Introducing the Alienware M17x R3

We've had our hands on quite a few gaming notebooks here, but most of the time they're Clevo-based machines. These aren't necessarily bad notebooks; they're fast, typically have good screens, and they get the job done. Yet they also have some persisting drawbacks: build quality isn't often that hot, the battery is a glorified UPS system, and they feature some of the worst keyboards on the market. ASUS, MSI, Toshiba, and HP all offer fairly compelling alternatives, and today Alienware brings us a particularly interesting contender in the form of the M17x R3.

Truth be told, I was ambivalent about laying hands on the M17x R3. Gaming notebooks can tend to be gaudy affairs, and Alienware's notebooks (at least on the shelf) are practically exemplars of this goofy kind of excess. But there's something to be said for a little bling, and if the whole thing feels right, who's to really complain if it looks like the gaming equivalent of a racecar bed?

Performance-wise, it's definitely going to feel right. Alienware has upgraded the M17x R3 with Sandy Bridge processors, and graphics options start at the AMD Radeon HD 6870M, upgradeable to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M. Or you can go for the big daddy like our review sample has: the AMD Radeon HD 6970M.

Alienware M17x R3 Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-2720QM
(4x2.2GHz + HTT, 3.3GHz Turbo, 32nm, 6MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 4x2GB Hynix DDR3-1333 (Max 4x4GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB GDDR5
(960 stream processors, 680MHz/3.6GHz core/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
LG Philips LGD 02DA
Hard Drive(s) 2x Seagate Momentus 750GB 7200-RPM HDD in RAID 0
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (HL-DT-ST CA30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Internal WirelessHD (with external receiver included)
Audio IDT 92HD73C1 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Battery 9-Cell, 11.1V, 90Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side MMC/SD/MS Flash reader
Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 2.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
Left Side Kensington lock
eSATA/USB combo port
2x USB 3.0
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.14" x 11.96" x 1.75-1.77" (WxDxH)
Weight ~9.39 lbs
Extras 3MP Webcam
Backlit keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Internal WirelessHD
Configurable lighting
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,499
Price as configured: $2,503

The Sandy Bridge processor at the heart is the major part of this refresh of the M17x. You can custom order all the way up to the Intel Core i7-2820QM (the 55-watt i7-2920XM isn't available), but the i7-2720QM presents a nice balance of performance and value. With a 2.2GHz nominal clock rate capable of turbo-ing up to 3.3GHz on a single core (or 3GHz on all four cores), the i7-2720QM should offer more than enough processing horsepower. Alienware also joins four DIMM slots instead of two to the i7's memory controller allowing for a maximum of 16GB of memory, enough to get some serious work done.

Handling graphics duties is the AMD Radeon HD 6970M, basically a mobile version of the desktop Radeon HD 6850. This is arguably the fastest mobile GPU currently available, duking it out with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 485M for the top slot. It features 960 stream processors, a 680MHz core clock, and 2GB of GDDR5 clocked to an effective 3.6GHz on a 256-bit bus for a staggering 115.2 GB/sec of memory bandwidth. The M17x R3 also supports GPU switching, allowing you to switch to the IGP while on the battery to substantially improve running time. Unfortunately the solution here isn't quite as automatic or seamless as NVIDIA's Optimus, but it gets the job done.

The M17x R3 sports two drive bays, but the storage options offered on the Dell website leave something to be desired. The default configuration is a pair of 320GB, 7200-RPM hard drives in RAID 0 and in fact outside of a single 256GB SSD option, everything is RAID 0. Understanding that the M17x R3 should be spending most of its life on your desktop, this is nonetheless a disappointing set of options. Ideally you'd want an SSD serving as the boot drive and a HDD handling mass storage duties. I use a RAID 0 on my desktop for my scratch video drive and gaming drive, but honestly for the latter it's not a substantial improvement. In a notebook, even one that will live its life on flat surfaces, this is still a questionable choice.

From here there are three fairly sizable selling points for the M17x R3: HDMI in, wireless display, and 3D. The HDMI input is only 1.3 and can't support 3D should you configure the M17x with the 120Hz 3D screen option, but for connecting your PS3 or Xbox 360 it's sufficient and works basically as a passthrough to the laptop screen. The built-in wireless display connectivity isn't tied to Intel's Wi-Di but instead uses WiHD. Like most wireless display technologies, though, I had some trouble getting this one working right. While Vivek is a big fan of things like Intel's Wi-Di, I'm not really sold on it; you still have to connect a receiver box to your TV's HDMI port, and frankly, if you can afford to buy this notebook, you can afford to buy a dedicated blu-ray player with Netflix and Hulu functionality built in. Finally, there's a 120Hz 3D-capable panel option for those so inclined, but unfortunately our review unit didn't include it so there's no way to test it.

Making the Case for Bling
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  • The0ne - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    You are expecting your SSD to blow the performance of the Alienware R3? Are you being serous here? Has Anandtech users fallen so low in stupidity that they say such things? On one hand it's a great laugh until I realize these people are actually serious and then I remember the iPhone vs EVO bear video about the sales-bear taking off his own dong because he doesn't want to have to raise kids in such an ignorant world.

    Let me ask you some questions,

    1. How often do you use your MBP on battery alone?

    2. How often do you play games on battery alone?

    3. You rather have a laptop that burns you instead of one that doesn't? And this is because you think its quite fine since you have longer battery life in which to prolong the burn? You think all laptops of different, and in this case more powerful, should have battery life like MBP?

    4. Do you know what an SSD is? Do you know what it improves and what it doesn't improve? Do you now realize the ignorance of your statement IF you have an answer for the first two?

