Alienware may have discontinued its 11-inch notebook line, but gamers can still have their portable cake and eat it too with the Alienware M14x R2. Priced at $1,604, this 14-inch system has many of the key features that the brand is known for, including powerful graphics, a customizable multicolored keyboard and a beautiful display, but is it worth the expense?
Shave three inches off the Alienware M17x and it suddenly goes from imposing to adorable. We loved running our fingers over the ridges of the M14x R2's black matte soft touch lid. The same finish extends to the palm rest on the interior; even the keys feel soft and inviting.
Alienware's customizable backlit accents are still here on the keyboard, touchpad, alien head-shaped power button and Alienware logo below the screen. The pair of front grilles also glows eerily. We continue to be big fans of the AlienFX utility that let us create custom lighting schemes for the keyboard, touchpad, logos and grille, complete with pulse and morph effects. Others, such as MSI, have aped this feature, and that's a good thing.
It's no Ultrabook, but the 6.4-pound, 13.27 x 10.16 x 1.49-inch M14x fit comfortably in our lap. It's certainly lighter than the MSI GT60, which measured 14.9 x 10.2 x 1.7 inches and weighs in at a hefty 7.8 pounds. To be fair, that notebook has a larger 15.6-inch display. Among other 14-inch systems with discrete graphics, the Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display weighs 4.5 pounds and measures 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches, and the Dell XPS 14 checks in at 4.8 pounds and 13.2 x 9.2 x 0.81 inches.
Display and Audio
The M14x R2 features a 14-inch 1600 x 900p LED-backlit display. While we wish there was a 1920 x 1080p option, the M14x's glossy display delivered reasonably sharp text; we noticed only a little pixelation when surfing to Kotaku and CNN.com.
But you don't buy an Alienware to read websites. When it came to movies and games, the M14x excelled. As we watched the 1080p trailer of "Rez 3: Genesis," we could see the detail in the bride's lace dress and veil -- including a few stray threads -- and the colors of the soft pink and purple roses in her bouquet were particularly vivid. Similarly, when playing "Street Fighter x Tekken," the action going on in the background of our fights -- rampaging T-Rex, ballistic Mechs and humans running for cover -- was so detailed, it was hard to keep our eyes on the fight.
In terms of brightness, the 236 lux screen on the M14x fell short of the 260 lux mainstream notebook average. The GT60, XPS 14 and Series 7 Gamer's displays notched 268, 435 and 325 lux, respectively. However, the M14x's viewing angles were wide enough to accommodate three people comfortably.
Despite the smaller speakers, the M14x delivered rich, clear audio that easily filled a small room. As we listened to Esperanza Spalding's "Black Gold," we were awash in a big brassy trumpets mixed with french horns cascading over a rich organ that melded seamlessly with the Grammy-winning artist's scintillating soprano.
Some of the background music in ‘Street Fighter x Tekken" sounded somewhat tinny, but our attacks had a crisp, satisfying snap as they landed. Dialogue was nice and clear and the subsequent scream as the losing player hit the floor in slow motion was loud and dramatic.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Due to the smaller accommodations, the M14x lacks the full number pad of its 17-inch counterpart. While the number pad was sacrificed, comfort was not. Typing on the traditional keyboard yielded firm feedback which, when coupled with the soft-touch palm rest, made for a comfortable experience. During the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored 53 words per minute with a 0 percent error rate. That's slightly better than our usual 50 wpm with a 1 percent error rate.
While navigating with the 3.2 x 1.8-inch Synaptics touchpad was smooth, the somewhat small size made it a little tricky to execute multi-touch gestures such as two-finger rotate and pinch-to-zoom. We sometimes had to perform a motion such as pinch-to-zoom several times before the system would accurately recognize our gesture and perform the associated action.
We're usually a fan of discrete mouse buttons, but the M14x's were a little spongy for our taste, causing us to press down harder than usual.
When we ran a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad and the space between the G and H keys measured 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The underside of the notebook was only slightly warm at 86 degrees.
Temperatures increased as we played "Batman: Arkham City" for 15 minutes. The touchpad measured 86 degrees while the space between the G and H keys registered 93 degrees. The notebook's bottom was 97 degrees, which is slightly higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Using Live!Central software, the M14x's 1.3-megapixel webcam can take stills and video in up to 1280 x 720p. Colors were a little washed out in both natural and fluorescent lighting, but the detail was sharp enough to see the lilac stitching in our dress.
