Alienware r4 m17x


Alienware M17x R4 Review

“The M17x is an excellent gaming laptop. It offers a beautiful display, incredible hardware and a great sound system. And while no laptop with a $2,599 price tag will ever be considered inexpensive, given what you receive, it’s a fair price.”
  • Attractive exterior
  • Brilliant 1080p display
  • Record-setting GPU performance
  • Reasonably priced
  • Keyboard and touchpad could be better
  • Runs a bit warm, even at idle
  • So-so battery endurance

No brand name in the gaming computer segment carries more weight than Alienware. Not all of the weight is good – geeks are notoriously independent and some shun the company for no other reason than the fact it’s owned by Dell. This, however, doesn’t seem to have hurt its products or prospects. You’ll be hard pressed to step foot in any gaming tournament or convention without bumping into Alienware.

The company has updated its popular M17x laptop to accommodate Intel’s new Ivy Bridge processors, but there is more to it than the hardware. This new revision also alters the chassis, cutting weight down from nearly twelve pounds to a tad under ten and reducing thickness from 2.1 inches to 1.8. Though still by no means a light-weight, these reductions are noticeable.

Inside the new M17x there remains plenty of room for impressive hardware. An Intel Core i7-3820QM processor is paired with Nvidia’s new GTX 680M graphics solution and 8GB of RAM. Our review unit came with a 7200 RPM hard drive paired with a 32GB SSD that acts as a cache drive.

This configuration is not the most expensive variant, but it is near the top of the line. You’ll have to dish out $2,599 for this specific model. That’s a lot of clams. Let’s see what they buy you.

Design

Alienware’s new laptop looks like… an Alienware. The company has consistently used the same muscular matte-black exterior on all of its laptops, regardless of size, and the new model is no exception. Slightly slimming the profile of the new version does flatter its appearance, but the basics have not changed. If you liked the looks of previous laptops from the company, you’ll like this one, and vice-versa.

While the aesthetics are similar to its predecessors the new model does improve touch points. The lid is now a soft-touch material that feels more luxurious and expensive than the hard plastic previously used. This treatment continues along the interior.

It’s hard to say if build quality has improved without a side-by-side comparison to the old model, but our impressions are positive. The gaps between chassis panels are tight and difficult to notice because of the way the laptop is designed. Handling the laptop roughly does illicit a few groans of protest from the laptop’s plastics, but nothing out of the ordinary for a large gaming laptop.

Connectivity is excellent. There’s four USB 3.0 ports, eSATA, HDMI-In and HDMI-out, DisplayPort, and VGA. Audio hook-ups include not only headphone and microphone jacks but also line-in and S/PDIF. The ports are in the right locations, as well. The video ports are near the rear of the laptop while the headphone and microphone jacks are near the front.

User interface

This new revision includes the same old Alienware keyboard, which is a disappointment. While the layout is spacious and key feel generally acceptable, the keyboard suffers from poorly defined key caps. Touch typing is difficult because fingers can easily become lost. The M17x wasn’t made for productivity, of course, but we know from experience that a gaming laptop doesn’t need to shun typists.

Similar complaints can be levied at the touchpad. Though large, it has a flat texture and finicky left and right buttons. Alienware clearly does not intend it as the primary means of input – they even ship a mousepad with the laptop – but that doesn’t change the fact that competitors like Asus offer a better experience.

The keyboard is backlit using Alien FX, the company’s branded backlighting solution. A number of different color options are available ranging from the obnoxious (neon green) to the useful (dull blue, white or red). There are no physical controls for the backlighting. You’ll have to use the Alien FX software if you want to make changes.

Display and audio quality

A great gaming laptop must have a great display, and the M17x does not disappoint. The glossy 1080p panel stunned us with its brilliant colors, reasonable black levels and butter-smooth reproduction of our gradient test image. Viewing angles are also excellent on both the horizontal and vertical axis.

Our only complaint is the glossy coating. It’s quite noticeable even in a room with moderate lighting and the backlight isn’t strong enough to overcome the problem. With that said, going matte probably would take some umph out of the display’s punch, so gloss was probably the right choice.

