capsule review

Alienware Sentia m3200

At a Glance
  • Alienware Sentia m3200

    PCWorld Rating

Alienware Sentia m3200
Artwork: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

Alienware's smallest notebook yet, the Sentia m3200, offers a bright 12.1-inch wide-screen display, a good case design, and zippy performance. Only its slightly disappointing keyboard should give you pause. (That and maybe the big alien head on the lid.)

Using a 2-GHz Pentium M 760 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Sentia earned an impressive WorldBench 5 score of 92, placing in the top four of our current group of ultraportables.

At $1525 (as of 2/16/06), our test unit included an 80GB hard drive; however, the 4.8-pound Sentia m3200 beats most thin-and-light competitors with the option of a capacious 160GB drive, which costs $298 more than the drive in our configuration.

I liked the lid's rubberized hand grips, as well as the Sentia's overall layout and design. All the connections are on the sides, within easy reach, except for a third USB port tucked in a bottom compartment for semipermanent parking of a small thumb drive. (My 3-inch-long thumb drive was too big to fit.)

The keyboard is decent, but not perfect. The mouse buttons were a tad small and stiff, and the PgUp and PgDn keys were clumsily laid out--separated by the up-arrow key and positioned horizontally instead of in the more intuitive vertical arrangement. Otherwise typing was easy, and the touchpad was well calibrated.

For making the best use of your downtime, the Sentia's instant-play capability takes you straight to your DVD movie, music CD, video, or photo slide show without requiring you to turn on the notebook first. (You simply have to press the P key to launch the Windows-independent PowerCinema application.) The Sentia's speakers aren't bad for a small unit, especially when playing CDs, but I found that DVD movies were almost inaudible, even with the volume on full.

Alienware doesn't sell docking stations, but you have a fair number of expansion options with this notebook. Although tedious to access because of the cover's nine small screws, the large bottom compartment houses an upgradeable hard drive and both memory slots. Removing one bottom screw releases the left-side optical drive (a DVD burner at this price), in case you ever need to replace it. The Sentia has an ExpressCard slot, too, and its media-card reader accepts four storage types: SD Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, and MultiMediaCard.

Your battery, however, is limited to one rear-mounted six-cell power pack that lasted 2 hours, 53 minutes in our tests--one of the shortest-lasting batteries we've tested. The Sentia offers Wi-Fi but no off switch, so there's no saving power that way.

If basic business applications are all you need, you'll want to spring for Microsoft Works 8, a mere $9 extra. (The Windows Media Center Edition operating system and a remote control are an $89 option, but seem like overkill for a small notebook with weak speakers.) The user manuals that Alienware provides are complete and helpful, including a travel folder with pockets for system-restore CDs.

Alienware takes a nice step out of the high-power desktop world into the ultraportable market with the Sentia m3200.

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Alienware fast thin-and-light field offers a bright display and a well-designed case.

    Pros

    • Instant-on movies, music, and video
    • ExpressCard slot

    Cons

    • Uncomfortable mouse buttons
    • No WiFi switch
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