Earlier today, Dell surprised me when it announced not just Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 versions of its most popular systems, but the Alienware M11x, the world's smallest gaming laptop. At 11.6 inches, it has an Intel ultra-low voltage processor (Dell won't say which ones yet) and switchable graphics, including integrated Intel graphics and discrete Nvidia GT335M graphics. With a few exceptions-- its size, the lack of a number pad-- the M11x looks the part of a gaming laptop. And upon a second look up close, it appears to perform like one too (more or less). Read on for my first impressions and make sure you check out the photo gallery and video walkthrough (coming soon!).
The 11x looks like its bigger siblings, the M15x and M17x, only miniaturized. The keyboard has the same squarish keys with a customizable backlight. During our demonstration, the lights were all red, but using Alienware Command Center you can decide what colors glow, and in what areas of the keyboard. Although Dell did a good job of extending the keyboard from one edge of the chassis to another, I still felt the keys slightly too small. But I was impressed by the sturdiness of the whole keyboard panel: I tried typing out a few sentences fairly forcefully, and didn't notice any flex.
Throughout the notebook, you'll notice matching red details: the twin lights on the front edge, the Alienware branding on the lower bezel. The chassis itself feels lightweight (Dell says it will weigh just under four pounds, depending on the configuration), but durable. The lid is made of injection-molded plastic, which Dell says helps keep costs down and also helps explain why the notebook is so light. The material feels smooth, like carbon fiber only hollower, less dense. The lid will be available in two colors: black and a smoky gray color. In either case, a glowing metal Alienware logo sits in the center of the lid, as befits a gaming notebook.
The M11x has discrete Nvidia GT335M graphics, which Dell says will score between 6,000 and 7,000 on 3DMark, which would be impressive indeed. In real-world gaming situations, Dell says that translates to around 30 frames per second for Call of Duty and Modern Warfare. Indeed, when we had Modern Warfare run on the highest settings (meaning, with the resolution set to its maximum, 1366 x 768, instead of 1024 x 768) the playback still looked smooth. In fact, we saw it output video smoothly to a larger HD monitor using the HDMI port. I think Dell is doing a good job of setting expectations here. Hard-core gamers would demand higher frame rates, and might notice that while the gaming playback was smooth, larger notebooks would do a better job. The M11x seems best suited not for the most enthusiastic enthusiasts, but people who think it's worth it to have slightly lower frame rates for the sake of mobility, who prefer games that aren't the most graphically intensive, or, well, who just aren't super picky.
I can't think of a better endorsement for the M11x than to say that I kind of want one. And I'm not even a gamer! Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but I do think the idea of a highly portable gaming notebook is portable, particularly if our further testing shows that Dell lives up to its promises of decent frame rates and battery life.