    5. Price comparatively in performance what are the prices for the MBP and R3? Go on, take your time and respond. I want you to. There are performance charts here in this review to get you started btw.

    6. If you were to start a company with a specific product would you consider deterring from it? Let me elaborate so as to not confuse you. If you "had" a company that has a theme of say Bantam chicks (these are really pretty midget chickens btw) would you change your image because of some dick with no clue about marketing and such thinks bantam chickens suck and should be more like a duck? Just an example mind you. I sad "had" was a good choice of word don't you?
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Are you gonna add something useful to this discussion or just ask stupid questions? Do you have anything to say that can honestly refute my position that a 17" MacBook Pro is more desirable than this butt-ugly, over-weight, Dell laptop? Anything factual? Anything at all? Because, so far, all I see is a PC fanboy having difficulty producing facts.

    The only tangible advantage the Alienware has is a better GPU option,. But to get that GPU, you need to sacrifice everything else. I would not make that sacrifice, and I think many people will agree with me. The Alienware laptop is over-priced, lacks any sense of style, isn't ground breaking portable technology, and is largely targeted at teenage boys.

    Price being equal - I see more value in a 17" MacBook Pro.
  • dlite1 - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Purchased an ASUS G53JW-SSD with a 120 G SSD and 750 / 7200 G HD two months ago. 8 G RAM and a Nvidia GTX-460M ran just less than $2000. I priced Alienware but the price for the feature set just seemed high. Course people that buy Alienware are looking for performance and bling.
  • vhong - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I bought the Alienware M17x R3 from dell Outlet for $1279 (with online coupon). It has the base configuration + w/ 2GB 6970.
    Still has a standard 1 year warranty, and looks brand new.

    This thing looks amazing.

    People's jaw usually drops when they first see this, followed by something like: "That's awesome!" The pictures taken for this article just don't do it justice, as they all appear to be the blue color scheme. The 4 sections of my keyboard & front lights are slowly rotating through the color spectrum. Video would have been better for this review.
  • erple2 - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    To be fair, if you were to option out the M17x as the base 17" MBP, (2500 base cost at retail) it would cost about 1900 dollars, not $2503.

    So you are spending about 600 bucks (I know, you can get a MBP sometimes cheaper online at discounts) nets you a slower GPU (by about 1/2 - which may or may not be important to you), and higher load temperatures on the surfaces. On the positive side, you get a thinner and bit lighter chassis, 120 extra vertical pixels, and more battery life (roughly double, if you use OSX vs. Windows 7). OSX is either a positive or a negative, depending on your viewpoint.

    If you factor in discounts, it's a bit less clear - though Dell typically has significant discounts available (25% isn't unheard of).

    Which is the better all-around machine? I'd be willing to say the MBP is probably the better one. It is, however, 600 dollars more expensive (at retail). However, you're not buying this Alienware machine for it's "all around performance". You're buying it for playing games for which it FAR exceeds the performance of the MBP.
  • kioshi - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Mac user here.

    The MBP will not be as future-proof for gaming which is the main intention of this laptop. Also the MBP will have a much longer battery life (I don't know how Apple does that but they do).

    IMHO the MBP is a very nice machine but not for the heavy gamers who want a laptop. Even the 27' iMac comes with a mobile GPU and non upgradeable components, not really what I'd want for a gaming machine even though I'm planning on getting one of those.
  • kevith - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link


    To keep on comparing MBP´s and the Alienware is quite pointless. I don´t think you could find two more different systems:

    One has a "whispering" design, grey in grey, silent, lightweight, astounding battery life, a "Gentlemans Express"; the other is MEANT to shout out loud, look alien and brute and catch every eye in the room, a "Thoroughbread Racer" .

    One is for all kinds of work EXCEPT gaming, the other is for the hardcore gamer segment

    It even comes with two different OS.

    What the one doesn´t have is the others finest virtues.

    I´m sure they are both very nice laptops, I´l never afford neither of them, but for this machine and this review we probably could find some more appropriate comparisons.
  • anishannayya - Thursday, June 23, 2011 - link

    Who would buy a 17" MacBook?

    To be fair, I would buy neither, but if I was forced to, I would take the Alienware any day.

    Trying to compare a functional computer to a locked down and feature lacking system doesn't make any sense.

    Apple makes great hardware and they have an awesome marketing department.

    But because I'm not a glitzy hipster neither an Mac nor an Alienware system would work for me. I'll go for a ThinkPad and build my own gaming desktop. And, oh yeah, I'll still spend less than you.
  • khimera2000 - Thursday, June 23, 2011 - link

    this is true that you can get a macbook for that price, but you only need a budget of 2000 on the alienware and your alredy pushing beyond what the macbook pro can do, pushing up to 2500 the mac book pro looses any chance of catching up to the M17. Its cool that the macbooks are made out of aluminum, but it still dosent stop them from having many flaws from a company that does alot to make sure those flaws dont come out.

    Mac Books have nice looks to there builds, but there build quality has suffered and to me can no longer be considered as a major point of comparison. All there products have had major flaws be it cracking on the G4 screen from case stress, warping of the optilce drive slot on there macbooks, leaking of user information once again on ther phones, or bricking of ipods which cant be fixed out to sea (I had 6 of them floating in my locker by the end of deployment) I just dont trust apple to make a product 100% ready, Hell i dont even expect them to make a product that isint bata on first release. sure what you look at will work ausome, but its always something else, that goes horrably wrong.
  • UltimateTruth - Saturday, June 25, 2011 - link

    Macbook Pro? That overheating, overpriced pile of pot metal? You should keep some aju sauce on the side when you have one on your lap. Since it will slow roast your thighs something tasty.

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