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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  • Hrel - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    yeah, he just hates Intel because they're succesful. I hate petty people.
    I do wish we could see some competition from AMD though, just to drive prices down. Intel's have been creeping steadily up since the release of the Core series of CPU's.

    For instance I think the 2500K should be about 185-195, not 215 or 230 or whatever it is. Not a huge deal, when I build a new desktop next fall (2012) I will use the newest Intel CPU equivalent to that one. Generally though 200 has always been my cap for CPU prices, I just wanna overclock so an extra 20 bucks is meh; still, not like it costs Intel anything extra to enable that.

    Unless Bulldozer makes Sandy Bridge look at least average??? Please! No? Ohhhh, ok.
  • Skott - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    If I was going to buy a gaming laptop I'd go with a Sager. They have the superior cooling system for gaming laptops. That heat over time can kill a laptop. It needs to be as cool as possible. Just my 2 cents.
  • scook9 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Not really that superior actually....they have nice beefy cooling on their x7200 and x8000 lines but their single GPU stuff is comparably cooled compare to the alienware lineup (And the M18x matches the x7200 cooling....)
  • Hrel - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    sager is just a brand built on Clevo or Compal or Asus or MSI or any other whitebox manufacturer; they don't actually make the laptops, they just put parts in them like the CPU/GPU/RAM and what not.
  • Gonemad - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    ...but right now can anybody answer me with a simple yes or no: Is this the fastest machine that can be crammed in a 14" notebook frame, heat be damned, noise be damned, battery life be damned?

    Apparently yes it is. Won't this note enter the category *hot-rod* as in "the largest engine on the smallest car"? Or is it a "Rolls-Royce jet engine in a Pinto", where the sum is worse than its parts?

    PS: You don't see anything beyond 1600 x 900 all the way to 17"...
  • Pylon757 - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Sony has 1920x1080 across 13". 1080p isn't that hard to find on 15".

    This is about the same weight as a number of 15" laptops too.
  • bigboxes - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Isn't it really a LED backlit LCD display? Just because the manufacturers are marketing them as LED displays doesn't make them so.
  • etamin - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    That is what LED display means. All LED displays are LED backlit LCDs whereas traditional LCDs are actually CCFL (Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Lamp) backlit displays. They are both types of LCDs.
  • etamin - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I was not able to tell from the pictures but is the memory in the M14x self upgradable? Alienware is charging $200 for 2x4GB DIMMS (1600MHz) which can be had on Newegg for as low as $75.

    Also, do you at Anandtech notice any changes in quality since the pre-Dell days of Alienware? I believe the Area-51 m7700 I owned years ago was the last pre-Dell model built and have not given Alienware a second thought since both harddrives (yes, both at the same time) in RAID 0 permanently failed along with the motherboard. Over the life of the system, I had to replace a dead graphics card, deal with a battery that could not hold a charge, and replace a screen myself with one from a used Sager built on the same Clevo chassis. In total the system fell into the 4k range over 4 years of use and I cannot even dream about spending even 2.5k on a laptop ever again. My understanding is that Dell now uses even cheaper generic parts but I could be wrong.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I wish you guys could get the "other" version of the GT555M in for testing; really just out of curiosity. I'd like to see what's different and where from 768p to 1080p.
    (I also wish you guys would test at 1080p NOT with max settings; but with "reasonable" texture settings. You can make games look better than a console and run at 1080p by tweaking things just a little.)
    Really THIS GPU with GDDR5 is the only GT555M that should exist. Hopefully Nividia will do that with the GT666M or whatever they wanna call it. I truly baffles me that someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to have two entirely different GPU's under the EXACT same name each with at LEAST 2 possible configurations totally 4+ GPU's with the same damn name!!! AHHHHH, frakkin marketing people; clearly their degrees mean nothing more than "yep, I drank a lot in college".

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