Audio quality is among the best we’ve ever experienced from a laptop. There’s actually some bass in the system which reduces overall distortion and allows for clear vocals alongside bass tones. At maximum volume, the M17x can fill a small room with enjoyable sound and is on par with a decent pair of desktop PC speakers. The only problem comes from the chassis, which sometimes rattles from the bass.

Cooling

Packing serious gaming hardware in a laptop always creates the potential for heat issues. Laptops can either accept the higher temperatures or counteract them by running the system fan at high speeds.

The M17x seems to take the former path. Although the system fan can be a bit loud while playing intense games, it is quiet at idle and at low to moderate load. This results in idle exterior temperatures that top out at around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. While not annoying, you’ll notice the warmth on your palms as you use the keyboard.

Heavy load turns up the heat considerably. We measured temperatures in the mid-90s along the keyboard’s surface and temperatures as high as 102 degrees on the laptop’s underside. If the size of this computer hadn’t made it clear to you that the “lap” in “laptop” is in this case rhetorical, the temperatures should.

Portability

With its 17-inch display and weight of nearly ten pounds, the M17x is obviously not a laptop that you’d want to purchase for frequent travel. It does, however, come with a massive 90Wh battery. Is it possible for this huge unit to offer decent battery endurance?

Yes. In Battery Eater the Alienware M17x lasted exactly one hour and thirty minutes, while the light-load Reader’s Test expanded life to four hours and thirty-seven minutes. Although many other laptops do better, this is respectable endurance for a gaming laptop and will be adequate for some users.

Software

The Alienware M17x comes mercifully devoid of bloatware. Only two icons exist on the desktop, one of which is the Recycle Bin. No security suite trial is installed by default. The laptop does ship with the AlienRespawn recovery software, but unlike the recovery software on Dell’s mainstream consumer laptops, this incarnation mostly stays out of your way if you don’t want to use it.

The AlienFX Editor used to control the keyboard backlighting seems to run more smoothly than previous incarnations but it still suffers from unprofessional look-and-feel. Its default full-screen nature is unnecessary on a 1080p display and the graphical elements of various menus are obviously not as sharp as they could be.

There’s also AlienFusion (which handles power management), AlienTouch (which control touchpad settings) and AlienAdrenaline (a utility that lets users define how the laptop’s hardware operates). All of these utilities suffer the same problems as AlienFX and they are largely redundant with Windows’ built-in controls.

Performance

The Core i7-3820QM in our review unit returned excellent benchmark scores. In SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark is reached a combined score of 100.27, the highest score we’ve yet recorded from a laptop. 7-Zip provided a similar result, returning a combined score of 19,007, another record.

PCMark 7 also had good things to say about this laptop. It offered up a total score of 4,594 – which beats the previous record holder, the Sony Vaio Z, by over a thousand points. Highlights included, uh, everything. Even the system storage score was high thanks to the solid-state cache drive.

Of course, what you really want to know about is gaming. Our M17x includes the new Nvidia GTX 680M, which promises world-beating performance. It keeps its word by providing 3DMark 06 and 3DMark 11 scores of 23,713 and 6,282, respectively. These scores don’t just beat previous gaming laptops. They also defeat some gaming desktops, such as the HP Pavilion HPE h9.

In-game performance was equally stunning. Diablo III at 1080p with maximum detail averaged 138 frames per second. Dawn of War 2: Retribution averaged over 100 frames per second at maximum detail and Skyrim averaged 72 frames per second at Ultra High. There’s not a game on the market today that can bring the M17x to its knees if you purchase the optional GTX 680M. It’s an impressive piece of hardware.

Conclusion

The M17x is an excellent gaming laptop. It offers a beautiful display, incredible hardware and a great sound system. And while no laptop with a $2,599 price tag will ever be considered inexpensive, given what you receive, it’s a fair price.

As a general laptop, however, the M17x has a few issues. Both the keyboard and the touchpad have issues and battery life is a downer. The Asus G75 and Origin EON17-S have better keyboards and the G75 has a better touchpad.

