Alienware's Medium-Sized Monster

Understanding that many users would just as soon want to be able to game on the go without having to lug a ten pound land monster with them, Alienware offers the M14x, a notebook that offers portable performance without breaking your back in the process. Featuring support for quad-core Sandy Bridge mobile processors and a reasonably fast GeForce GT 555M, the M14x promises an awful lot of power in a reasonably small package. But at what cost?

This review continues our coverage of Alienware's current mobile lineup, coverage that began with the M17x R3. We also have the M11x R3 in-house and that review is forthcoming, and the M18x is due for review soon. The M14x is basically Alienware's "mainstream" offering for users who don't want a giant gaming machine but aren't interested in going with their pint-sized M11x R3. On paper at least, there's an awful lot to recommend it.

Alienware M14x Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
(4x2.0GHz + HTT, 2.9GHz Turbo, 32nm, 6MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 2x2GB Hynix DDR3-1600 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M 3GB DDR3
(144 CUDA cores, 590MHz/1180MHz/1.8GHz core/shader/memory clocks, 192-bit memory bus)
Display 14" LED Glossy 16:9 900p (1600x900)
Hard Drive(s) Samsung SpinPoint MP4 500GB 7200-RPM HDD
Optical Drive Slot-loading DVD+/-RW Combo (HL-DT-ST GS30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Internal WirelessHD
Audio Realtek ALC665 HD Audio
Klipsch 2.1 speakers
Mic and two headphone jacks
Battery 8-Cell, 14.8V, 63Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 3.0
Kensington lock
Left Side VGA
USB 2.0 charging port
Mic and two headphone jacks
MMC/SD/MS reader
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.27" x 10.17" x 1.49" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.45 lbs
Extras 2MP Webcam
82-key backlit keyboard
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Internal WirelessHD
Configurable lighting
Klipsch audio with subwoofer
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,099
Price as configured: $1,543

Just by looking at the specs it should be reasonably clear the M14x is potentially one of the fastest, if not the fastest, 14-inch notebooks available. It weighs an extra pound for the privilege, but Alienware has specced it with performance in mind, period. The Intel Core i7-2630QM in our review unit is actually the second-slowest processor you can order the M14x with, and there's only one dual-core option: the i5-2410M. Strapped to the integrated memory controller is 4GB of DDR3-1600, configurable up to 8GB.

On the GPU side we have NVIDIA's mobile branding nightmare, the GeForce GT 555M. In our recent mobile graphics guide we cited two completely different GPUs shipped as the GT 555M, but in the case of the M14x we seem to have the more desirable version. This one comes with 144 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores and a frankly excessive 3GB of DDR3 strapped to a 192-bit memory bus. That extra 1.5GB of DDR3 is a $100 upgrade and isn't liable to bring any real improvement in performance, so when custom ordering you'll probably want to just stick with the stock 1.5GB. The GT 555M comes clocked at 590MHz on the core and 1180MHz on the shaders, and the DDR3 runs at an effective 1.8GHz for 43.2GB/s of bandwidth. (For the record, the GDDR5 version offers slightly more bandwidth and slightly less compute, but the deal breaker is that it only has 4 ROPs.) As part of NVIDIA's 500M series, the GT 555M also supports Optimus graphics-switching technology, which Alienware puts to good use.

The rest of the M14x is delightfully modern, sporting two USB 3.0 ports, a slot-loading DVD+/-RW drive, and a keyboard with color-configurable backlighting. Probably the biggest perk you can get from the M14x may not even be the powerful underlying hardware, but the 1600x900 resolution on a 14" screen. Having spent some time with this notebook, the biggest shame is that this is the exception and not the rule.

Great Looks, But Some Things Shouldn't Be Universal
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I agree with you on high-DPI being a problem for those of us with less than perfect eyesight (welcome to the world of 35+ year olds!), but the 1366x768 resolution itself is still an eyesore in the sense of being a pain to use. Windows is really targeted at higher resolution displays, and 16:9 widescreen didn't help the situation. I'd much rather have 1440x900 or 1680x1050 (or 1920x1280 or even 1280x800) than all the 16:9 stuff. 768 vertical pixels just doesn't cut it for me; just like 1024x768 went out of fashion about six years back, a wider version of 1024x768 isn't any better. Your 1280x1024 desktop display is a relief in more way than one I'm sure!

