After Hours

Geek Gifts 2010: Alienware M11x gaming notebook

The Alienware M11x is a netbook-sized computer with the insides of a high-performance desktop. Mark Kaelin takes it for a spin in this Geekend review.

Alienware has a reputation for making really nice gaming personal computers for what has been dubbed as the enthusiast market. In more common language, computer enthusiasts don't mind paying more for hardware that meets a high standard for performance and style. Since my current personal Alienware gaming desktop is my fourth PC purchased from this company, I guess that makes me an enthusiast.

But the Alienware M11x is a slightly different kind of notebook for the company. Oh sure, it still has a fast CPU and GPU, and it still rivals any other notebook when it comes to performance, but this Alienware is different because it is netbook-sized.

Specifications and features

  • System: Alienware M11x
  • Dimensions: Height: 32.7mm (1.29 inches), Width: 285.7mm (11.25 inches), Depth: 233.3mm (9.19 inches), Weight: Start at 1.99kg (4.39 lbs)
  • LCD: 11.6-inch WideHD 1366x768 (720p) WLED
  • Discrete video card: 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M
  • Integrated video: Intel GMA
  • CPU: Intel Core2 Duo SU7300 1.3GHz (3MB Cache)
  • Operating system: Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium, 64bit, English
  • RAM: 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 800MHz
  • Hard drive: 500GB SATAII 7,200RPM
  • Sound: Internal High-Definition Surround Sound Audio (5.1)
  • Webcam: 1.3MP Webcam
  • Cost: $1099 for review unit, $799 base price
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What I like

  • Performance: The Alienware M11x, for its small size, is second to none in terms of performance. It flawlessly ran every game I threw at it, from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to World of Warcraft: The Lich King, at the highest settings I could configure. At this price point, I would typically expect to see some sputtering as the PC tries to move data through its subsystems, but the M11x handled it all without a hiccup.
  • Size and weight: When compared to your typical 10-plus inch netbook, the M11x is roughly the same proportions, but heavier. I would not exactly call it heavy at a little over four pounds, but you can tell the weight difference between the M11x and an ASUS EEE PC.
  • LCD: The LCD is bright and sharp, and the resolution of 1366 X 768 means that Web sites are displayed properly. Games at the resolution look great albeit a little small. I hooked the M11x up to a 42-inch LCD using the HDMI output, and it looked fantastic, and the M11x continued to perform at a high-level.
  • Durable: While not made out of Titanium, the case for the M11x is nonetheless sturdy and durable. All of the connections are tight, and the machine is constructed to last even at its portable size.
  • Battery life: For a gaming PC, the battery life is at the high range of acceptable at three hours. If you switch to the integrated Intel Graphics chipset, turning off the NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M, you could get over four hours.
  • Style: I am not a big "style guy" when it comes to PCs, but the M11x is a head turner at the coffee shop. The LED lighting system gives the owner numerous color options, and the LED keyboard lights mean that gaming in the dark is not a problem and, in fact, encouraged.
  • Steam: Because the M11x does not ship with a CD-ROM drive, Alienware has made a deal with Valve to include the Steam client application with each unit. With Steam, users can download and play many of the hottest game titles without having a CD to worry about.
  • Sound: The onboard sound chipset is top notch and able to product digital 5.1 surround sound.

What I don't like

  • Screen size: While the LCD screen is very bright and sharp, it is also fairly small at 11 inches. At this size, games are playable, but not all that comfortable. If I am on the road and feel like fragging a few bad guys, the M11x is perfect, but at home I would want to do my fragging on an LCD with substantially more real estate.
  • Face recognition security: The M11x has a built-in face recognition security feature. The PC will try to recognize your face during the login sequence in lieu of typing a password. The feature works, but it is very dependent on the quality and the quantity of the light present during login. If it is too dark, it will never recognize you. Personally, I would rather just type in a password.
  • No CD drive: The lack of a CD-ROM drive is a compromise for power and weight and I understand it perfectly, but a drive is needed for installing many games. This means you will have to have an external CD drive connected at least sometime. Alienware does sell a basic external CD-drive for $65, which I find to be a reasonable price.

