Note: the M17x-R3 comes in many configurations, some of which run on an Intel Core i7 2760QM or 2670QM (less powerful than the processor in the configuration tested here), either an AMD HD 6990M or NVIDIA GTX 560M graphics card or come without the 120 Hz screen (active 3D). The general remarks on design are valid across the board but performance, gaming capacity and screen quality are all variable. Depending on the configuration you go for, the sale price will also vary a great deal. Make sure you check out what you're getting before you buy!
Hardware: a solid productYou'll recognise the usual AlienWare chassis - a big black matte block with some glossy lines. The M17x-R3 gives off an impression of robustness, which is confirmed when you get it in hand. Those who like a more sober looking machine should look elsewhere however as lights come on all over the keyboard, the vents , the hood and the front of the machine as soon as you turn it on.
Thankfully, you can turn most of them off, using the AlienWare Fx application. This app also allows you to change the colour of each of the 9 areas (left side of the keyboard, centre and right, number pad, vent and so on) independently.
The keyboard and numberpad are backlit. Keying is supple and quiet and all the keys are in the right place making it a real pleasure to use!
The same goes for the big multitouch touchpad. It offers a fluid and precise glide. Once again, this is a real pleasure.
The webcam films at 1080p, with detailed rendering but does however have a couple of off-putting faults: movements are poorly displayed and it tends to burn white areas.
The connectivity is very thorough, as you'd expect. On the left side, you'll find RJ45, VGA, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort outs as well as two USB 2.0 ports, an S/P DIF out, a mic in and two headphones sockets. On the right there's an HDMI in - the screen can therefore be used to play media from a console or Blu-ray player - an eSATA and USB 2.0 combo, two USB 3.0 ports, a Blu-ray player and an SD card reader. The power supply socket is situated at the back. It's difficult to find anything to fault the M17x with here.
This 17-inch is supplied with first generation NVIDIA 3D Vision glasses to go with the 3D screen (see inset).
Heat management is excellent, though noise levels aren't handled as well. There's no problem when you start it up but as soon as you push the components a bit harder (gaming or heavy applications), it gets quite loud. Background noise (a game's music) does cover the worst of it however.
The M17x-R3's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
SD card reader, USB 3.0 port (x2), eSATA and USB 2.0 port, HDMI in
Ethernet (RJ45), VGA, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, USB 2.0 port (x2), S/P DIF, mic and headphones (x2) socket
A powerful processorAlienWare has gone for one of the most powerful laptop processors around, the Core i7-2860QM. Compared to the Core i7-2630QM that you find in numerous other gamer machines, it completes the same tasks in around 20% less time. The Core i7-2860QM (processor index 190) and its 8 GB of RAM are quite simply able to carry out any task you care to throw at them.
Start-up time is 37 seconds to get to the desktop and another 10 to 15 seconds to launch other applications which run in the background (wi-fi and so on). It turns off in under 15 seconds.
Gaming: 2D or 3D, the graphics card can handle itIn 2D the NVIDIA GTX 580M allows the M17x-R3 to run all titles in native resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). The vast majority run with a maximum level of details but the most demanding (Metro 2033 and Crysis) require some compromise. With the sort of power you have available here, 1080p (Blu-ray equivalent) playback is not an issue.
3D mode requires an extra 30% from the graphics card on average. Thankfully, the GTX 580M counts among the most powerful laptop models and here again you can launch all titles in Full HD 3D. The list of games that can't be played at maximum settings is a little longer in 3D (Crysis 2, Riven 2009), but it's difficult to do any better on a model with a single graphics card. Otherwise you have to opt for a machine equipped with SLI (two NVIDIA graphics card) or Crossfire (two AMD cards).
Audio: plug in your headphones or audio kit!On the audio side, things aren't as positive. The speakers saturate rapidly at the top end and when you push the volume up, the chassis starts to vibrate. This is something that will need to be reviewed on future models.
The two headphones sockets are of much better quality and we certainly advise you to use headphones or an external audio kit on this model.
The built-in mic filters exterior noise well, slightly altering the voice as a result but there's nothing to worry about as you'll remain perfectly intelligible. Using an external mic is therefore not an obligation.
The M17x also has an S/P DIF optical out and can be linked up to a similarly equipped audio kit allowing you to enjoy 5.1 audio rather than traditional analogue stereo.