heroes (steam):
Company of Heroes plays well and performs well during the stress test. The game actually gets higher frames per second during the DirectX10 test than the DirectX9 test. More confidence that using Vista is the correct decision on the m15x.
With Anti-Aliasing Off High Settings in DirectX10
Half-Life 2/Counterstrike:Source (steam):
The regular Counterstrike/Half-Life 2 source engine runs very well on the m17x. Anything over 100 frames per second is considered a good score for the stress test and the m17x almost triples it. People may be wondering why sometimes tests like these get lower average frames when comparing it to the single GPU m15x, but SLI does not always increase the frames, especially in games optimized for Ati cards like Half-Life 2 and Counterstrike: Source. In this case, the m17x does get better frames in all of Valves games over the m15x.
262.79 @ 1920x1200
Half-Life 2: Lost Cost (steam):
You can see the difference in frames between the normal counterstrike source stress test and the Lost Coast stress test with full HDR enabled. Still top notch frames.
168.44 @ 1920x1200
Left 4 Dead (steam):
The brand new 4 player co-op online zombie invasion game made by Valve runs beautifully on the m17x.
97.0 @ 1920x1200
Doom 3 (steam):
As you can imagine, the m17x cuts through Doom 3 like butter. No stuttering or any problems whatsoever.
51.0 @ 800x600
Aesthetics – Same Style as the m15x, only with a 17 inch screen.
Screen – Beautiful, 0 dead pixels, reliable
Speakers – The best speakers on a notebook we've ever tested.
Performance – Out of the box power, the fastest benchmarks without OCing.
Touchpad/Scrollpad – Unusually appealing and unique
Keyboard - Beautiful backlit with multiple color options with AlienFX
Wireless – Easy to use, easy to connect
Free Stuff – Ships with free hat and mousepad
Price – Expensive!
Touch Sensitive Volume Control – Hard to manage and control
Battery Life – Under an hour.
The m17x is another home run from Alienware, providing gamers with an beautifully designed and powerful machine. The outstanding sound production, brighter, sharper and larger screen and high performance processing will deliver many hours of thrilling gaming. If you liked the m15x, you will love the m17x.
If you have any questions about anything written here you can e-mail me: Dukefrukem[at]notebookforums.com