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Alienware M11x R2 Review

by Stuart Davidson - 6th August 2010
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Alienware M11x R2 Review


Thinking back to our experience with the original M11x it is fair to say that we were completely blown away by that model. Alienware managed to produce a killer machine which offered great portability, excellent battery life and fantastic performance in games and media. Since then though a few things have happened to move the market on. The first was the mobile Core i3-i7 range hitting the market in significant quantities and the second is the release of NVIDIA's Optimus technology. Both of these were desirable to end users and so the M11x without them did age quite quickly.

Essentially that is the reason for the M11x refresh, or R2 as it is often called. It is an opportunity to bring the excellent base design from the original right up to date with other machines on the market but the question was; could Alienware do this without sacrificing any of the great aspects from the original?

The answer to that is very much a yes... and then some.

The M11x experience begins with a very professional packaging design and then inside we find the machine well protected by foam, wrapped in a cloth bag which can be used to transport it from location to location. Upon opening the cloth bag we were immediately impressed by the new soft touch, rubberised finish which is very much an improvement over the plastic option. As an added bonus this new finish is a free upgrade so there is no reason not to select it.

Alienware have also refined the connectivity options, disposing of the VGA connector and changing the layout of the other sockets to have DisplayPort further back, a preferable location. The only minor issue, in terms of connectivity, is the decision to once again use a 10/100 network card rather than 10/100/1000. We appreciate that most users access via wireless, using Dells excellent dual band card, however there are some who would very much appreciate GB LAN for home use.

Many of the other external aspects of the M11x have retained the same high quality. We have a top notch display, solid keyboard, high quality honeycomb design touch pad and the mouse buttons are low noise with just the right amount of depth. The standard Alienware lighting is also still present and it, like items such as facial recognition, can be configured from within Windows.

Inside the new M11x things are of course a lot different to the original but before we look at that it is worth saying that we were pleased to see that the hard drive, memory and battery choices made by Alienware are all high quality branded parts and it was good to see an up to date firmware on the SSD.

CPU choice is of course, completely different to the older model and even though we used the lower specification processor we have no problem in recommending the i5-520UM rather than the i7 option. The balance between it and the GT355M GPU seemed perfect, no doubt thanks to Turbo Mode which increases the speed up to 1.8GHz, and overall the i5 offers a great value proposition for the system. Speaking of that GT335M, it allowed us to play all of the games we tested at the M11x's native resolution, often with High and Very High detail levels. It was particularly good to see StarCraft 2 run so well on this system. An added bonus of course is the ability to utilise the GPU for tasks such as media encoding, reducing the time taken to complete tasks.

We were also pleased to see that Alienware have their implementation of NVIDIA Optimus working well. Switching between GPUs was seamless, we simply opened our games and the GT335M kicked in. Exit them and we were seamlessly back on the Intel GPU at the desktop.

So we managed to maintain a great level of design then improve performance and usability but what impact did that have on battery life? The answer is very little. The performance of the new M11x was very close to the original model, falling by about 20 minutes but given all of the other advantages this is perfectly acceptable. Especially when we are still getting over 5 hours of decent use on a balanced profile.

The original M11x was, and still is, a fantastic laptop. With the new M11x Alienware have taken an impressive design to a new level of performance and usability. Style, portability and performance... the M11x has it all.

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