We’ve come to realize that there are two kinds of Maximum PC readers: The first is the standard Joe or Jane who has four desktop machines at home to do all the heavy lifting. For these users, a small, low-power notebook is more than sufficient.
Then there’s the Maximum PC reader who wants to take everything with him—everywhere. For that user, Alienware’s new Aurora M7700 fits the bill. Using the familiar Clevo D-series chassis that we’ve seen from various vendors, the M7700’s main difference is on the inside. Alienware ditches the thermo-nuclear Pentium 4 for a dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60.
For those who don’t follow the model numbers, that’s two 2.6GHz cores, each with 1MB of L2 cache and an on-die memory controller. That combined with a GeForce Go 7800 GTX puts the M7700 at the top of the heap for portable gaming performance. But you’ll get more than good gaming from the M7700. We recently ran into trouble editing a video project using an older notebook. Although the notebook had a respectable processor, the GPU was simply too feeble for the task. It rendered all of our previews as soft, down-sampled mush. And such slowdowns aren’t isolated to video editing. As more applications begin leaning on the GPU, you’ll need more power than is offered by onboard or last-gen graphics parts. With a 24-pixel pipeline GPU that supports Shader Model 3.0, the M7700 is up to all of today’s graphics challenges.
In our performance benchmarks, the M7700 hit 65fps in Doom 3. Only the Voodoo Envy Hu:703 that we reviewed in December was close, with a score that was a tick faster. The M7700 topped all others in our 3DMark05 test, scoring 6,798.The FX-60 also did well in our multithreaded Premiere Pro benchmark—with a score of 595—but not well enough to beat the Intel-powered competition. The Voodoo’s 3.8GHz Pentium 4, for example finished our Premiere test in 487 seconds, while the dual-core Core Duo Dell notebook, reviewed last month, hit 502 seconds.
The tables are turned, however, when you shift to Photoshop CS. The Athlon 64 has long been the fastest CPU in this app, and, indeed, the M7700 finished our test in 274 seconds, versus 355 seconds for the P4-equipped Voodoo. The M7700 also blew away the rest of the pack in hard drive I/O. Its RAID 0 array, which uses two Hitachi 7,200rpm drives, spits out average read speeds of 72MB/s—more than double that of our zero-point notebook. Notebook hard drive access has always been a weak point, but not with the M7700. Our only fear is its reliance on RAID 0. Lose a disk and you’ve lost the contents of both drives. But the fact is there’s no way to get respectable read and write speeds in a notebook today without using RAID 0. Just make sure you run regular backups.
Where the M7700 did better than expected was in battery run-down time. To test the battery, we loop 3DMark03 until it goes dry. We expected the M7700 to drink power like a four-barrel carburetor guzzling Super Unleaded. But the M7700 gave us a run time of roughly 75 minutes—about 20 minutes longer than the Voodoo Envy, and just a few minutes shy of the Dell E1705 we reviewed last month. Not great, but when you expect 20 minutes of battery life, anything over an hour is a pleasant surprise.
At nearly 13 pounds, this notebook is only portable for weight lifters. If you’re willing to carry the weight, you get the benefit of a beautiful 17-inch UXGA+ panel. Our only gripes with the M7700 concern the slight bulge of the keyboard and a lack of ExpressCard support. We’re also a little confused by the optical configuration, which includes a DVD burner and a CD-RW drive. That’s so 2001.
If you’re looking for a truly portable notebook, this ain’t it. The M7700 is a super-powerful notebook that’ll do 99 percent of everything you can do on a desktop, with muscle to spare.
Month Reviewed: May 2006
+ GLOBE TROTTERS: Athlon 64 FX-60 in a notebook!
- GLOBAL SQUATTERS: It's 13 frakking pounds! And it lacks support for ExpressCard