Does the target audience care about these problems? We doubt it. If you need a laptop to serve as your primary day-to-day system, you likely won’t be satisfied by a laptop of this size, no matter which model you buy. Every ounce of this laptop is directed entirely towards gaming, and we think that’s the right choice.

There is brutal competition in this segment, but the Alienware M17x does manage to stand out. This laptop offers a look and feel that’s custom tailored for hardcore gamers while also delivering outrageous performance and good build quality.

Highs

  • Attractive exterior
  • Brilliant 1080p display
  • Record-setting GPU performance
  • Reasonably priced

Lows

  • Keyboard and touchpad could be better
  • Runs a bit warm, even at idle
  • So-so battery endurance
Editors' Recommendations

www.digitaltrends.com

M17x R4 Archives

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Alienware M17x R4 Review

This 17.3-inch monster includes the latest 2GB Nvidia GTX 680M graphics and an Intel quad-core processor. We’ve always liked the M17x, so what’s not to like about this fourth generation (R4) model?

Overview

The M17x first joined the Alienware lineup of gaming notebooks back in 2009 after Dell retired the original “Area-51 M17x” as its flagship model. Four years and three revisions later and the “new” Alienware M17x R4 continues to be the dominant player in the Alienware family of notebooks.

Build and Design

Design is just as important to an Alienware as performance. The chassis’ angled edges are reminiscent of a military stealth aircraft. The M17x has an “AlienFX” lighting system with eight distinct lighting zones. The keyboard itself can have four distinct colors. Lighting themes and options can be changed using the Alienware Command Center software. Every time I review an Alienware, I spend an inordinate amount of time making themes. This is truly a unique setup.

The M17x is no lightweight, at almost 10 pounds and two inches thick, and the lid is also thicker than we are used to seeing. Build quality is solid; there’s little flex found anywhere even though the M17x is made of mostly plastic. I like the rubberized “soft touch” surfaces of the palm rest and lid. The rubberized material is a departure from the original M17x (which debuted in 2009) that had anodized aluminum surface which is why this M17x R4 weighs a few pounds less.

Those looking to upgrade the M17x will have a relatively easy time of it; just two screws hold on the bottom access panel. There are two storage bays and two memory slots beneath. The M17x actually has four total memory slots – accessing the other two requires removing the keyboard, which isn’t hard. Dell provides informational how-to guides and videos on removing the access panels.

Input and Output Ports

The M17x is brimming with ports including several video out and four USB 3.0 SuperSpeed. It even has HDMI in, which is useful for playing games from an Xbox or PlayStation on the M17x’s display. The M17x has more ports than we’ve seen on any other notebook. All picture descriptions are left to right.

Front: Speakers Back: Cooling exhaust vents, AC power jack
Left: Kensington lock slot, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI out, DisplayPort, 2x USB 3.0, S/PDIF, microphone, headphone/microphone combo, headphone Right: Media card reader (top), slot-load Blu-ray drive (bottom), 2x USB 3.0, eSATA/USB combo, HDMI in

Keyboard and Touchpad

The M17x has a full-size keyboard with separate numeric keypad. The backlighting is second to none and the four quadrants of the keyboard can be changed to a different color making it look too cool. I like the keyboard backlight pattern too; not only is the letter itself illuminated, but also the edge of the key. The backlighting can of course be disabled.

The keyboard feels solid and has satisfactory tactile feedback. It’s not my favorite keyboard to type on, but typing is a mostly encouraging experience. The keys have a somewhat rubbery feel which isn’t a bad thing in my book. There is no appreciable flex and the layout is as expected with all the keys in the correct positions.

You’ll also find dedicated media buttons located above the keyboard for commonly used features like volume control, movie playback, and a wireless on/off button. These are also backlit and adjustable using the previously mentioned Alienware Command Center software.

The Synaptics touchpad is appropriately sized for a 17.3-inch screen. It has a smooth matte surface and two physical buttons with excellent tactile feedback. It’s good to see a notebook using a traditional touchpad instead of the increasingly common ‘clickpad’ where the whole surface is a button; the traditional setup works better in this reviewer’s opinion.