    Incidentally, I use a 30" desktop LCD at 2560x1600, and I have to set the DPI to 120 in Windows and deal with the various programs that don't work right with font scaling in order to use the LCD without eyestrain. And yet, given the choice, I still wouldn't go back to a lower resolution, lower DPI panel. It's the proverbial Catch-22: I need the higher resolution, but the higher DPI is difficult to see, but you can't get high resolution and low DPI unless you're running a 40+ inch HDTV. (And running a 30" LCD at 1920x1200 results in scaling blurriness, so I prefer to deal with the Windows DPI crud.)
  • FH123 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I can't really argue with that. We're basically on the same page - and I'm 46 - although I do tilt the other way and use my 8-year old XGA laptop screen most often. I like working with the machine on my lap.

    Age makes you cynical about progress. I recently evaluated a Thinkpad X220 with a great IPS screen, but quite high DPI at 12.5" and with 1366x768 16:9 resolution. The perfect example of the schizophrenic nature of progress, it also took 90 seconds to fully boot Windows 7 from a conventional disk. My 8-year old Northwood P4 (Thinkpad T30) boots XP in less than 1 minute including a virus scanner and full-disk encryption (also no SSD). Would I feel the benefit of SandyBridge if I moved on to it? Probably, but my old machine is surprisingly easy to live with. There are too many things, like boot / load times, that are not improved even with SSDs, for example Thinkpad applets and the Intel display driver UI that I suspect are written in .NET. There are others, like ever shallower keyboards and less-tall, low contrast screens, that are in fact regressing. Among screens today a 14" 1280x800 screen would possibly be ideal for me ... if it still existed.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    At CES 2011, Lenovo was demoing a ThinkPad Edge that could boot in under 10 seconds. Now *that* is a laptop I'd like to fool around with -- I was very curious what sort of tweaks they had made to get it to boot that quickly. Obviously there was no bloatware, but even so my desktop with an overclocked i7-965 and Vertex 2 SSD takes about 12 seconds to boot Win7, and that's not including the 15 seconds it takes to POST.
  • FH123 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Yeah, this is why the X220 being so slow surprised me. I'm sure it had the "Lenovo Enhanced Experience" sticker, which I thought is partly about quick boot time. An SSD would have made a huge difference of course, but even so. Then, once you start using some of the Lenovo apps to, say, adjust your power management settings (on a Thinkpad T410s WITH AN SSD that I have), they can take ages to come up, i.e. several seconds. In my view applets like that should open up instantly. Lenovo Enhanced Experience is a mixture of the good and the awful. It possibly comes down to some manager not seeing that they can't write this stuff completely in .NET, Flash, Java or whatever they're using.

    There's a video on YouTube somewhere where Lenovo explain how they worked quite deeply with device driver manfuacturers to cut down the boot time. Of course they don't say exactly what they did and you can supposedly only reap the benefit from their preload. Based on my extremely limited experience I have to wonder whether that only works well on select demo machines. It must be hard rolling out the performance tweaks across every driver and BIOS revision.
  • sir_laser - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Shoutouts to Faulkner and Shakespeare!

    FH123: So what you are saying, in part, is that it is very difficult to find high quality low DPI laptop screens in the consumer market?
  • FH123 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I must confess I haven't looked at the consumer market. I buy business laptops, usually Thinkpads for their keyboards. I have the impression that complaints about poor screens are universal though and have more to do with the manufacture and availability of those screens. There seem to be some markets where high quality screens are more common, e.g. tablets, workstation and large high-end laptops - as well as anything made by Apple. However try to find a decent screen in a mainstream 14" Windows laptop and the situation is dire.
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    ...but refuse to buy it with an Intel CPU. Alienware told me they do not know if or when they will be using Llano APUs but this would seem like a smart move for good gaming performance with low power consumption and low heat/fan noise.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Ah, yes, the anti-Intel sentiment. Unfortunately, as an enthusiast company, there's really no place for Llano in Alienware's current lineup. The ULV processors used in the M11x are generally equal to Llano in terms of power use for idle/low use, equal in multi-threaded performance, and much faster in single-threaded performance.

    Llano A8-3800M vs. M11x R3:

    Llano A8-3800M+6630M vs. M11x R3:
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    So Alienware loses another sale. In this economy it's gotta hurt to not be selling what consumers want.
  • cjl - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    You know, I believe the evidence is that consumers want performance and battery life, and by and large, they don't really care what brand of processor the computer has. Those that do mainly prefer intel (thanks to their advertising). So, I would say that Alienware is selling exactly what consumers want.

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