We will be reviewing the newest Alienware M11x R3 which, at least in terms of appearance, is an almost exact replica of its forerunner model that was released in 2010. In terms of the hardware component, the latest M11x has received a hardware boost, featuring a Intel 2nd generation Sandy Bridge processor as well as the Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card. This small sturdy looking ultraportable is supposed to be aimed at gamers who want to be able to game on the move: so let's see whether this laptop brings its A-game to the table.
As I mentioned earlier, looking at the Alienware M11x R3's angular design is like having a déjà vu moment - it inherits the very same form factor that its predecessor model of 2010 possessed. Ditto for the build quality as well - a very solid quality, and you won’t notice any sort of flex on any part of this laptop, which has a magnesium alloy and plastic construction. Given its specs and its miniature form factor, it's not surprising that this laptop weighs around 2.1 kg - a far cry from the Apple MacBook Air ultraportable unit, that we previously reviewed, which touched 1.08 kg on the weight scale. Moreover, despite it being termed as an ultraportable, this unit is quite thick, particularly at the chassis.
The laptop has an angled front and its corner and edges, except the cylindrical hinges and the connector strip between them, have an angular appearance. You will find the now ubiquitous Alienware 'Alien Head' logo located at the top central section of the backlid. Another smaller 'Alien Head' is located at the top central section of the chassis, just above the keyboard - it doubles up as the power button. Both the 'alien heads' are backlit, and so are the keyboard as well as the front side 'headlights'. You can also term them as 'eyes', or whatever other appropriate alternative that might catch your fancy - in my view the 'eyes' could be called 'light exhausts' given its resemblance to exhaust nozzles from certain modern fighter planes like the F-22 Raptor. There is also a lettered 'Alienware' logo - which is also backlit - positioned at the central bottom section of the black glossy bezel that covers the screen.
The whole unit comes in Stealth Black colour, and the outer cover has a smooth matte finish - it won't attract scratches or even fingerprints or smudges. The screen bezel and a single strip at the front side of the chassis that seems to connect both the 'front headlights' have a glossy finish - these areas naturally will attract a lot of fingerprints. The palmrest area has a slightly rubberized textured feel to it, with the touchpad having an even smoother feeling texture - the mouse buttons have the same texture feel as the palmrest.
While I am a fan of the sleek, cool, futuristic design of Alienware units, it would be nice to see Alienware come up with a new design for its products for 2012 - too much of a good thing can at times be bad. Given the attractive appearance of other ultraportables, notably the Apple MacBook Air, Alienware would do good to go in for a design change in its upcoming models - say probably thinning them down a bit?
The Command Centre feature on Alienware laptops allows you to play around with the choice of lights to be used for the backlit keyboard, the Alienware 'Alien Head' logos, and the front headlights. The ability to personalize the laptop is a handy feature, albeit a cosmetic one. Given the number of light sources on this laptop, locating this laptop in the dark would an easy task. So if you ever find yourself feeling bored, go ahead and mix and match the colour options for the backlighting.
Keeping in line with Alienware's policy of allowing owners to customize their laptops, the M11x comes with a nameplate - located at the left section of the base, just above the speakers - that can be engraved with your name, clan and other such 'gamer' details - while a rather cosmetic feature, this is nonetheless a cool way to have your laptop stand out from other laptops and can help avoid confusing it with other M11x units.
The M11x features an 11.6-inch LED-backlit glossy screen which has a native resolution of 1366x768. The screen has an edge-to-edge screen in front of it, and this adds to the overall reflectiveness of the screen. The screen is held in place by two hinges, which provide a stable base for the screen. The viewing angles on this laptop are decent - viewing something like a movie would a comfortable experience for two people, any more people and they will have to deal with the on-screen colours being covered in a darkish hue. The screen can be tilted backwards almost 120-130 degrees - in actual terms, this tilt ability doesn’t really help you to that great an extent in improving your viewing experience.
The keyboard has a total of 82 keys, with the keys quite closely packed together to accommodate the keyboard within the frame size of the M11x chassis. The fact that the keys are closely packed together is not exactly a downside per se, as it just takes some time to get used to typing on this keyboard. The keys have a soft but very firm touch response, which makes typing a comfortable experience on this laptop.