Geek bottom line

The Alienware M11x is the almost perfect geeky gift for PC gamers in need of portability. Although small in size, the M11x is a powerhouse of computer gaming performance that can push pixels as well as just about any desktop. If I were in the market for a new notebook computer, I would be taking a serious look at the M11x because it does everything I want in terms of performance without draining my bank account.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: *****

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

12 comments
Sherlin14
Sherlin14

The Alienware M11x has two graphics chips so that you can switch to the less powerful one and gain more battery life when you're on the road. It's very well designed and built, and its lights are soothing when you have to type up a document late into the night. http://www.onlinenotebook.com

rob
rob

For the reasons of screen size and insufficient CPU speed, I went with the M15x... my last notebook (now using it as my central desktop) is the XPS M2010 - not very "coffee shop compatible", so I went for the Alienware notebook to get me the heck out of my house! The M15x answers many of the qualms that pop up with the M11x: DVD read/writer (check); larger screen and resolution (1080p - check); not TOO big (i.e. smaller than the M17x - check); oodles of horsepower (opted for the top i7 930 with 8Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD -check). A *little* heavy on the price at just north of $4K, but definitely worth the investment (gave me my first taste of Win 7 and I'm VERY happy) - this little thing FLIES; and I have 2 i7 SERVERS (with 12 Gb RAM ea - built'em myself for less than this notebook... yes BOTH of them with 2Tb of drive ea); this notebook definitely gives them a run for the money! I recommend that if the M11x falls just shy of your needs for the reasons mentioned, take a look at the M15x - you will NOT be disappointed! When I buy a computer, I expect at least 2 years of use out of it before looking at upgrades... I'll be looking at 3 to 5 for this little puppy - without question... (the XPS m2010 was relegated to my desktop because it's just too cool a design to "give away"). Cheers! Rob

IW4
IW4

Unless this GT335M knows how to keep secrets, should that not be discrete?

karenegardner
karenegardner

Thanks, my son asked for this for his 18th birthday and I had no idea what he was talking about ~ informative

davidhbrown
davidhbrown

That $14 "basic external CD-drive" option appears to be a 20 pack of media, not a drive! The drives are $50 and $65. Here's what currently shown on the configuration page: Verbatim Corporation DVD R 4.7GB 16X 20-Pack w/ Slim Case Product details [$14.00] Iomega SuperSlim DVD Portable Writer Product details [$65.00] Targus ADV01US USB 2.0 DVD-ROM External Drive Product details [$50.00]

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you game when you travel? Did you ever wish you had more PC power when you travel?

qwertyomen
qwertyomen

I would find something with a little less cult following w/ better performance. and not made by dell.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I should have realized that number was too good to be true. Adjusting the amount - thanks for the heads up.

airjos
airjos

Which services are on, automatic or manual please?

jrpettit
jrpettit

Because my work laptop is locked down, I have thought about one of these for travel. I just hate the idea of carrying two computers around with me.

rob
rob

Agreed, as an "early adopter" I often find myself weighing the TIME vs MONEY argument: If I wait another 3 or 6 months, surely the price will drop, etc, etc... But then - for people in my position - I need to consider the lost productivity over that time period and what the "real cost" of delayed upgrading means. Your comment about "cult following" is a definite observation, but I think it's more *because* this thing is so ridiculously powerful (and well built, by the way)... and NO, I don't own shares in Dell or work for Alienware or comment on this industry regularly. I used to go with a far lesser known company called "Eurocom" - they had great equipment too; but, sometimes you have to go with the "cult following" just *because* of the masses of positive reviews on the product; sometimes, you really do need to PAY for something to be happy with what you've paid for. There are definitely comparable notebooks out there, but they aren't significantly cheaper, or they are; but, they're missing significant components that really set this one apart. If there are features you just don't think you'll need, that's a different story. After working with this notebook for just a week (VPN, RDP, SQL, concurrent stock market data analysis via Excel, major road warrior expectations, like: solid WiFi connections, decent battery life - sufficient 2 hrs while waiting for a plane, etc, etc...) I'm pretty happy. It ain't cheap and it ain't that light - but for the next 3 to 5 years, it is state-of-the art and in that time, I'm expecting an 80:1 payback on my purchase in enhanced productivity and opportunity savings. For gaming, I agree, it's pricey; for business, I never skimp and that philosophy has always served me well. Best of luck, Rob

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