Introducing an Ultraportable Demon

We've been keeping track of Alienware's M11x series since the very first one landed and have had the privilege of testing each one. The move from Penryn to Arrandale in the R2 netted a substantial boost in performance at the cost of some battery life, though that issue was mitigated somewhat by the introduction of NVIDIA's Optimus graphics switching, replacing the more finicky software-based GPU switching in the first generation model. With the vastly improved power consumption and efficiency of Sandy Bridge, do we have a true successor to the last two models?

From first impressions, it certainly looks that way. Everything in the M11x R3 has gotten a healthy boost--everything, that is, except the screen. So spoiler alert there: the one big change we were hoping for, our last major complaint about the M11x in the R2, still remains present in the R3. Yet the move from Arrandale to Sandy Bridge has yielded dividends in other notebooks, and the GPU has received a stellar upgrade from the old GeForce GT 335M. And as a final bonus, Alienware is packing USB 3.0 in the R3.

Alienware M11x R3 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2617M
(2x1.5GHz + HTT, 32nm, 4MB L3, Turbo to 2.6GHz, 17W)
Chipset Intel QS67
Memory 2x4GB Hynix DDR3-1333 (Max 2x8GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M 2GB DDR3
(96 CUDA Cores, 672MHz/1344MHz/1.8GHz core/shader/memory clocks, 128-bit memory bus)
Display 11.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
(AU Optronics AUO305C Panel)
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus 7200.5 500GB 7200-RPM HDD
Optical Drive -
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 802.11a/b/g/n
Audio Realtek ALC665 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Mic and dual headphone jacks
Battery 8-Cell, 14.8V, 63Wh battery
Front Side Speakers
Left Side Kensington lock
USB 2.0 (Chargeable)
MMC/SD/MS Reader
4-pin FireWire
Right Side Dual headphone, mic jacks
2x USB 3.0
Back Side AC adaptor
Exhaust vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 11.25" x 9.19" x 1.29" (WxDxH)
Weight 4.4 lbs
Extras 2MP webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB charging
Klipsch speakers
RGB configurable backlit 82-key keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited warranty (available up to four years)
Pricing Starting at $999
Priced as configured: $1,419

Much like in our review of the Alienware M14x, right out the gate I'll tell you that most of the upgrades to the base system aren't going to seem worth it. Our review unit comes equipped with the fastest processor Dell makes available in the M11x R3, the Intel Core i7-2617M. For just a 17W TDP it's a remarkably capable piece of kit, able to turbo up to 2.3GHz on both cores or 2.6GHz on a single core, and it promises to be a major improvement on the i7-640UM the previous generation sported. The alternative choice, for $200 less, is the i5-2537M, which takes a 300MHz hit to both turbo clocks, comes with a slightly slower 1.4GHz nominal clock, and 1MB less of L3 cache. Given the low resolution screen, it's hard to really swallow a $200 upgrade to the faster i7.

That's especially true when you realize the CPU and GPU are tied together into two specific combinations: you can get either the i7-2617M and 2GB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M, or the i5-2537M and 1GB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M. That extra gigabyte of video memory is a waste on a part like the GT 540M, whose 96 CUDA cores and 128-bit memory bus are ill-equipped to take advantage of the extra space. The 540M ships at spec, with 672MHz on the core, 1344MHz on the shaders, and an effective 1.8GHz on the DDR3. This is a massive improvement on the GT 335M that the M11x R2 shipped with, running more than 200MHz faster on the core while offering an additional 24 shaders. It also brings support for DirectX 11 and has performance around the AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5650, just as we requested in our review of the R2.

The last notable upgrade is the inclusion of USB 3.0: the two USB ports on the right side of the M11x R3 are now USB 3.0 instead of the 2.0 used in the last generation.

Essentially what we're left with is a very healthy improvement to the system itself along with better connectivity. Unfortunately we're still missing out on the better screen--something Alienware otherwise gets right with their M14x, M17x and M18x. Other than the heavy rejiggering of the M11x R3's insides, though, the shell itself remains unchanged and in line with the rest of Alienware's notebooks: glossy black accents on the speaker grilles along with edge-to-edge gloss for the screen, a backlit keyboard, and a smooth rubberized texture on the plastic shell. The design has gone largely unchanged from the very first iteration, so our thoughts there still apply. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and while I personally still take some issue with the intake on the bottom of the notebook, at least the parts included in this version should generate less heat than the two previous generations.

