Alienware doubles down on the critical components and stocks up on features to deliver excellent gaming performance and superior multimedia functionality with the Aurora m9700, the first 17-inch laptop to simultaneously run two graphics processing units.
The Cyborg Green m9700 overshoots Alienware's extraterrestrial design aspirations and lands in Kermit the Frog territory; we prefer the subtler Saucer Silver and Conspiracy Blue models. That said, the glowing alien-head ornament and rubber-grip embellishments are eye-catching, and the sturdy hinges and scratch-resistant case are built to last. Measuring 15.7 x 11.8 x 1.9 inches and weighing 9.5 pounds, the m9700 is too heavy for regular travel, though it's certainly compact enough for LAN parties and occasional trips.
Large enough to accommodate a dedicated number pad, the m9700's keyboard is responsive and comfortable to use. The touchpad, on the other hand, is a disaster: With the same glossy finish as the rest of the case, it resists the drag of your finger. What's more, the m9700 forgoes two mouse buttons, leaving you to press on the very ends of one long one. It's an unpleasant arrangement, and we recommend using a USB mouse instead.
The 17-inch widescreen display serves up vibrant colors and rich images, and graphics pros and those who work in multiple windows will revel in the vast amount of real estate the WUXGA native resolution provides. In addition to two loud stereo speakers on the front edge and a passable subwoofer underneath, we appreciate the m9700's trio of dedicated jacks for hooking up to a 5.1 sound system.
This notebook comes equipped with a first-class set of multimedia features and connections: In addition to the basics (four USB 2.0 ports, ExpressCard slot, 4-in-1 card reader, and so on), you get an S-Video input and output, VGA and DVI ports, an optical audio jack, and a coaxial socket for the integrated TV tuner. Also included are Windows XP Media Center 2005, a USB infrared receiver and remote, a swiveling, 1.3-megapixel webcam set above the display, and a smattering of quick-touch controls for the dual-layer DVD burner. Although it was not available at press time, Alienware does plan to offer a Blu-ray drive option in the near future. The price was not yet determined as of this writing.
Networking features range from Gigabit Ethernet and modem jacks to 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and an Airgo MIMO radio designed to boost signals for high-performance wireless gaming. The m9700's throughput of 10.9 Mbps from 15 feet and 7.3 Mbps from 50 feet was merely average, although our testing did not involve a MIMO-supported router. While it should not stray far from the wall socket, the m9700's 12-cell battery lasted for 1 hour and 40 minutes in our drain tests-on a par with other desktop replacements.
The highlights of our top-shelf configuration were two 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS graphics cards in an SLI configuration. Though they're not the most powerful GPUs on the market, they're close, and with two of them under the hood, the m9700 delivered a very good 93 fps in our F.E.A.R. benchmark using the autodetect settings (1024 x 768-pixel resolution) and held on at 80 fps with the settings maxed out. The 3DMark03 score of 22,051 was right on track for this class of system. The only system to score higher is the Vigor M59K, at 26,057, but its PCMark05 and battery rundown scores were lower.
Not surprisingly, the machine also displayed pleasingly smooth, sharp video in our testing. While gaming, the m9700's underside, keyboard, and palm rests remain cool; the back vents and jumbo AC adapter, however, will barbecue anything in their path.
For a premium system, it's disappointing that the highest-end CPU you can have onboard is the 2.4-GHz AMD Turion 64 Mobile ML44-not a bad processor, but it's not the pedigree of a dual-core Turion 64 X2 or Core 2 Duo. As a result, the m9700 notched a MobileMark 2005 score of 236-not a record, but proof enough that this laptop can handle any processing task. (Alienware plans to offer a dual-core configuration after the 2006 holiday season.) Processor aside, our m9700 test unit contained some of the best components available, including two 100GB 7,200-rpm SATA hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration and 2GB of DDR2 RAM.
If you're looking for desktop-PC-caliber gaming performance and multimedia ability in a laptop-sized package, the m9700 is a solid choice. However, we'd wait for the dual-core processor and a high-definition DVD drive option before shelling out more than four grand.