With the fourth installment in any series, be it books, movies or a TV show, its creator has to guard against reproducing more of the same. Fortunately, Alienware has avoided that sense of ennui with the M17x R4. While it looks the same as last year, Alienware's latest iteration of its 17-inch gaming notebook differentiates itself in a couple of big ways--namely with a third-generation Intel Ivy Bridge processor and Nvidia's newest and most powerful mobile GPU. The new components combine to produce a potent powerhouse able to handle any and all challengers. However, the road to gaming nirvana isn't cheap; will gamers pony up the $2,599 for the latest edition?
[Editors' note: The $1,699 price shown above reflects our selling partner's starting MSRP, not the starting cost of the system or the cost of our review unit.]
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Click to EnlargeIt's easy to confuse last year's Alienware's M17x with the new version, since the rigs are cosmetically identical. Still, we immediately felt at home among the elegant lines and ridges of the M17x's matte soft-touch Stealth Black lid and sides. The trademark backlit glossy alien head insignia glows invitingly, beckoning us to open the lid.
The front of the M17x greets gamers with two wicked-looking, but familiar grilles wrapped in glossy strips of black plastic. Similar to the alien head on the lid, the grilles are highlighted by a gentle, ethereal glow. Overall, we prefer the subtle swooping lines of the M17x to the strong angles presented by the Origin Eon 17S. The customizable backlit Alien head on the lid is also a step up over the Origin's blood red logo.
Click to EnlargeWe're perennial fans of the M17x's interior and its chunky keyboard that glows a myriad of (customizable) colors. An alien head power button sits above the keyboard, next to the row of command buttons for volume and Wi-Fi. A gigantic touchpad with matching discrete buttons are wrapped in a glowing blue band whose color we could also configure. We also love the large Stealth Black soft touch palm rest, where our hands nestled ready for a long night of gaming.
One of the best features of an Alienware notebook is the insane amount of customization available via the backlighting. We had a blast choosing the colors of the lid logo, the Alienware insignia on the display bezel, keyboard, the two front grilles and the bar around the touchpad. We created one color profile using different shades of blues that would pulse every few seconds.
At 9.8 pounds, the only place you'll be transporting this 16.1 x 11.9 x 1.75-inch beast is from one room to another. It easily outweighs other gaming rigs such as the 8.2-pound, 16.22 x 10.87 x 1.65-1.79 inch Origin Eon 17S, the 8.4-pound, 16.1 x 11.2 x 1.29 inch Samsung Series 7 Gamer and the 9.6-pound, 16.3 x 12.6 x 0.9-2.0 inch ASUS G75VW-DS71.
Click to EnlargeIt should be a crime for a display to be this pretty. As we gazed into the M17x's 17.3-inch 1920 x 1080-pixel screen, we marveled at the incredibly sharp text as we read articles on MadameNoire.com and CNN.com. The view only improved as we watched a 1080p YouTube trailer of "Django Unchained." We could see in disturbing detail the gore-caked wounds that crisscrossed Jamie Foxx's bronze skin. Blacks were nice and rich, accentuating the soft torchlight against Foxx's hair.
The generous viewing angles ensured that three people could comfortably watch the action ensuing on the screen. The one caveat is that the glossy display is highly reflective and can be distracting.
At 282 lux, the M17x's display is one of the brightest in the desktop replacement category, easily besting the 248 lux average. The G75VW-DS71 and Eon 17S paled in comparison at 218 and 262 lux respectively. The Series 7 Gamer however, outshone everything with an impressive score of 325 lux.
Click to EnlargeWhen playing "Max Payne 3," we became engrossed in the beauty of the lush greens of the jungle, the cloying pinks of a Brazilian nightclub and the dusty browns and grays of an old Hoboken bar. As we entered "Bullet Time," which slows the action to a John Woo-esque slow-motion shootout, we saw bright flashes of yellow and white muzzle fire and splashes of bright red as we aerated our foes.
Click to EnlargeAudio was loud on the M17x, and sound was rich and clear on movies, music and games. James Brown's plaintive wail on "The Big Payback" filled our ears as we watched the trailer for "Django Unchained." On Beyonce's "Love On Top," we heard crisp finger snaps along along with the rich swells of a keyboard that glided playfully along with the mezzo-sopranos' vocals.
"Max Payne 3" was a symphony of gunshots accentuated with the delicate clink of shell casings and a gritty line of noir-drenched dialogue from the game's protagonist. The longer we played, the more it felt and sounded like we were fighting our way out of a Brazilian favela.
After running a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad, space between the G and H keys and underside measured 84, 86 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit. A small metal plate on the bottom of the notebook measured 90 degrees, well below our 95 degree comfort threshold.
We also spent some time patrolling the dangerous streets of Gotham in "Batman: Arkham Asylum." After 15 minutes, the notebook measured 83 and 85 degrees on the touchpad and space between the G and H keys respectively. However the underside and the metal plate reached an uncomfortably warm 99 and 103 degrees.
Click to EnlargeDespite the 2-MP webcam on the M17x, we saw a noticeable amount of graininess throughout images. Colors were also washed out in florescent and natural lighting. However, we liked that we could snap stills and capture video in 1280 x 720 using the Live! Central software.
