Alienware's Medium-Sized Monster

Understanding that many users would just as soon want to be able to game on the go without having to lug a ten pound land monster with them, Alienware offers the M14x, a notebook that offers portable performance without breaking your back in the process. Featuring support for quad-core Sandy Bridge mobile processors and a reasonably fast GeForce GT 555M, the M14x promises an awful lot of power in a reasonably small package. But at what cost?

This review continues our coverage of Alienware's current mobile lineup, coverage that began with the M17x R3. We also have the M11x R3 in-house and that review is forthcoming, and the M18x is due for review soon. The M14x is basically Alienware's "mainstream" offering for users who don't want a giant gaming machine but aren't interested in going with their pint-sized M11x R3. On paper at least, there's an awful lot to recommend it.

Alienware M14x Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
(4x2.0GHz + HTT, 2.9GHz Turbo, 32nm, 6MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 2x2GB Hynix DDR3-1600 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M 3GB DDR3
(144 CUDA cores, 590MHz/1180MHz/1.8GHz core/shader/memory clocks, 192-bit memory bus)
Display 14" LED Glossy 16:9 900p (1600x900)
Hard Drive(s) Samsung SpinPoint MP4 500GB 7200-RPM HDD
Optical Drive Slot-loading DVD+/-RW Combo (HL-DT-ST GS30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Internal WirelessHD
Audio Realtek ALC665 HD Audio
Klipsch 2.1 speakers
Mic and two headphone jacks
Battery 8-Cell, 14.8V, 63Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 3.0
Kensington lock
Left Side VGA
USB 2.0 charging port
Mic and two headphone jacks
MMC/SD/MS reader
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.27" x 10.17" x 1.49" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.45 lbs
Extras 2MP Webcam
82-key backlit keyboard
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Internal WirelessHD
Configurable lighting
Klipsch audio with subwoofer
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,099
Price as configured: $1,543

Just by looking at the specs it should be reasonably clear the M14x is potentially one of the fastest, if not the fastest, 14-inch notebooks available. It weighs an extra pound for the privilege, but Alienware has specced it with performance in mind, period. The Intel Core i7-2630QM in our review unit is actually the second-slowest processor you can order the M14x with, and there's only one dual-core option: the i5-2410M. Strapped to the integrated memory controller is 4GB of DDR3-1600, configurable up to 8GB.

On the GPU side we have NVIDIA's mobile branding nightmare, the GeForce GT 555M. In our recent mobile graphics guide we cited two completely different GPUs shipped as the GT 555M, but in the case of the M14x we seem to have the more desirable version. This one comes with 144 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores and a frankly excessive 3GB of DDR3 strapped to a 192-bit memory bus. That extra 1.5GB of DDR3 is a $100 upgrade and isn't liable to bring any real improvement in performance, so when custom ordering you'll probably want to just stick with the stock 1.5GB. The GT 555M comes clocked at 590MHz on the core and 1180MHz on the shaders, and the DDR3 runs at an effective 1.8GHz for 43.2GB/s of bandwidth. (For the record, the GDDR5 version offers slightly more bandwidth and slightly less compute, but the deal breaker is that it only has 4 ROPs.) As part of NVIDIA's 500M series, the GT 555M also supports Optimus graphics-switching technology, which Alienware puts to good use.

The rest of the M14x is delightfully modern, sporting two USB 3.0 ports, a slot-loading DVD+/-RW drive, and a keyboard with color-configurable backlighting. Probably the biggest perk you can get from the M14x may not even be the powerful underlying hardware, but the 1600x900 resolution on a 14" screen. Having spent some time with this notebook, the biggest shame is that this is the exception and not the rule.

Great Looks, But Some Things Shouldn't Be Universal
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  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Its surprising that they would design a machine that is targeted at gamers, yet has such poor cooling.

    I didn't go look at the site, but do they offer the i7-2620? I have one in my new Precision M4600 and I have been quite happy with it overall. Great balance of power and battery life/temps. Its actually the first machine that stays quite cool on my lap even when under load. Great dual fan cooling design as well.
  • pandemonium - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Well done, very thorough!

    "When I say the Alienware M14x is too much by half, I'm not talking about the pricetag. Truth be told the price is actually remarkably reasonable given the excellent build quality, bling, and extra features. I'm talking about the configuration and cooling design, and these are things that significantly limit what you can do with the M14x."

