The Alienware brand conjures images of powerful and elite computing hardware—think of the nearly invincible antagonist from the 1987 action flick, Predator. Alienware’s M17 looks the part, but the unit we received for review was about as dangerous as E.T.
Our zero-point notebook is based on Intel’s Core 2 Duo E6700 and Nvidia’s GeForce Go 8600M, so we’ve grown accustomed to newer challengers gutting it. But for all its bulk and menacing looks, the M17 proved to be only slightly faster than that aging reference rig, and it was considerably slower in our nongaming benchmarks than the HP HDX 18 we reviewed in January.
Despite the presence of two ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3870 GPUs running in CrossFire X, the M17, which came equipped with 64-bit Vista Home Premium, turned in an anemic performance in our gaming benchmarks, with Quake 4 clocking in at 119.2fps and FEAR at just 26fps. Compare that to the Gateway P-7811 FX we examined in our October issue, which pumped out Quake 4 at 133fps and FEAR at 108fps.
We knocked the HDX 18 for its portly proportions, but the M17’s lap weight is more than half a pound heavier, despite having a single 160GB hard drive to the HP’s dual 320s, 3GB of DDR3 memory to the HP’s 4GB of DDR2, and a 17-inch screen compared to the HP’s monstrous 18.4-inch display. Could the extra GPU really weigh that much?
Outfitting this particular M17 with middle-of-the-road components—including an Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile P8400 and an 8x DVD burner—enabled Alienware to price this review unit at $1,750. You do get a long list of features for your dough, including a seven-in-one media card reader, an 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter, Blue-tooth, eSATA, a webcam, a fingerprint reader, and HDMI, but the aforementioned Gateway machine had all that (less the nominally useful fingerprint reader and Bluetooth), delivered better gaming performance, and cost $350 less.
This being a desktop replacement, we didn’t have high expectations for the M17’s battery life, but we were surprised that its nine-cell crapped out after just one hour and 38 minutes. The six-cell battery in HP’s HDX 18 outlasted it by a full 10 minutes. And it’s a shame that the M17’s speakers sound so absolutely dreadful, because this system runs almost silently.
We do, however, dig the Alienware’s finish. The glossy piano black that’s so popular these days looks sexy—until you handle the device, and then every scratch, smudge, and fingerprint shows up like a cold sore. The M17 is wrapped in a matte black, rubberlike material that rejected our every attempt to muck it up; at least until we rummaged through a bag of greasy potato chips. Even then, it took nothing more than a dry tissue to restore its luster.
As configured, this Alienware M17 doesn’t serve any particular mission well: It’s too heavy for frequent road trips, it’s not powerful enough for hardcore gaming, and without a TV tuner or Blu-ray drive, it’s not much of a media system.
Hip finish, luscious display, cool backlit keyboard.