Screen and Speakers

The 17.3-inch display has a glossy surface and 1080p resolution (1920×1080). It has satisfactory color saturation and great contrast; bright and dark colors really stand out. Viewing angles are so-so which is expected for a TN panel like this one; it’s OK side to side but washes out from above and below after tilting the display 15-20 degrees. The 1920×1080 resolution is wonderful for entertainment and productivity alike and its the highest resolution available on a notebook PC (for now). This display has a large sheet of reflective plastic covering it, which looks great but acts like a mirror (any bright light sources behind you can be a problem).

The two stereo speakers located under the palm rest are made by Klipsch and sound much bigger than their physical size suggests. A full-sounding audio system is certainly appreciated on a high-end multimedia notebook like the M17x. These speakers have enough power to entertain a small room of people.

Page 2

    • Total Score:
    • 8.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Overview
  • Performance
  • Conclusion
  • Image Gallery

Performance and Benchmarks

Our Alienware M17x R4 review unit has the following configuration:

  • 17.3-inch glossy 1080p display (1920×1080 resolution)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Intel Core i7-3720QM quad-core processor (2.6GHz, up to 3.6GHz Turbo Boost, 6MB cache, 45W TDP)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M w/ 2GB GDDR5 dedicated memory
  • Graphics automatically switchable to integrated Intel HD via Nvidia Optimus
  • 8GB DDR3-1600 RAM (2x 4GB; 32GB max. – 4x 8GB)
  • 750GB 7200RPM Hitachi hard drive (7K750) w/ 32GB SSD cache
  • Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 wireless LAN
  • Integrated Bluetooth v4.0
  • Integrated HD webcam
  • Slot-load Blu-ray reader/DVD burner
  • 9-cell li-ion battery (90Wh)
  • Weight: 9.39 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 16.14 x 11.97 x 1.75 inches
  • Starting Price: $1,499
  • Price as Configured: $2,649

The base M17x is already well equipped, but our review unit has some options that bring up the price (and performance) considerably. At the top of the list is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M (+$550 over the standard GTX 660M), Intel Core i7-3720QM processor (+$150 over the i7-3610QM) and Blu-ray reader (+$100). The system has a couple of other options too including the beautiful 1080p display (+$150), 8GB of RAM (+$75) and the 750GB 7200RPM hard drive with 32GB SSD cache (+$125). The SSD cache is interesting; it’s configured in RAID with the hard drive and provides a good boost in performance. A variety of storage options are available including up to 512GB SSDs.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark and measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

3DMark 11 is a newer benchmark and measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):

3DMark Vantage measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):

3DMark06 measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:

Gaming Performance

We ran two modern 3D games on the M17x R4: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Bioware’s Mass Effect 3. Both games were run at maximum settings at the display’s native 1920×1080 resolution. The performance is nothing short of “wow” – the GTX 680M has the numbers to prove it is a top-shelf card. It’s a safe assumption that there is no modern game the M17x R4 cannot play on maximum settings with this card. The M17x R4 comes standard with an Nvidia GTX 660M and is available with an AMD Radeon HD 7970M and Nvidia GTX 675M, which are a few hundred cheaper. The GTX 680M is the fastest of course, but there’s an extra high premium for the privilege.

It’s worth noting that the M17x R4 is available with a 120Hz 3D display option in conjunction with an Nvidia graphics card.

Mass Effect 3:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3:

Heat and Noise

The M17x’s powerful internal components produce a significant amount of heat. Fortunately, the chassis is large and thick enough to accommodate an appropriate cooling solution. There are two large vents situated at either end of the notebook facing out the back. The fans at idle are, for all intents and purposes, silent. Under load, however, they spool up fast and can be heard from just about anywhere in a living room or classroom; the right fan which cools the graphics card is the loudest. There is a slight whine too, which increases with RPM. While the cooling system is somewhat noisy, it certainly gets the job done and keeps the M17x running cool; the top and bottom of the chassis didn’t warm up to a significant degree even during extended gaming and benchmarking sessions.

