This laptop's design hasn't changed since the previous generation M17x. It's built around the standard Alienware laptop chassis, making it a big block of matte black plastic (although it's also available in red) set off with a few glossy highlights. The M17x is a laptop that screams sturdiness, an impression that's soon confirmed when you start actually handling the product too.
This laptop has a whole load of LED lighting features. Users preferring subtle, understated design may therefore be a little taken aback when the various lights all flash on the first time you boot the M17x. However, pretty much every light in the house can be switched off via the Alienware Fx software platform, which also lets you change the colour of the nine backlight zones independently (central part of keyboard, numeric keypad, etc.).
So, as you've probably already gathered, this laptop has a backlit keyboard and a numeric keypad. Keying is supple and quiet, and all keys can be found in their usual places—no nasty surprises here. All in all, the keyboard is a real pleasure to use!
The big multitouch touchpad is nice too—it's smooth, fluid and accurate. Note, however, that you do need to specifically activate the multitouch controls in the touchpad options (pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling, etc.).
Connections haven't changed much since the previous model, and the M17x is still exemplary in the field. In fact, we'd like to see more manufacturers take a leaf out of Alienware's book when it comes to connections. The M17x has four USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot, an eSATA and USB 2.0 combi port, as well as VGA, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort outputs.
Audio connections are comprehensive too, with an S/P DIF out, a headphones jack, a mic port and a hands-free kit port (headphones and mic combi port).
Plus, one interesting feature of the M17x is the presence of an HDMI entry, which means you can hook up a Blu-ray player, a console or a set-top box and enjoy all this content on your laptop screen.
This laptop has no problems with heat or noise. While the fan can be heard running slightly when you push the components hard, pretty much any background noise should drown it out.
Our Review Model:The M17x-R4 we tested came loaded with an Intel Core i7-3610QM processor, 8 GB of memory, an Nvidia GTX 680M graphics card and a 1TB hard drive coupled with a 512 GB SSD. Our test model had 1600 x 900 pixel screen resolution. So while the first part of this review applies to any version of the M17x-R4 (see sidebar, right), the performance and battery life sections only apply to the model with these specific tech specs.
Delta E: colour fidelity
With its Intel Core i7-3610QM processor and 8 GB of RAM, the M17x-R4 can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. From office computing and imaging software, to 3D modelling or mass data archiving, this laptop can tackle the lot.
The added SSD makes this a responsive computer too, with a boot time—including connection to a Wi-Fi network—of 32 seconds. It only takes around ten seconds to shut down fully.
The Nvidia GTX 680M graphics card runs the most recent games in the screen's native resolution (1600 x 900 pixels) with no need to compromise on graphics detail. If you hook up a Full HD display you'll only need to switch off options in a few games, like Metro 2033, to maintain smooth gameplay.
While this laptop was always destined to deliver first-rate graphics processing, we were slightly more surprised about the excellent quality of Alienware's audio components. For starters, there's a good choice of audio connectors, with a mic entry and three jacks (two line-out jacks plus an S/P Dif and headphones combi port). All that lot is linked to the Creative Sound Blaster Recon3Di sound card, which should be good enough to satisfy even the most seasoned gamers. All the audio ins and outs are very good quality, ensuring excellent sound reproduction and a maximum output level that's much higher than in most other laptops we've tested—and with minimal distortion!
Green = good, orange = tolerable, white = forget about it.
Laptop-makers often scrimp on speaker quality, using speakers that lack bass and fidelity in their output. The M17x-R4, however, only has a very low level of distortion and the output power is nice and high. Good work Alienware!
Weighing in at over 4 kg and measuring 40 cm wide and almost 5 cm thick, the M17x isn't likely to appeal to users who are often on the move. That said, this notebook still boasts a battery life of 4 hrs 37 minutes (for video playback, Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting off, screen at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in).
- Processing power, CPU performance
- Powerful graphics card
- Plenty of connections (USB 3.0, eSATA, HDMI entry)
- Heat levels kept in check
- Keyboard and touchpad are nice to use
- Good-quality audio outputs and speakers
- Display could be better (glossy TN screen panel with poor colour fidelity and low contrast)
The 17.3" M17x-R4 is a very powerful laptop, offering great performances, a good range of connections, and a quality build and finish. It breezes its way through the latest games. However, Alienware seems to have overlooked one crucial feature of this gaming laptop—the screen—which is quite disappointing. In fact, that's ultimately why this notebook only scored three stars in our review.