Gaming laptops and 14-inch chassis are rarely a good mix. Most of those we've reviewed are 17-inch models (like the Asus G74SX and Medion X7811) that are designed to be larger so as to reduce the risk of overheating. But Alienware went with the 14-inch format for its new nomadic gaming machine, the M14x. Here's our review.
Sober, elegant, sturdy and well-finished, the M14x does have a small weakness, which is the display hinges. You'll have to be careful with those.
Like most gaming laptops, the M14x has little parts that light up around the keys, touchpad, logo, etc. If you're not a fan of that look, you can always change the colours or turn them off.
While the keys aren't separated following current trends, the keyboard is backlit, quiet and comfortable. There's no numeric keypad, but the space is otherwise optimised with the keys elevated to just the right height.
The touchpad works as it should. Two-finger scrolling and zooming can be activated in the menu. Your fingers glide easily and precisely over the pad. Our only regret is how small it is compared to the space available on the palm rest.
Images rendered with the webcam are of fairly common quality. The webcam will do for things like videoconferences, as long as you're in a well-lit room. Once the lighting goes down, the image loses a good deal of precision.
For wireless connections the M14x has both Wi-Fi and Wi-Di. Wi-Di allows you to export the laptop's display onto any TV or monitor, as long as it's compatible or has an external Wi-Di receptor.
VGA, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, USB 2.0, mic, headphone/mic, headphone and card reader
DVD burner, USB 3.0 (X 2) and RJ45
With this size of chassis the M14x naturally makes a certain amount of noise when you press on the components. The fan noise can easily be forgotten when covered with background music or the sound from a game. And overheating is never an issue. We like the fact that the hot air is expelled from the back rather than the sides—that way your legs don't get hot when the computer's on your lap.
Temperatures on the Alienware M14x with the components under stress.
Images taken with a Fluke Ti25 Thermal Imager.
The M14x has everything a gamer would need out of an audio set-up. With mic and headphone jacks (plus a headphone/mic jack, which can be used as a second audio output), you can play as much as you want without bothering the people sitting next to you. The signal is strong and perfectly clean. When using the integrated microphone, you can set the angle and reduce the ambient noise to better isolate your voice.
Frequency response smoothed to 1/3 of an octave.
Green is good, orange is acceptable, but everything else...
Using the default settings, the speakers made by reputed American hi-fi manufacturer, Klipsch, leave much to be desired... That is, until you turn on the THX. If you fiddle with the fine tuning enough you can get a powerful, relatively clean sound with little distortion.
ScreenWith its glossy coating, the screen might as well be a mirror. The 290 cd/m² maximum brightness makes it unable to compensate for reflections coming from the sun or any other direct light source. The M14x is better used inside or in the shade.
According to our measurements, the screen has quite a decent contrast ratio for a notebook (700:1). The colour accuracy, though, is a different story (delta E of 9.8). Luckily, you can fix that with a calibration profile.
The 1600 x 900 pixel resolution is enough to display a comfortable amount of information without forcing you to squint to read text.
Our Model:The model we were sent for review contains an Intel Core i7-3610QM processor, 6 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GT 650M graphics card, a 500 GB hard drive and a 64 GB SSD.
Please note: Our comments so far have applied to the entire M14x series (see inset). What follows below applies only to the model we tested, as it is the only one with this exact set of specs.
Supported by no fewer than 8 GB of RAM, the Intel Core i7-3610QM guarantees flawless execution of everyday tasks (document editing, web browsing, movies...) and has no trouble handling more demanding activities such as 3D modelling and video encoding, which it performs at high speeds.
The combination of a 64 GB SSD and a 500 GB HDD provides ample storage space without prolonging start up times, whether after being off or in sleep mode. According to our observations, this 14-inch laptop takes 30 seconds to start up and less than 10 to shut down.
Nvidia handles the graphics with its GT 650M graphics card. In its native screen resolution the M14x is capable of launching nearly any game, with a high amount of detail. For the rare exceptions, such as Metro 2033, you may have to switch to medium quality to get a decent frame rate.
HD videos also execute flawlessly, whether using the graphics card or the Intel HD 4000 chipset; both are perfectly capable of decoding 1080p without any lags.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
Due to the M14x's small size, it can slip easily into most backpacks. The battery provides 4 hours of non-stop use, thanks in part to Nvidia's Optimus feature, which deactivates the graphics card whenever the Intel chipset is capable of handling the graphics. The main thing that might deter nomadic gamers from buying this computer, however, is the fact that it weighs nearly 3 kg.