Battery Life

I measured four hours and 45 minutes of battery life during our standard battery run-down test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This is an excellent time for a powerful 17.3-inch gaming notebook. Nvidia Optimus takes a lot of the credit; it automatically switches the dedicated GTX 680M graphics card off and uses the integrated Intel HD, which greatly reduces power consumption. The SSD and third-gen Intel Core i7 processor are also good on power.

Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):

Alienware M17x R4: Conclusion

www.notebookreview.com

Alienware M17x R4

Alienware has been flying the flag for gamers for a while now. While its hardware isn’t exactly cheap, for those serious about PC gaming, it is one of the go-to brands.

The M17x sits right at the top of the company’s line-up. With a 17-inch screen, the latest bells and whistles in terms of graphics cards from Nvidia and premium rate hardware, it should be quite a performer. So how does the latest R4 version of the M17X fare?

Alienware isn't going to win any prizes for design when it comes to laptops. We admit that's matter of opinion, but a huge great lump of black plastic complete with disco dance floor keyboard reminds us more of a Raleigh mountain bike we had when we were ten, than a laptop that costs more than £1,000.

Still, niggles with looks aside, it is put together brilliantly. This is a really hardy piece of kit, with materials that feel top quality. Be it the all over matte effect black or red plastic (we had the black one), straight off the back of a HTC One X, or the extremely excellent trackpad and keyboard.

In fact we really can’t fault the way the Alienware is put together, and despite its looks, which admittedly are a bit of fun, this is a piece of kit you know is going to last. The USB ports along the side for example are recessed enough to keep them safe and have a satisfying click when things are plugged into them, holding them in place.

Then there is the built-in disc drive, which sucks in CDs and DVDs Mac style and never ever jammed or caused any issue. Finally you have the open and close action on the laptop, which is as smooth as anything, giving the screen a feel that it is really bolted on properly, not like some of the flimsier gaming laptops.

We have a slight issue with the screen on the Alienware laptop we reviewed, in that its maximum resolution was 1600 x 900. On a gaming laptop that is this powerful the omission of a 1080p - or higher - resolution screen really isn't good enough.

What is more irritating is that, having used lots of other Alienware kit, we know they can make some of the best screens out there. There is an option to upgrade to a full HD display when ordering the M17X for a measly £54, we advise without a doubt that you do it, although there's a powerful argument that the laptop should have it as standard. 

While we can’t make judgements on how the upgraded screen will look - as we simply haven’t seen it - we would hope the black levels and viewing angles were similar to other Alienware laptops we have used. If so, then all is forgiven, otherwise this standard 1600 x 900 screen is a pretty big disappointment.

These are two things vital to a top of the range gaming laptop. Some might opt to attach an Xbox controller, or go for a wireless mouse, but the M17x is heavy but still portable, so you want to be able to game with it as is.

Good news then is that this laptop from Alienware has one of the best keyboards we have ever used on a computer. We put it up there with the likes of the MacBook Pro for sheer key bashing satisfaction.

Every button on the M17X is raised up enough from the bottom of the keyboard bezel that you get a really satisfying push out of it. They aren’t squidy key presses either, more responsive and absolutely ideal for gaming. This is where Alienware’s pedigree becomes very apparent.

Then there's the trackpad, which again performs admirably. While it isn’t glass like some Ultrabooks or Macs, it is a smooth matte surface that your finger never gets stuck on. The mouse keys also have a satisfying click to them, although not so much that it might impede your gaming.

Finally there is the interesting-looking arrangement of buttons sitting above the keyboard for controlling volume, wireless and song skipping. These are nowhere near as good. Rather than being proper keys they are more just points where the plastic flexes and pushes on to buttons below. It doesn’t really work and makes them irritating to use, even more so when you really that in game volume can’t be controlled via the function key and numbers on the keyboard.

While we had a moan earlier about the disco-style keyboard and the customisable colours the Alienware is capable of, we have to say it is impressive. Those who like to make things their own will particularly like it. For example our M17X right now has a pink set of letter keys, blue numbers and yellow Alienware logo, you can however change this from a huge range of options in the Alienware FX controller.

Despite the Alienware’s shortcomings in the screen department, there is thankfully a full HDMI output on the side, meaning you can transfer those beautiful graphics easily on to the big screen.