A pair of USB 3.0 ports, a slot-loading DVD writer, Gigabit Ethernet and a secure lock are located on the right side of the M14x. The left side houses a USB 2.0 slot, VGA, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, a 9-in-1 reader, and jacks for a microphone, headset and headphones. The jack for the AC adapter can be found along the rear of the notebook.
Equipped with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive with a 32GB mSATA SSD cache, the Alienware M14x can frag with the best of ‘em. Despite having 10 open tabs in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer and a full system scan running in the background, the M14x still streamed video on Netflix without issue.
During PCMark07, the M14x scored a whopping 4,300. That's 1,903 points above the 2,397 mainstream average. The MSI GT60, which also has a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM processor, scored 3,336. The Dell XPS 14, powered by a 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, notched 3,599. Thanks to its 2.3GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, the MacBook Pro with Retina display scored an even more impressive 4,779.
The M14x duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 2 minutes and 6 seconds, a transfer rate of 41.7MBps, slightly higher than the 36MBps average. That was more than enough to blow past the XPS 14 (500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive + 32GB mSATA SSD), which turned in a rate of 37.1MBps. The GT60 and its dual 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drives delivered a blistering 74.8MBps.
We booted Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) on the M14x in a speedy 30 seconds. That's 20 seconds faster than the 55-second mainstream average. The XPS 14 and the GT60 clocked in at 0:46 and 0:53.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the M14x matched 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses in 4 minutes and 26 seconds, matching the GT60 and beating the 6:17 category average by 1:51. The XPS 14 completed the task in 5:25.
Gaming and Graphics
Having a strong showing in overall performance is great, but Alienware is known for delivering some serious punch in the graphics department. Thankfully, the M14x's Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with 2GB of VRAM doesn't disappoint. The system also features Nvidia's Optimus graphics-switching technology so that, when we were doing something less intense, the notebook automatically switches to its less-battery-draining integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 system.
On 3DMark11, the M14x scored 2,091, far above the 997 mainstream category average. That was enough to beat the Dell XPS 14 and its Nvidia GeForce GT 630M GPU (1,801). However, the MacBook Pro (Nvidia GeForce GT 650M) and the MSI GT60 (Nvidia GeForce GTX 670M) outperformed both notebooks with scores of 2,275 and 2,985, respectively.
During the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the M14x delivered a frame rate of 72 fps on the highest setting at 1600 x 900p, beating the 50 fps mainstream notebook average. Still, the GT60 (1920 x 1080p) scored a face-melting 106 fps. The XPS 14 (1600 x 900p) and the MacBook Pro (2880 x 1800) failed to match the average with 41 and 34 fps.
As we played "Batman: Arkham City," the M14x notched 41 fps on low at 1600 x 900, slightly higher than the 37 fps average. The XPS 14 scored just 18 fps while the GT60 delivered a whopping 101 fps.
During our play-through of "Marvel vs Capcom," we saw a frame rate of 80 fps at 1600 x 900p with Anti-aliasing off and everything else on high. Increasing the Anti-aliasing to 2x, 4x and 8x showed a steady decline of 49, 47 and 42 fps, respectively. Still, all modes were more than playable.
Alienware keeps things simple, only pre-installing a few third-party software titles and its usual suite of utilities. The alien-themed cast includes AlienFX, which allows us to customize the notebook's color palette. AlienTouch controls touchpad functions such as tapping and palm rejection, while AlienAdrenaline enables users to create custom shortcuts. There's also AlienFusion, where users can create custom power usage profiles.
Third-party software includes Adobe Reader X, Internet Explorer and Windows Live.
The Alienware M14x R2 comes with a 1-Year Basic Hardware warranty.
Our $1,604 review unit of the Alienware M14x R2 features a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive with a 32GB mSATA SSD cache and Intel HD Graphics 4000 and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with 2GB of VRAM. The $1,099 base model features a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM processor with 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and Intel HD Graphics 4000 and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with 1GB of VRAM. The top-of-the-line $1,799 model is outfitted 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU, 12GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and Intel HD Graphics 4000 and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with 2GB of VRAM.
During the LAPTOP Battey Test, the Alienware M14x R2 lasted 5 hours and 38 minutes, 12 minutes longer than the 5:26 category average. The MSI GT60 clocked in at 4:37. The Dell XPS 14 lasted 8:02, and the MacBook Pro took the top prize with a time of 8:10.
An ideal compromise between power and portability, the $1,604 Alienware M14x R2 makes high-quality fragging on the go a very real possibility. Gamers with smaller wallets but stronger backs might want to check out the larger MSI GT60, which costs $200 less, and has more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 670M graphics. But, you'll have a hard time beating the style and substance of the M14x.