Alienware M15x (with Core i7-920XM)
At a Glance
To fans of high-end hardware who want to be a little more mobile: Check out the new Alienware M15x. Take Alienware's M17x, shrink it down to the all-purpose size bracket (our test unit had a 15.6-inch screen), and pop in a Core i7 CPU. If you don't need to read any further, that's about as reductive as it gets. While a baseline machine starts at $1499, the real power doesn't exactly come cheap (our review unit, as configured, sells for about $2999). But how does the M15x fare versus its bigger brother? Surprisingly well.
Jumping right to the performance, let's take a peek at some of the hard numbers. In WorldBench 6 tests, the M15x scored a 121 thanks to the Core i7-920XM processor, 4GB of RAM, and the 7200-rpm, 250GB hard drive. That's in the same range as the M17x and catapults it to the top of the all-purpose notebook pack. In fact, that puts it right in spitting distance of Eurocomm's near-$6000 monster machine that packed a Xeon processor on the desktop replacement chart. And as any self-respecting gaming rig would, the M15x also packs a decent discrete GPU--a 1GB nVidia GeForce GTX 260M. Under our stress tests, this GPU held up quite well.
At 1680-by-1050-pixel resolution with all the settings cranked (and 4X antialiasing) the M15x knocked out 69 frames per second in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and 89 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3. That is nothing to sneeze at. By the way, for a little comparison, the M17x knocked out 65 and 84 frames per second in the same tests. So, technically, the little brother is more spry. Opting to throw a couple more curveballs, I loaded up Left 4 Dead, jacking up the settings to the machine's native resolution (1920 by 1080) and 4X antialiasing. I even fired up Crysis Warhead (with AA turned off). Both games looked great and ran reasonably smoothly. After that, I kicked on the Resident Evil 5 benchmark, and it shot out a respectable 40 frames per second. In short, it works as advertised. Bear in mind that it did all this running Windows Vista Home Premium Edition. With Windows 7 on board (a free upgrade coupon comes in the box), it'll probably run a hair snappier in these same tests.
Of course, a downside to all this power is that this high-performance rig can barely muster 2 hours of battery life. So you wind up with an all-purpose PC that lasts a little less than half the average run time. Keep the power supply handy and be somewhere near an outlet next time you want to play World of Warcraft.
Moving back to the outside of the hood, let's take a look at that 15.6-inch screen. It actually has good color reproduction with the brightness kicked up all the way. And, in games such as Left 4 Dead, the dark moody corridors don't get blasted out with ridiculous gamma settings. But as I just said, I needed to jack up the brightness to really get the best picture in mixed light settings. You plan to use the M15x in a cave? No worries, set it lower. And, it goes without saying that it was more than capable of outputting good quality video--at least as good video as the DVD-ROM drive could provide. While you can upgrade to a a BD-ROM drive, that wasn't on board here. But with the 1080p video we installed on the 250GB hard drive, a sample clip of a space shuttle looked crisp, with yellow-ish gray smoke plumes erupting in front of the early morning sky at the launch site.
One thing is for sure, this is nothing like the last-gen version of the M15x. That creaky box felt like it was held together with duct tape and true grit. The new M15x, by comparison, is a fairly solid, seamless chassis. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find many screws (they hide behind the battery for access to upgradable components).
And the keyboard? It certainly felt good enough as my fingers danced over the keys. Actually, maybe I should say that my fingers moved over the dance floor because you can change the color schemes on running lights around the machine. But I digress. Though the touchpad is a little on the small side for my tastes, it's textured and easy enough to use. The buttons also have a good amount of give as they jutted above the large wrist rest. Still, the buttons could stand to be a hair bigger. Truth be told, though, if you're setting up shop with this machine somewhere, you're probably going to opt for an external mouse, anyhow.
Crammed around the sides are a four-pin FireWire port, two USB plugs, one eSATA/USB combo port, an ExpressCard slot, and an eight-in-one Media Card reader. The M15x also makes room for DisplayPort and VGA video-outs. A couple of audio-out jacks for external surround sound provides a pretty strong indication that you won't be tempted to stick with the two built-in front-firing speakers--though the attempt at virtual sound works decently. 802.11n and Bluetooth wireless support complement the gigabit ethernet jack.
Coming in, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the Alienware M15x this time around. But, thanks to the new guts and scaling down most of the M17x's designs, this machine is making me a believer. That said, this laptop certainly doesn't come cheap or last long on a single charge; and while this "all-purpose"-size rig may fit in your bag, it also may just tear a hole in the bottom. But it delivers on exactly what you'd expect: high-end gaming performance.