On top of this there is also Ethernet, VGA, eSata, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 line outs, a mini display port, a microphone input and finally a 9 in 1 media card reader. Enough connectivity for you?

Really this laptop is set-up so you can use it as a full desktop PC at home and then move it about. There are easily enough ports to justify even the most accessory-obsessed and as we said earlier, all are robust enough to withstand even the most heavy handed of accessories usage.

Now down to the nitty gritty. The Alienware has the latest Nvidia 680M processor inside it, making it quite the gaming powerhouse. Top that with an i7 3630QM in the base model and 6GB of RAM - with the option of going all the way up to 32GB - and you have a lot of oomph to play with.

How does that translate into real-world gaming terms? To put it simply, absolutely brilliantly. Running the laptop through the Battlefield 3 test, which tends to be our go-to graphics experiment for any piece of gaming kit, it worked flawlessly.

With everything maxed-out, something we wouldn’t do with most desktop rigs, including our 580 (last year’s card) setup, the M17X was buttery smooth. In fact we couldn’t find much to tax it beyond its abilities, including titles like Borderlands 2 and Batman Arkham City. Audio performance is also great from the speakers, although they lack bass somewhat. They definitely sound good.

Verdict

The M17x is a very good laptop for gaming. At around £1,200 for the 680m-touting model, with improved full HD screen and 8GB of RAM, we can't think of a much better rig on which to play your PC titles. HDMI out means you won't need a desktop and the build quality should make the M17x last for ages.

Don't expect ultrabook weight here, or the minimal design flourishes of a Mac or Asus, this is built specially for gamers. For the most part it succeeds in its task. The small letdowns, such as the volume controls or the poor screen on the base model, are fairly forgivable when you see the frame rates it can achieve on games like Battlefield 3.

The wonders Nvidia has worked with its mobile cards, combined with the power behind Ivy Bridge, mean this can now truly compete with top-end gaming desktops. We definitely think it worth considering as an alternative when the time comes to replace your current machine.

www.pocket-lint.com

Alienware M17x R4 (2012), Ivy Bridge and Kepler Refresh

Introduction and Specifications

The term “laptop” can only be loosely applied to the nearly 9.39-pound Alienware M17x--you don’t exactly want to have the thing perched on your lap for any extended period of time. But you know what? Who cares. The M17x is a powerful and (mostly) portable gaming rig, and Dell can call it anything they want; awesome by any other name is still awesome.

The M17x has been in Dell’s Alienware lineup for a while, but now it’s been refreshed with the latest and greatest in mobile components, packing an Ivy Bridge CPU and the newest NVIDIA Kepler-based mobile GPU. The Intel Core i7-3720QM (2.6GHz/3.6GHz Turbo, 6MB cache) is one of the highest-end mobile processors in Intel’s Ivy Bridge lineup, taking a backseat only to the Core i7-3820QM.

Here's a quick look at the beast in action before we dig into the particulars...

Dell paired the Intel chip with NVIDIA’s smokin’ hot GeForce GTX 680M (2GB GDDR5) GPU for a massive one-two gaming punch. In addition to an intense of amount of graphics firepower, the 680M includes NVIDIA's Optimus technology. Optimus is switchable graphics technology that intelligently and automatically alternates between the battery-friendly integrated graphics (in this case, the Intel HD 4000 series) and the more powerful discrete GPU for a balance of performance and battery life. Dell Alienware M17x R4 - Ivy Bridge and GeForce GTX 680 Refreshed
Alienware M17x Gaming Notebook
Specifications & Features
CPU: Operating System: LCD: Chipset: GPU: Audio: Speaker: Memory: HDD / SSD: Optical Drive: LAN: WLAN: Card Reader: Webcam: USB: Video Port: Audio Port: Keyboard: Battery Pack: Dimension: Weight: Manufacturer Warranty:

Price: 

