Alienware M11x R2: Optimus and Arrandale Join the Party

When we first heard about Alienware's M11x at CES 2010, we were super excited. Take the winning formula in ASUS' UL30Vt/UL80Vt and shrink it down, plus add in a juicy GT 335M to replace the anemic G 310M and you're looking at a potent little gaming system that can still last all day on a single charge. Let's be honest, though: despite having an 11.6" LCD, the M11x is hardly an 11.6" chassis. The LCD bezel is huge, and Alienware could have easily tweaked the design slightly to get a 13.3" panel in here. Regardless, this is still the smallest viable gaming system right now, with the only real alternative being the Sony VAIO Z series.

The VAIO is certainly attractive, and it actually weighs quite a bit less than the M11x. It also has a faster Arrandale CPU (non-ULV) but a GT 330M GPU. The deal breaker for most is going to be pricing, however, with the Sony starting at $1800. For that you get an i5-520M (2.40GHz), GT 330M (48 SPs), and dual 64GB SSDs along with a 1600x900 LCD. Of those changes, the item that the M11x needs the most is the LCD, at least if it's a higher contrast option, because the LCD panel is our primary remaining complaint with the R2. It's faster at general computing, slightly faster at gaming (the GPU is still the primary bottleneck), but the LCD is the same AU Optronics B116XW01 with a claimed 500:1 contrast ratio. In our actual testing, it manages just 262:1 and is the weakest link in an otherwise awesome package.

What's truly unfortunate is that along with the CPU upgrade and Optimus, the price jumped $150 and we're still stuck with a panel similar to what we find in entry-level 11.6" netbooks. That's another complaint we have with the M11x R2: pricing is no longer quite as compelling. In fact, if you're willing to give up Arrandale ULV, you can get the original for a lower cost, with slightly better battery life and the potential to run Linux and still get switchable graphics. For those that don't care about Linux, however, the R2 is going to be the better option—remember that getting driver updates for switchable graphics from NVIDIA is unlikely, whereas the latest Verde drivers support Optimus laptops.

Before we get into the numbers, here's a quick look at the specs of the M11x R2. The installed options in our test system are bolded.

Alienware M11x Specifications
Processor Core i5-520UM (32nm, 2x1.06GHz, Turbo to 1.87GHz, 3MB, 18W)
Core i7-640UM (32nm, 2x1.20GHz, Turbo to 2.27GHz, 3MB, 18W)
Overclockable to 166MHz bus
Chipset Intel QS57
Memory 2x1GB to 2x4GB DDR3-800
2x2GB DDR3-800 Tested
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M with Optimus Technology
(72 CUDA Cores, 450/1080/1580 Core/Shader/RAM)

Intel HD Graphics
Display 11.6" LED Backlit WXGA (1366x768)
(AU Optronics B116WX01)
Hard Drive(s) 160GB 5400RPM
250GB 7200RPM
320GB 7200RPM
500GB 7200RPM
256GB SSD
Optical Drive N/A
Networking Fast Ethernet (Atheros AR8132 / L1c)
Dell DW1520 802.11n WiFi
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Optional)
Mobile Broadband (Optional)
Audio HD Audio (2 speakers with mic and 2x headphone jacks)
Battery 8-cell 63Wh
Front Side N/A
Left Side Mini 1394a FireWire
Flash Memory Card Reader
Fast Ethernet
1 x USB 2.0 (powered)
HDMI
DisplayPort
Kensington Lock
Right Side 2x Headphone jack
Microphone jack
2 x USB 2.0
Back Side AC Power Connection
Cooling exhaust
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Dimensions 11.25" x 9.19" x 1.29" (WxDxH)
Weight 4.39 lbs (with 8-cell prismatic battery)
Extras AlienFX Zoned Lighting
Webcam
86-Key LED Backlit Keyboard
3-in-1 Flash reader
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Remote diagnostics
3-year and 4-year extended warranties available
Advanced and Premium In-Home Service available
Pricing Starting at $949
$1319 as Configured

All the features are identical to the original M11x, outside of the CPU/chipset, with one exception: the original M11x had a VGA output, which the R2 removed. We’re not sure why Alienware chose to remove the VGA port, and certainly some users (i.e. students or anyone looking to connect to a typical projector) will miss the feature. For better or worse, though, the VGA port is gone.

Considering Alienware was already swapping out the chipset, motherboard, and processor, not to mention adding Optimus (though according to NVIDIA, that’s a very simple addition to make since there’s no extra traces required), there are a few changes that didn’t happen that we definitely wanted. For one, the lack of Gigabit Ethernet is a joke. With no internal optical drive, it stands to reason a lot of people will be copying files over the network. This is a premium product and there’s simply no reason to continue using Fast Ethernet. Imagine purchasing a modern system only to get AC’97 audio instead of HD audio. Would you notice the difference? Perhaps not, but it would still grate just knowing that it’s outdated technology. Getting USB 3.0 on one of the ports would have been a nice addition as well. The final change we wanted we’ve already addressed: the LCD just isn’t a good choice for a laptop of this caliber.

