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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  • beginner99 - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    this.
    There is also a 13.3 timelineX with the 5650 radeon. no optical drive tough. I don't need one anyway for what?
    I think it's also the same weight as the alienware but bigger screen. imho much better bang for the buck.
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    Do you have the model for that timelineX? I can't seem to find it on acer's website (that doesn't mean it doesn't exist though). Personally I rather have a 13 inch and I have seen the AS3820T-5246 in person and I am impressed with what I seen so far (the joys of selling computers). Reply
  • bakareshi - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    ppft... optical drive. Still holding on? I don't hold it against Alienware for being at the front of the paradigm change. Optical drives no longer add value, they just consume real estate and sway customers to buy who haven't realized DVDs are no longer a necessity. Reply
  • Akv - Friday, July 09, 2010 - link

    The concept of "gaming laptop" still sounds like an oxymoron to me.

    I game with a large tower with large fans, and a large 27" screen.

    I would be more interested in a review about new laptops that don't heat and don't make noise.
    Reply
  • Shmutt - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    I understand that the review is done on the best possible config for the M11x R2 and thus has the core-i7 CPU.

    However, on Dell's website, it is stated that the option with the core-i7 does not have an integrated gfx. I have confirmed this in a live-chat with a Dell sales rep. I'm guessing that Optimus will do nothing in this case?

    So it was the main reason why I went with the core-i5 option. Supposedly, it will have a better batt life as discrete GPU will be powered down if not needed. I hope Anandtech can get its hands on a core-i3/i5 specced M11x R2 and see if this claim is correct.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    Whoever you spoke with is clueless. LOL. The i7-640UM (and the i7-620M) are both dual-core Arrandale chips with Intel HD Graphics; they're just clocked higher than the i5 variants. So Optimus is fully functional. It's only the quad-core i7 chips that don't have integrated graphics. Reply
  • Shmutt - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    Oh ok! Damn! Thanks for clarifying that. Reply
  • fire_storm - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    Hi

    I am planning to buy an m17x in a week or so, is there any upgrades worthwhile in the near future?
    should I hold on this until its out if any?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • beelzebub253 - Sunday, July 11, 2010 - link

    Can anyone confirm what the max resolution the m11x R2 will output to external display (using DisplayPort). The website doesn't seem to specify. In particular, can it display 2560x1600 such as on the Dell 3008WFP?

    Jarred? Anyone?
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, July 14, 2010 - link

    The Displayport will be able to hit the 30" resolution. HDMI not. Reply

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