The terms petite and gaming notebook are about as incongruous as self-restraint and Wall Street, so our curiosity about Alienware’s M11x was naturally mixed with skepticism. Could this sub–five pound, 11-inch rig do much more than play aged or anemic titles?
Small as it is, the M11x indeed has substance. The first sign of hope was the GeForce GT 335M graphics card—a slightly faster kin to the GT 325M we found in Asus’s N61J 16-inch notebook (reviewed in May). Also stuffed into the wee chassis: a 1.3GHz Core 2 Duo overclocked to 1.73GHz (which can be turned off in the BIOS), 4GB of DDR2/1066 RAM, and a 7,200rpm 500GB hard drive. That’s a lot of gear to cram into an 11.25x8.25x1.25-inch body—so much, in fact, that there’s no room left for an optical drive.
You can change the color of the M11x's various backlights by using the AlienFX utility within Alienware's Command Center software.
Deciding on which notebook to use for our zero-point was tricky, as the M11x straddles the gaming and ultraportable categories. We settled on our most recently reviewed notebook, the aforementioned Asus N61J, an all-purpose mainstream machine. Like that notebook, the M11x features hybrid graphics so you can enable or disable the videocard to suit your needs. Whereas the N61J uses Nvidia’s new Optimus hybrid graphics, however, the M11x features the old-school method, requiring a manual switch and reboot to implement. Be that as it may, when the M11x’s discrete videocard was activated, we were impressed with its chops. Sporting an additional 24 CUDA cores and a 20MHz core clock boost, the M11x’s GT 335M performed 40 percent faster than the Asus’s GT 325M in both of our gaming tests. And while the M11x’s benchmark score of 18.2fps in Far Cry 2 might not strike you as special, consider that it hit a respectable 33.5fps when playing at the notebook’s 1366x768 native res. Yes, on an 11-inch notebook! Other notebooks of this size buckle under Quake 4.
In the applications benchmarks, the M11x’s proc was overpowered by the Asus’s 2.26GHz Core i5-430M, not surprisingly. (For the record, although the BIOS reports the M11x’s proc as 1.73GHz, we never saw it exceed 1.6GHz in CPU-Z during our benchmark tests). But compared with other ultraportable machines, the M11x is competitive. In fact, it beat out the premium Toshiba R600, our ultraportable zero-point, by 55.9 percent in ProShow and 18.4 percent in Photoshop. On top of that, the M11x surpassed that machine and others of its kind in battery life. With the graphics card disabled and the power-saving mode selected, we ran a video file full-screen on the M11x for five hours. Of course, the M11x’s 8-cell battery, not to mention its videocard, make this machine a pound or more heavier than most so-called ultraportables. But even with the power brick included, we’re talking less than five and a half pounds.
Aesthetically, the M11x sports touches befitting a gaming notebook: an Alienware-esque contoured body and LED backlighting behind the keyboard, power button, and front grills. It also comes fairly well-equipped with ports, including both HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. It lacks an Express Card slot, but mobile broadband is possible via the internal WWAN option (an extra $125).
Frankly, we’re amazed at Alienware’s accomplishment. Are there sacrifices? Sure. The biggest being the lack of an optical drive. But all things considered, that seems a fair trade for an otherwise thoroughly outfitted ultraportable that can actually play today’s games.
Uberportability, robust gaming, and long battery life in one kick-ass package.
No optical drive; no Express Card; old-school hybrid graphics solution.
1.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 OC'd to 1.73GHz
GeForce GT 335M / Intel GS45
500GB Seagate ST9500420AS (7,200rpm)
VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, three USB, FireWire, two headphone, mic, 3-in-1 media reader.
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
4 lb, 8.6 oz / 5 lb, 4.3 oz
Premiere Pro CS3 (sec)
Photoshop CS3 (sec)
ProShow Producer (sec)
Far Cry 2 (fps)
Call of Duty 4 (fps)
Our zero point notebook is an Asus N61J with a 2.26GHz Core i5-430M, 4GB DDR3/1066 RAM, a 500GB Seagate hard drive, a GeForce GT 325M, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. Far Cry 2 tested at 1680x1050 with 4x AA; Call of Duty 4 tested at 1680x1050 with 4x AA and anisotropic filtering.