The touchpad, with its textured surface, is highly responsive. While the mouse buttons are also very responsive, their tendency to depress to quite an extent seemed, in my view, to be an irritant and I think Alienware could have done with steadier mouse buttons, that wouldn’t depress to quite this extent - some folks might actually prefer working with this kind of dual-mouse buttons.
In terms of design, and unlike other ultraportables, the Alienware M11x doesn’t try to hide the fact that it's supposed to be a powerful machine - its design pretty much flaunts that fact. But not only does the M11x R3 talk the talk, from checking out the tech specs of this machine, it seems to walk the walk as well. This laptop features an Intel second generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7-2617M processor (1.50 GHz), 4GB DDR3 RAM, a 750GB HDD (7200 RPM) and for graphics processing, you have both the Intel HD 3000 graphics and NVidia GeForce GT 540M card with 2GB of VRAM (you can switch between the graphics options via the NVidia Optimus).
In terms of connectivity options available on the M11x, the Alienware unit's chassis features, on it's left side, a Kensington lock, a Display port, HDMI port, a USB 2.0 port with PowerShare technology, Gigabit Ethernet port, a multi card reader positioned below the Express card slot and a FireWire port . On the right side of the M11x's chassis you will find two USB 3.0 ports, and two headphone jacks and a microphone jack. The power connector is comfortably placed at the rear of the laptop, so the power adapter wire won't come in the way of you playing any games. The M11x also features Wi-Fi 802.11 n and Bluetooth 3.0 wireless connectivity.
Considering the number of ports on the left side of the laptop chassis, you would have expected Alienware to pack in more ports - or maybe even an optical drive? - on the right side as well; however this is not the case. Do note that this is not a disadvantage in anyway, as the laptop, for its form factor, already has a good number and variety of ports.
More details can be seen on this review's "Specifications" page.
The Alienware M11x R3 comes preinstalled with Windows 7 Home Premium (Service Pack 1). Among the usual bloatware you will find are the Dell Stage Remote, that allows you to use a Dell Android Device to browse and control videos, music and files on a Dell PC; Dell Sync that lets you synchronize your data between various devices. The various features included in the Alienware 'Command Centre' include Alienware Fusion, for customizing and choosing an appropriate power plan; Alienware AlienFX that provides tutorials on creating basic and advanced themes, and also allows you to customize your backlight options for the for all the light emitting sources located at the top of the chassis; AlienTouch, from where you can adjust properties such as the sensitivity of the touchpad area, to what extent to recognize when the user's palm accidentally comes in contact with the touchpad area and whether or not to enable various multi-touch gestures on the touchpad. There are also some handy software packages such as the FastAccess Facial Recognition software that scans the user's face and uses it as a further/alternate authentication method for logging into the system.
Among the other pre-installed software you will find Office 2010 Starter Edition, Live! Central Integrated Webcam, McAfee Security Centre trial edition, EVE online, and Steam.
The Alienware M11x R3 recorded a very good score of 112 on the Worldbench 6 benchmark - for comparisons sake, this would be better than what some of the mainstream laptops scored in our tests (the MacBook Air we previously reviewed notched a score of 111). It outperformed the 2010 iteration of the M11x in most of the benchmarks we ran, save the battery tests. The M11x will be able to comfortably deal with most memory and processor intensive tasks, let alone your daily chores like Web browsing and listening to music. During synthetic testing, the Alienware unit's hard disk recorded an average read speed of 97.9 MB/s and the laptop recorded a PC Mark Vantage score of 7840.
The Alienware M11x R3 shouldn't really have any problems handling 720p and 1080p videos. In the gaming department, the M11x performs well, better than some of the mainstream laptops we have reviewed earlier, including the Acer 5755G which also featured a 2GB GT 540M card. Do keep in mind that the 2GB RAM of the GeForce GT 540M, sound impressive, but that by itself does not really translate into a performance boost, as the GPU's power is the main factor to consider.