As expected, the M17x comes equipped with an insane number of ports to suit just about all your peripheral needs. Two USB 3.0 ports, a combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port, HDMI in, a 9-in-1 card reader and a slot-loading Blu-ray
Click to Enlargereader line the notebook's right side. Another pair of USB 3.0 ports sit on the notebook's left along with a DisplayPort, HDMI out, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, a secure lock slot and jacks for a headphone, a microphone, a combination headphone/microphone and a S/PDIF jack. The AC adapter jack is hidden neatly away on the rear of the notebook.
Gaming and Graphics
Gaming on the Alienware M17x is pure, unbridled joy. This machine is capable of dizzying frame rates and breathtaking graphics thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M GPU--currently the most powerful in Nvidia's mobile line--with 2GB of VRAM. We also appreciated having automatic switchable graphics that seamlessly toggled between the Nvidia GPU and the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, depending on which tasks were running.
The M17x rose to the challenge of running "Max Payne 3" with ease, delivering smooth animations and ultrarealistic blood splatter and water effects. On the game's highest settings (1920 x 1080p 60Hz, DX11 on, MSAA 4X), the notebook delivered an average frame rate of 55 fps. The star of the show was the gunplay, specifically the slow-motion bullet time that covered the world in gray and slowed enemy movement to a crawl, allowing us to line up our shots and clear out a whole room of hostiles like our favorite action heroes.
The M17x blew through our graphics benchmarks, delivering a blistering 23,859 on 3DMark06. That's 10,000 points higher than the 13,859 desktop replacement average. However, it wasn't enough to topple the Origin Eon 17S (24,591), which has a Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M with 2GB of VRAM, but a more powerful CPU. On 3DMark11, the M17x led the pack with a score of 6,158, which is 3,775 points higher than the 2,383 category average. The Eon 17S, Series 7 Gamer and G75VW-DS71 scored 3,651, 3,502 and 2,533, respectively.
On the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the M17x averaged an incredible frame rate of 279 fps on Good at its native resolution of 1920 x 1080, well above the 154 fps average. The Origin Eon 17S, by comparison, notched 232 fps while the ASUS G75VW-DS71 and Samsung Series 7 Gamer scored 158 and 167 fps, respectively. When we cranked it to maximum, the M17x scored 147 fps, shattering the 80 fps category average. The Series 7 Gamer (135 fps) and the Eon 17S (129 fps) registered lower scores.
The M17x continued its impressive performance on "Batman: Arkham City," delivering 52 fps with the settings on high and 1920 x 1080p, twice the 26 fps average. The Series 7 Gamer churned out 30 fps while the Origin Eon 17S and the G75VW-DS71 scored 44 and 23 fps, respectively.
Powered by a 2.6-GHz Intel Core Intel Core i7-3720QM CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200 RPM hard drive with a 32GB mSATA SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M with 2GB of VRAM, the M17x turned in some of the highest benchmark scores we've seen. During PCMark 07, the M17x scored 4,610. That's 1,263 points above the desktop replacement average. The only notebook that beat the M17x was the Origin Eon 17S and its 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-3920XM CPU, which scored 5,602.
Using its 32GB mSATA cache, the M17x loaded the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 34 seconds, much faster than the 0:58 category average.
It took the M17x 3 minutes and 36 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia files, a transfer rate of 23.6 MBps. That's 21.4 MBps below the 45 MBps average. The G75VW-DS71 performed slightly better at 29.9 MBps while the Series 7 Gamer notched 33.3 MBps. The Eon 17S continued to dominate with a blistering 254.5 MBps.
During the OpenOffice test, the M17x matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 4 minutes and 10 seconds, a little faster than the 4:20 desktop replacement category average. The Origin Eon 17S completed the task in 3:17 while the G75VW-DS71 finished in 4:51.
Click to EnlargeAnother place where the M17x truly shines is battery life. During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the M17x lasted a whopping 5 hours and 19 minutes. That's 1 hour and 43 minutes longer than the 3:36 desktop replacement category average. The Series 7 Gamer and the G75VW-DS71 lasted 3:21 and 3:11 while the Eon 17S lasted a dismal 2:35.
The M17x is blissfully free of bloatware, sticking to programs that will maintain and aid gaming efficiency. Launching Command Center grants users access to a helpful quartet of utilities with alien-themed names. AlienFX, our hands-down favorite utility, allowed us to change the color scheme and rhythm of the notebook's lighting system.
Click to EnlargeAlienFusion (pictured) lets users manage and create power plans while AlienTouch controls touchpad functionality. There's also AlienAdrenaline, which gave us the ability to create a desktop short that would automatically launch a set sequence of actions when launching a specific game.
In case of a system crash, AlienAutopsy is there for any backup and recovery needs as well as troubleshooting and running diagnostics checks.
Our $2,599 review model features a 2.6-GHz Intel Core Intel Core i7-3720QM CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200 RPM hard drive with a 32GB mSATA SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M graphics with 2GB of VRAM and Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. The $1,499 base model comes equipped with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU with 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. The $1,849 version has identical specs to the base model with 8GB of RAM and a AMD Radeon HD 7970M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
Click to EnlargeAlthough its $2,599 price is steep, the Alienware M17x R4 remains the ultimate gaming notebook. Although the chassis stays the same, we can overlook it due to the sheer power stuffed under the hood. Shoppers looking to save a few bucks can get an Origin Eon 17S with similar specs to our review unit for $2,100, but you'd be missing out on the always-awesome lighting features and battery life of the M17x. Gamers and those with heavy-duty multimedia needs will be hard-pressed to find a better notebook than the Alienware M17x.