The Fastest Ultraportable on the Block
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  • ouchtastic - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    forgot to say that 720p would work great too when output via hdmi, can game on any hdtv out there. Although I suspect nvidia settings might require you to play with overscan settings if you do this.
  • Thermogenic - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    I have an m11x R1 and generally like it, although the CPU really holds me back trying to watch

    Can anyone comment on the webcam quality of the R3? I find the R1 to be exceptionally poor in low light situations, and not great even with good lighting.
  • rufwork - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    "The R3 is easy to recommend over the R2. It's absolutely worth the money, definitely the best one Alienware's released thus far, and an easy sell for the portable gamer. The $999 stock configuration can easily be left unchanged..."

    CNET's running a deal now with the R2 (I believe) with i3 for $599.

    Windows 7 Home Premium, 64Bit
    Intel Core i3 330UM (3M Cache, 1.2 GHz) - Overclockable
    11.6-inch WideHD 1366x768 (720p) WLED
    1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M
    Alienware M11x a/b/g/n 2x2 MIMO Wireless

    Is it really worth two-thirds the cost to move to R3 land? What games am I missing at R2 for $600 that I'm getting with R3 for a grand? Which doors can't I open? (Honest questions here; if the difference is a PS3, the answers should be pretty convincing ones, though, don't you think?)
  • redchar - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    I wouldn't buy the stock for $1000. I've been waiting, and just recently the r3 has come out on dell's refurbished device website. I had seen the stock version for as low as $800, and the high-end i7 version for $900. Also, dell gives out coupons monthly to give discounts on the already discounted refurbished devices, usually between $100-200 off. So, before tax and shipping you might be able to get the stock version for $700 or something similar. Compared to the r2, you'd be getting better performance, usb3, and slightly better battery life. It might be worthwhile.
    Also, the refurbs get a 1 year warranty which covers free in-home repairs, so I really don't see a point in buying them new.
  • tzhu07 - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Does this company put any effort into industrial design? That thing looks like puke.
  • dhiiir - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    it doesn't look as ugly as I used to think. A small, mostly smooth black laptop if you think about it - a lot less uglier than some of the previous alienware designs with crazy ribs on the lid. It reminds me a bit of a ferrari, actually. You know - overall it will certainly stick out, but as long as you don't go out of your way to enable all the LEDs to make it look like a kids civic, the curves aren't too bad, or at least I can put up with them since the m11x has so many other great features.By the way, I would like to share a website with everyone, you can try clicking into perspective, there are many things we need, I often buy things here. Now share it with everyone. Can not miss it, or will be very unfortunate.
  • dhiiir - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    good ,i want to buy it
  • mschira - Saturday, July 23, 2011 - link

    my Lenovo t420s weights 3.94 pounds that is with a 14" screen. I wouldn't call it ultraportable thought....
    not that the t420s can compete in graphic power, unfortunately...
  • Luke2.0 - Saturday, July 23, 2011 - link

    Forgive me if this sound noobish, or OOT.

    Taken from for i7-2720QM
    Memory Type: DDR3-1066/1333/1600
    # of memory channels: 2
    Max memory bandwidth: 25.6 GB/s

    Could I put in a pair of DDR-1866 or 2000 modules and run them at said speed, thus more bandwidth?? 32 GB/s, anyone?

    FYI I ask because I read Llano provides users with max 51.2 GB/s (some) thanks to the generous 128-bit bus, making me feel "why not,Intel?!"
    You know, Ivy Bridge would get the same 25.6 GB/s of max bandwidth on paper, at least for now.

  • erple2 - Saturday, July 23, 2011 - link

    The answer is "yes, but it's only worthwhile where memory bandwidth is your limiting factor". Nowadays, I can't think of many situations where memory bandwidth (beyond a certain level, that is) has any significant play in the overall performance of the machine. Sure, if you're compiling large quantities of java code in parallel, or maybe certain tasks while manipulating large data files might be faster, I'm willing to bet that the additional cost of DDR1866 or 2000 memory modules would not translate into a reasonably measurable (> 5%) increase in performance. Unless there's no additional cost to fancier memory.

    Though that's more or less been the norm for the past 5 years - faster memory generally doesn't make a reasonable (considering it's price premium) choice. Note that overclocking can slightly justify better memory (faster, tighter timings, etc), but even there, the gains aren't necessarily in line with the resultant price premium.

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