Great Looks, But Some Things Shouldn't Be Universal

Undoubtedly some of you may disagree as you did with my assessment of the M17x R3, but I'm still a big fan of Alienware's styling. It's the kind of thing that really has to be seen and felt in person to be appreciated. If you read that review, you're going to find the design of the M14x extremely familiar.

Alienware eschews glossy plastic everywhere except two places: the speaker trim and the screen frame. Everything else is a smooth rubberized plastic texture that's very pleasant to the touch. Where that glossy plastic is employed at least makes some sense: the speaker trim isn't liable to see a lot of action, and the screen is a single glossy surface from edge to edge with no bezel. Undoubtedly some will complain about the glossy screen itself, but gloss on consumer grade products is here to stay and next to impossible to avoid, and unlike dismally low screen resolutions it can at least make a case for itself.

The keyboard and touchpad have a very similar texture to the rest of the notebook, although there's a little too much flex in the keyboard for my liking. Those of you who aren't happy with the modern trend towards chiclet-style keyboards will be right at home here, as the M14x's keyboard is a more traditional style. The layout itself is a good one, too, bog standard for 14" notebooks. Some things don't need innovation.

Unfortunately, some of the design decisions that worked well for the M17x R3 make much less sense in a more portable notebook. Having the fan intakes on the bottom of the M17x was fine; that notebook is enormous and should be spending its life on flat surfaces. But the M14x is small enough to be used as a laptop proper, and putting the fan intake on the bottom of a notebook like this is unwise.

By the same token, while Alienware is undoubtedly proud of the personalized metal plate on the bottom of each notebook, that metal plate is a heat factory, and a lot of the heat the notebook generates is going to get absorbed into it. As a result, it gets incredibly hot to the touch when the M14x is running full bore.

Finally, the powerful hardware inside takes its toll in one other area: sheer uncompromising bulk. The M14x may be one of the fastest 14-inch notebooks ever made, but it's also one of the heaviest, tipping the scales at 6.45 pounds. This comes with the territory and you can't entirely fault Alienware for it, but it's worth mentioning.

The M14x is, at least in this reviewer's opinion, a very attractive notebook, but the powerful hardware comes at some cost in the design and the bottom intake potentially curtails the kind of laptop gaming something like this should be well suited for.

Alienware's Medium-Sized Monster Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Its surprising that they would design a machine that is targeted at gamers, yet has such poor cooling.

    I didn't go look at the site, but do they offer the i7-2620? I have one in my new Precision M4600 and I have been quite happy with it overall. Great balance of power and battery life/temps. Its actually the first machine that stays quite cool on my lap even when under load. Great dual fan cooling design as well.
  • pandemonium - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Well done, very thorough!

    "When I say the Alienware M14x is too much by half, I'm not talking about the pricetag. Truth be told the price is actually remarkably reasonable given the excellent build quality, bling, and extra features. I'm talking about the configuration and cooling design, and these are things that significantly limit what you can do with the M14x."

    I agree with this. I'm very surprised at the price for what's inside, but seeing the lack of cooling and capabilities of the display knocks the overall value down too much.
  • runbmp - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    The m14x can expedite heat rapidly, however this comes at the cost of noise. This isn't really an issue for me as I wanted a performance laptop and not a google notebook.

    My only gripe has been with the onboard intel chipset, its kind of a joke really without any options to disable it and its drivers really muck around with games.

    Also to note. drivers will not install on their own, atm the only option is to either get a custom .inf or use the older drivers from Dell.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Personally I'd rather see how good the Dell XPS line is in comparison Namely, the XPS 15/17.

    How many drive bay slots, etc, and all that.

    These things are butt ugly, but i can see how *maybe* the cooling system on them would work out good though. Will read the article later to see how well it stacks up, but honestly right now I am not even considering these( and I am in the market for a new gamer like laptop)
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    "These things are butt ugly, but i can see how *maybe* the cooling system on them would work out good though"

    Replace would with could, and you have what i meant. However after reading through the 3 worthwhile comments. Never mind. Seems that having fancy ugly ports for cooling is not everything.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    If you're looking to game, the XPS line isn't really an option. Dell has eliminated the graphics options so that there isn't any overlap between XPS and Alienware.
  • Rookierookie - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Not on the high end no, but the GT525M/540M on the XPS 15/17 series can handle older games quite easily.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - link

    I respectfully disagree. Even a high-end laptop like this struggles on current gen games. The 525 (17" is far too large to be comparable) struggles even on older games.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I agree with you completely; same company after all. Personally I've always liked industrial style design over gaudy Alienware style design. I do have to admit though, when I was like 10 I thought their computers looked the "coolest"; lol.

    I'm a PC Tech and everytime I work with a Lenevo business class notebook I am entirely impressed. Soft rubber touch coating everywhere. No glare anywhere. Solid well built, well thought out chassis and keyboard. Impressively light and thin. Seriously, THAT is what I want from my laptop; just with consumer parts in it.

    To be clear I care less about thickness than the other stuff, I understand it has to get thicker to cool down a 2620QM with a GTX560M and 8GB of RAM in a 15.6" chassis. Make it thicker all you want, I don't even care what it weighs (6'4" 235lb man) I just want the design of the thing to be that...neat.
  • Nathelion - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I bought one of these shortly after launch (a few months ago now) and I've been happy with it. Is it loud? yes. Is it hot? yes. Do I like the aesthetic? not particularly. But it has two killer features:

    1) It is fast enough to do medium gaming in a 14" form factor
    2) It has a high-enough-to-be-useful resolution screen in a 14" form factor

    When it comes to complaints about heat and noise, those are a bit misguided. There are plenty of thin & light notebooks out there, but they also won't do anything above very low end gaming. There is simply no way to cram a decent amount of horsepower into 14" without making it hot and loud. In my experience, the notebook generally does a decent job of staying quiet (although it still gets rather hot to the touch) when it's being used for surfing or document editing, that is, in the roles where you would normally have it on your lap. When you fire up games, you would most likely put it on a table anyway (it does get loud when you use it for gaming, but... well, duh).

    The screen, however, is what sealed the deal for me. It's pretty normal (aka mediocre) quality in terms of color and gamut (you can however crank it up to be ridiculously bright if you want, I typically run it at 30% brightness even when plugged in), but the big feature is the resolution. The ONLY other modern 14" laptop with a resolution above 1366x768 is the ThinkPad T420s. While that is an excellent option, the gaming performance just isn't there - the highest you can spec one of those is a dual core sandy bridge and an NVS 4200M with 48 CUDA cores and pretty miserable clocks. I should also add that when I specced out two systems for comparison back before I bought the alienware, the thinkpad ended up a good $700 more expensive.

    To put it succinctly: If you want performance and a decent screen resolution in a 14" form factor, this is the only option.

    The only real contender is a ThinkPad that costs ~30% more for vastly inferior performance. Granted, it's also much lighter and not as much of a heat and noise monster, but that comes with the territory. For the "portable gaming while still being feasible to move around and with a high-enough res screen to not be outright painful" segment, this thing really is the only viable option.

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