3rd Generation Intel Core i7-3720QM Processor @2.6-3.6GHz, 6MB cache

Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit

17.3-inch WideFHD 1920 x 1080 60Hz WLED

Creative Sound Blaster Recon3Di HD 5.1 w/THX Tru Studio Pro

2.0 Speaker configuration audio powered by Klipsch

500GB SATA Hitachi 7200RPM, 32GB mSATA Samsung PM680 caching SSD

Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-ray Reader (BD-ROM, DVD±RW, CD-RW)

Integrated 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet NIC

Killer Wireless-N 1103 a/g/n 3x3 MIMO with Bluetooth 4.0

2.1MP full HD camera with dual digital microphones

USB 2.0 /eSATA 3Gbps combo port with PowerShare Technology, USB3.0 x 4

VGA (15-pin, D-Sub, HDMI-1.4 output w/ audio, HDMI 1.3 input w/ audio, mini-DisplayPort

(3x) Auto-sensing jacks for Line-out (2 line out; 1x SPDIF/Headphone), Microphone Input jack

4-Zone, multi-color RGB, 82 key keyboard with AlienFX lighting controls

High Capacity 9-cell Lithium Ion (90whr)

11.97x16.14x1.75 inches (DxWxH)

1 Year Limited Warranty (Optional up to 4 yrs.)

The M17x is further outfitted with 8GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, a beautiful 17.3-inch WideFHD 1920x1080 WLED display, and a host of I/O ports including four USB 3.0 and HDMI in/out. Although the storage drive is a solid, if somewhat modest, 500GB (7200RPM) SATA drive, it’s paired with a 32GB mSATA drive for SSD caching and a nice boost in performance. What’s under the hood is always most important, but Dell definitely didn’t ignore the exterior; let’s have a closer look...

Image gallery

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Alienware M17x R4

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The Alienware M17x R4 ($2,599 direct) gaming laptop exudes performance. Its design epitomizes what a gaming laptop should look like, and thanks to a new Ivy Bridge processor and Nvidia Kepler graphics, it topped our leaderboard on multimedia benchmark tests, and returned playable frame rates at its 1,920-by-1,080 native resolution. It's ostentatious, audacious, over the top, and strangely enough, more affordable than rivals. For this and more, it earns our nod as the latest Editors' Choice winner for midrange gaming laptops.

Design and Features The M17x R4  carries on in a chassis that resembles the one used in the Alienware M17X ($2,254 direct, 4.5 stars) and the larger Alienware M18x ($4,529 direct, 4 stars). Like the previous models, the M17x R4 has modern retro styling that grabs your attention. The system's grilles and lighting evoke a modern reinterpretation of a 1950s hot rod. There are multiple lighting zones, which can be controlled with Alienware's Command Center software.Alienware calls it AlienFX, and you can use it to change the colors on the backlit keyboard, touchpad, Alienware logo below the screen, Alien head/power button, and the grilles on the front of the system. Advanced themes will cycle the colors, so you're assured that you'll know which system is yours in a darkened room. It's not subtle, but do you really want subtle when you're planning to crush your enemies on the game grid?

The system's 17-inch screen is a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution monitor capable of displaying 1080p HD videos in native resolution. Both Blu-ray movies and 3D games look stunning on the laptop, with clear and bright colors. In particular, older movies' natural film grain was visible, and you could pick out background details easily on the large screen. It was like watching a movie in a movie theater rather than on a laptop screen. It's not quite as high-res as the 2,880-by-1,800 resolution screen on the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display ($2,254 direct, 4.5 stars), but it is an excellent screen nonetheless. If there's any drawback to the screen's brilliance, it's that the system's seamless glass panel is highly reflective. Using the system's default black wallpaper, you can see yourself and items in the room behind you.

Since the M17x R4's chassis is so big, it's reassuring that the system feels as solid as a chunk of granite. There's no flexing of the screen or chassis when you pick it up with one hand, though that hand will have to have some strength to carry the 9.6-pound laptop. Add the two-pound AC adapter, and you'll need strong shoulders to carry the 11.7-pound combination in a backpack or large messenger bag. The system is solidly built, but heavy.