Playing games in low to medium settings would make for a comparatively smooth sailing for gamers. When I benchmarked FarCry 2 at 1366x768, DirectX 10 mode, AA 2x, and 'Ultra High' settings, I saw an average frame rate of 36.26 fps. Similarly, Metro 2033, when run at 1366x768, DirectX 11, Very High Quality, AAA, AF 4X, and all settings maxed out registered 9.33 fps. While this is an Alienware gaming laptop, by looking at the scores, I would suggest playing games on this laptop, albeit, at lower to mid resolutions and graphics effects, to obtain an ideal playable experience. This isn’t a drawback of any sort, as you get to use a portable laptop that plays most games at rates that are somewhat better than what some of our mainstream laptops - such as the Acer 5755G - achieved.
Under normal usage, the Alienware M11x R3, for the most part, did a good job of keeping itself cool - after running for an extended period the base does get lukewarm to the touch. However during more demanding tasks, such as gaming for instance, the mid-to-upper section of the base tends to become quite warm to the touch - at such times the palmrest also gets slightly warm, although in overall terms it is still less warmer than the base area. The unit was barely audible during operation - do note that the noise level increases once the fan spins into action.
The 11.6-inch Alienware M11x R3's Klipsch audio has an average sound quality - while providing a sufficiently loud output, the bass is still lacking and the audio sounds rather granulated. Also, given that the speaker outlets are located at either ends at the front laptop base, the audio can sound muffled when the laptop is placed on a surface. Given this rather disappointing speaker performance, listening in through a headphone would be the best option.
The Alienware M11x R3 features an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i7 processor and GeForce GT 540M graphics card with NVidia's Optimus switching mode, and given this configuration, I was curious to see what results the battery tests would throw up. I was pleasantly surprised as the Alienware M11x R3's 8-cell battery lasted for roughly two and a half hours in our battery benchmark, run at high performance battery mode, and wireless internet activated - given its configuration this is a very respectable score. If you were using a conservative power scheme and just browsing the web, listening to music you should be able to get around 5 plus hours on this unit. Given that you can manually choose the graphics option, if you plan to use the laptop for an extended period of time, and say when you are on the move, you could always choose the Intel graphics as the primary option.
The Alienware M11x R3 features an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i7 processor and GT 540M graphics card with Optimus switching mode, and so I was curious to see what results the battery tests would throw up. I was pleasantly surprised as the Alienware M11x R3's 8-cell battery lasted for roughly two and a half hours in our battery benchmark, run at high performance battery mode, and wireless internet activated - given its configuration this is a very respectable score. If you were using a conservative power scheme and just browsing the web, listening to music you should be able to get around 5 plus hours on this unit. Given that you can manually choose the graphics option, if you plan to use the laptop for an extended period of time, and say when you are on the move, you could always choose the Intel graphics as the primary option.
Opening this unit is a very straightforward affair - and props to Dell/Alienware for featuring such a property. Almost the entire base, except for the area enclosing the base exhaust fan, is a single continuous cover that can be opened to reveal the inner hardware.
We expected a lot of the Alienware M11x R3 unit, and for the most part it delivers on its end of the deal. However it has certain drawback such as a relatively average Audio speaker system and the fact that it heats up to quite an extent under a heavy workload, which prevent it from scoring higher.
There are those who would say that given its price range, you would be better off going for a mainstream laptop and even saving up on some money at the same time. But that is beside the point, as the M11x is supposed to be a mobile gaming platform. So while we won't get the same scores we might see on the M11x's bigger and more powerful brethren, such the M17x, for being able to get a small sized laptop, that is relatively easy to carry; one that packs enough of a punch to play games at better levels than some of the other mainstream laptops we have already reviewed; and one that has a very respectable battery life, the M11x is the ideal choice for 'on the move' gamers.
Sure, the typical 'Alienware' look doesn’t elicit the same kind of awe that it once used to - and hopefully by next year when we are reviewing an Alienware product, they would have come out with a new distinctive design - it is still a sleek looking laptop. It can easily fit into your bag and users such as students, who want to have a portable yet powerful enough system for playing their games, should definitely check out the Alienware M11x R3.