You may remember the M17x. A few months ago we invaded Alienware HQ and spoke with Raymond Watkins about this beast of a gaming laptop. In addition to conversation, we were able to fondle the laptop, play Solitaire on it, and even partake in an epic unboxing of a brand-new M17x.
My first four hours with the M17x conjured feelings of being baffled by a vicious Monkey Island puzzle. The bewilderment kicked off with Dead Space -- I noticed that the frame rate was taking a dive whenever the screen flooded with scythe-handed aliens. I chalked it up as a game-related issue because our review unit has an MSRP of $4,669. It’s loaded to the gills with new-age gadgetry, and like all other Alienware products, it’s made specifically with games in mind. But subsequent tests with other games revealed the same chugging. No way, right?
The three video cards puzzle solution is a brilliant parallel for what this laptop is all about: profuse power for gaming. Alienware calls this thing the “most powerful 17-inch laptop in the universe,” and barring an alien civilization possessing something better, I’ll tentatively agree with the boast. Here’s why: our review unit is outfitted with an Intel Core 2 Extreme Quad QX9300 2.53 GHz processor with dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280M, 2 GB SLI-enabled video cards. It also packs two 500 GB hard drives, 8 GB of dual-channel RAM, a Blu-ray drive and a host of ports, outputs, and inputs for USB devices, surround sound, and video. Also, it has a cute little web camera mounted on the screen.
It also has an LED keyboard, fans, touchpad, and ... power cable. With Alienware's first-party software, you can customize all the lights and literally make the thing look like a Christmas tree.
While making the keyboard and touchpad pink tickles me, I'm not a fan of how either of them feels. The buttons are too big and raised a bit too high for my tastes. The touchpad needs serious work. It has a series of rubber grips that catch the finger and complicate simple movements. The click feedback seems a bit cheap as well.
With that over -- and notice my issues were small -- let’s move on to what this thing does.
We’re not interested in doing traditional benchmark tests or comparing the M17x with other laptops. We’re reviewing this laptop based on its performance with various games. The target audience for this beast is the hardcore gamer who wants (some) mobility without taking a processing or rendering hit. Because we don’t all jump on the latest games, I put together a mix of the top games on the digital download service Steam to test this thing out on. The list of titles includes: BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Dead Space, Cryis, Left 4 Dead, and Street Fighter IV.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
I was relieved after discovering that the laptop had three videocards. After the switch, Dead Space ran essentially perfectly. Widescreen (1920 x 1200, of course) makes Isaac look like he has scoliosis, but this curved-back protagonist rocks Necromorphs at a steady 55-60 FPS at the highest settings with a few stumbles when the screen fills. Turning down the anti-aliasing killed even the slightest jerking.
Too bad he doesn’t run faster on the lower settings. I tried.
Left 4 Dead
Street Fighter 4
SF IV runs at a smooth 60 FPS at 1920 x 1200, allowing for complete domination on par with the console experience. I also turned on a variety of different effects and didn't notice a stutter, even when I did forty lariats in a row. Of course, playing the game with a keyboard is complete suicide, so feel free to invest in a joystick before you jump in.
The M17x has a high price tag and weighs as much as a bag of bricks, but I came away from the experience believing it to be one of the best gaming computers I’ve ever used. Obviously, our review unit was tricked out to the max, but even the base model has plenty of power. If you’ve got the cash and are looking for a premium gaming laptop, this thing is definitely worth a look.