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The backlit keyboard is full size, with concave standard keys and a full numeric keypad to the right. Keyboard feel was excellent, with full travel on the keys: not too springy, not too clicky. The trackpad has physical mouse buttons, though tap-to-click is enabled by default. You can turn on vertical and horizontal scrolling in the Alienware Command Center, and the trackpad also supports multi-touch gestures.

The system comes with 8GB of memory, a third-generation Intel Core i7-3720QM quad-core processor, 32GB mSATA cache drive, and a 500GB 7,200rpm primary drive. Also built in is a Blu-ray player/DVD burner combo drive for playing DVDs and Blu-ray movies. The system has both wired Gigabit Ethernet and dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. Adding to the connectivity are four USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port (aka, powered eSATA) with USB PowerShare charging (you can use the port to charge a smartphone or table with the system off), audio ports (including a S/PDIF minijack), and a 9-in-1 media card reader. The system is particularly well suited for connecting to video sources and external displays. There's an HDMI-out port for monitors and HDTVs, a Mini DisplayPort jack for monitors, a VGA port, plus an HDMI-in port so you can use the system's built-in display with external sources like settop cable boxes or media players. About the only thing missing is a Thunderbolt port, though that may be built into a future version of the M17x.

As befits a gaming system, the M17x R4 is unencumbered by bloatware. The only icon you see on the desktop when you boot the system for the first time is the Alienware Command Center. No eBay, no Microsoft Office, no bloatware period. The system even comes without a bundled antivirus or Internet security suite, which is one of the first things that hard-core gamers uninstall on new systems. Gamers generally abhor any run and stay resident programs or bloatware, because they think that they steal resources like processor cycles from their gaming experience.

Performance The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and this is some pudding. The M17x R4 rivals in performance other gaming laptops with dual graphics, thanks to its Ivy Bridge based Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 680M graphics. Games were playable at both quality settings, including Crysis at medium settings (98 frames per second, or fps), and Lost Planet 2 at medium settings (159fps) and high settings (77fps). Crysis at very high settings was just short of smoothly playable (38fps), but gaming rigs need two graphics cards to play at that setting (so far). That said, you should be able to tweak the 3D settings for Crysis and play smoothly at the system's 1,920-by-1,080 native resolution. You'll need to spend a lot more money for just a bit more performance in the Alienware M18x Dell Inspiron 14z (Summer 2012)  (71fps) and the Eurocom Leopard 2.0 ($3,606 direct, 4 stars) (76fps). For most people short of the independently wealthy, it's not a good tradeoff.

The M17x R4 is also one of the best-performing systems we've seen on the multimedia benchmark tests. The system ran the Handbrake video encode test in 1 minute 12 seconds, and the Photoshop CS5 test in 3:03. To put this in perspective, high-end gaming desktops must put in a lot of effort to achieve these times without burning out, and desktops don't have to worry about laptop-style cooling concerns. The M17x R4's 32GB mSATA cache drive, Turbo Boost Core i7 processor, speedy DDR3 memory, and 7,200rpm primary drive all contribute to the system's speedy performance. The M17x R4's Photoshop CS5, Handbrake, and CineBench R11.5 (6.86) scores all topped our charts.

The one performance metric where the M17x R4 came up short was in battery life. While it's true that you wouldn't ever want to put the M17x R4 on an airplane tray, the system's battery life of 2 hours 36 minutes lagged the competition. You'll want a system like the MSI GT70 0NC-011US ($1,999.99 direct, 4 stars) (5:29) or the previous midrange gaming EC MSI GT783-625US ($2,599.99 direct, 4 stars) (3:29) if you need battery life and gaming prowess.

If you're serious about performance, the Alienware M17x R4 is the midrange gaming laptop to buy right now. It rivals $3,000+ dual GPU gaming rigs on the game tests, and trounces all comers on the multimedia tests. For just under $2,500, you get the bang-for-the-buck champion certainly. The M17x R4 is faster, less expensive (by $0.99), more impressive looking, and quieter than our previous midrange gaming Editors' Choice laptop, the MSI GT783-625US . That makes the Alienware M17x R4 our new midrange (sub-$3,000) gaming laptop Editors' Choice.

BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS: Check out the test scores for the Alienware M17x R4

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