    I agree with this. I'm very surprised at the price for what's inside, but seeing the lack of cooling and capabilities of the display knocks the overall value down too much.
  • runbmp - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    The m14x can expedite heat rapidly, however this comes at the cost of noise. This isn't really an issue for me as I wanted a performance laptop and not a google notebook.

    My only gripe has been with the onboard intel chipset, its kind of a joke really without any options to disable it and its drivers really muck around with games.

    Also to note. drivers will not install on their own, atm the only option is to either get a custom .inf or use the older drivers from Dell.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Personally I'd rather see how good the Dell XPS line is in comparison Namely, the XPS 15/17.

    How many drive bay slots, etc, and all that.

    These things are butt ugly, but i can see how *maybe* the cooling system on them would work out good though. Will read the article later to see how well it stacks up, but honestly right now I am not even considering these( and I am in the market for a new gamer like laptop)
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    "These things are butt ugly, but i can see how *maybe* the cooling system on them would work out good though"

    Replace would with could, and you have what i meant. However after reading through the 3 worthwhile comments. Never mind. Seems that having fancy ugly ports for cooling is not everything.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    If you're looking to game, the XPS line isn't really an option. Dell has eliminated the graphics options so that there isn't any overlap between XPS and Alienware.
  • Rookierookie - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Not on the high end no, but the GT525M/540M on the XPS 15/17 series can handle older games quite easily.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - link

    I respectfully disagree. Even a high-end laptop like this struggles on current gen games. The 525 (17" is far too large to be comparable) struggles even on older games.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I agree with you completely; same company after all. Personally I've always liked industrial style design over gaudy Alienware style design. I do have to admit though, when I was like 10 I thought their computers looked the "coolest"; lol.

    I'm a PC Tech and everytime I work with a Lenevo business class notebook I am entirely impressed. Soft rubber touch coating everywhere. No glare anywhere. Solid well built, well thought out chassis and keyboard. Impressively light and thin. Seriously, THAT is what I want from my laptop; just with consumer parts in it.

    To be clear I care less about thickness than the other stuff, I understand it has to get thicker to cool down a 2620QM with a GTX560M and 8GB of RAM in a 15.6" chassis. Make it thicker all you want, I don't even care what it weighs (6'4" 235lb man) I just want the design of the thing to be that...neat.
  • Nathelion - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I bought one of these shortly after launch (a few months ago now) and I've been happy with it. Is it loud? yes. Is it hot? yes. Do I like the aesthetic? not particularly. But it has two killer features:

    1) It is fast enough to do medium gaming in a 14" form factor
    2) It has a high-enough-to-be-useful resolution screen in a 14" form factor

    When it comes to complaints about heat and noise, those are a bit misguided. There are plenty of thin & light notebooks out there, but they also won't do anything above very low end gaming. There is simply no way to cram a decent amount of horsepower into 14" without making it hot and loud. In my experience, the notebook generally does a decent job of staying quiet (although it still gets rather hot to the touch) when it's being used for surfing or document editing, that is, in the roles where you would normally have it on your lap. When you fire up games, you would most likely put it on a table anyway (it does get loud when you use it for gaming, but... well, duh).

    The screen, however, is what sealed the deal for me. It's pretty normal (aka mediocre) quality in terms of color and gamut (you can however crank it up to be ridiculously bright if you want, I typically run it at 30% brightness even when plugged in), but the big feature is the resolution. The ONLY other modern 14" laptop with a resolution above 1366x768 is the ThinkPad T420s. While that is an excellent option, the gaming performance just isn't there - the highest you can spec one of those is a dual core sandy bridge and an NVS 4200M with 48 CUDA cores and pretty miserable clocks. I should also add that when I specced out two systems for comparison back before I bought the alienware, the thinkpad ended up a good $700 more expensive.

    To put it succinctly: If you want performance and a decent screen resolution in a 14" form factor, this is the only option.

    The only real contender is a ThinkPad that costs ~30% more for vastly inferior performance. Granted, it's also much lighter and not as much of a heat and noise monster, but that comes with the territory. For the "portable gaming while still being feasible to move around and with a high-enough res screen to not be outright painful" segment, this thing really is the only viable option.

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