One other item we need to bring up quickly: the pre-installed software caused a few problems. Specifically, the Dell Wireless driver (or at least the tray icon) has a memory leak that can create severe instability unless you kill the task. Thankfully, that process is not necessary, so if you have an M11x R2 and Dell hasn't released a new driver then you'll want to disable the "DW WLAN Tray Service" service and kill the WLTRAY.exe process. (I used msconfig.exe to disable both.)

We provided our thoughts on the design in our original M11x reviewas well as the M11x R2 First Look. We have very few complaints and the overall experience is very good. Compared to something like the Clevo W880CU, this laptop feels solid and well-constructed and it’s clear effort went into making this a functional system. You still have the choice between “Lunar Shadow” (silver) and “Soft Touch Stealth Black”, and we’d highly recommend the latter, but opinions on aesthetics vary. The only remaining question is performance, so that’s what we’re going to look at today.

Ultraportable Gaming Revisited
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  • dumpsterj - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    ive got one on order and i cant wait for it. im glad the battlefield benchmarks saw such an improvement , as thats one reason i decided to replace my old asus f3sv w/ its 8600gs. It cant play bf 2 for crap. thanks for the awesome review. i know what to expect but im still happy im getting it. when i get it ill update in the comments. Reply
  • Mark McGann - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    Does anyone know if the SSD option for this laptop supports TRIM?

    I've never been able to find any definitive information on this, which leads me to believe it doesn't.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    Pretty sure the 256GB SSD is a Samsung model, and if it's one of the newer ones it supports TRIM. But honestly, I would NOT pay the outrageous $600 upgrade price to get it pre-installed. You can buy a 256GB for $525 online if you really want to:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Better still, if you really want an SSD and are willing to pay for it, get an SSD that's worth having, like the RealSSD C300 from Crucial or a SandForce SSD. $600 for the Samsung drive from Dell, or $600 for a 240GB SandForce 1200 SSD, or even $640 for the 256GB C300. I think the choice is clear:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...
    Reply
  • Friendly0Fire - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    Of all the review, what piqued my interest the most is the mention of a new U30Jc with a better GPU... Where did you hear that rumor? Any details on it? Honestly the M11x R2 is a nice laptop but I just don't really like the aesthetics and the screen size. A U30Jc with a GT335M or above would be the ideal laptop. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    Not a rumor... it's what we *want* to see. Will ASUS make that? I hope so, but right now it looks like the U series is still getting saddled with G310M. :-\ Reply
  • MaxGeek - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    I'm a M11x R2 owner and one thing I ran into is that the NVidia GPU throttling is sometimes broken. The GPU is suppose to be 450MHZ, but often it will only throttle up to 405MHZ from 135MHZ even when plugged in and gaming. This can cost you a fair amount of performance. This is an app out there called PowerMizer Manager that can fix this.

    Also as far as overclocking I've found it to be pretty significant. Once the system gets decently hot from gaming Intel Turbo boost won't kick in, so overclocking ensures you get consistent performance. Combined with GPU overclock, overclocking the CPU adds additional performance over a GPU overclock at stock CPU speeds. I found that Resident Evil 5 is also CPU limited and GPU overclocking didn't improve performance until the CPU was also overclocked.
    Reply
  • MaxGeek - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    Sorry for the Engrish, I can't edit my post... Reply
  • Roland00 - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    I am glad for smaller gaming computers, but I rather have one of these. Add 3/4 lb of weight and 1 inch bigger; and in return you get faster, cheaper, and with an optical drive. All for 3/4 of a lb

    ASUS K42JV-X1
    I5-450m 2.4 GHZ, Nvidia GT335m, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HD, DVD Burner, 1366x768, 4400mAH, 14 Inch, 4.8 lbs, $949
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    AS4820TG-3195 (Acer Timeline X)
    I5-450m 2.4 GHZ, ATI HD5650, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HD, DVD Burner, 1366x768, 6000mAH, 14 Inch, 4.9 lbs, $899
    http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results....
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    We should be getting the N82Jv in the near future (as soon as it shows up in the US). It's basically the same as the K42Jv you just listed, except with an 84Wh battery. That's the only downfall with the current K42: 48Wh battery means 3-4 hours battery life. Reply
  • erple2 - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    Interesting... Are you all also getting any of the hp Envy's (including the "new" 5830 Envy 15)? Reply

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