Gaming Portable: Alienware M11x

This pick is almost a given, but hey, can you blame us? Alienware’s gaming ultraportable has been all the rage since it was unveiled at CES 2010, and for good reason: an overclocked CULV processor and an NVIDIA GT 335M dedicated graphics card in an 11.6”, 4lb frame starting at $799? Yes please!

Now, since then, the familiar Core 2 Duo ULV chip has been replaced with the new Arrandale ULV chips, Optimus has been added, and the pricetag has gone up to $949 (the old C2D model is still available for $799), but the principle behind the M11x remains the same: as much GPU as you can stuff into a 4lb chassis, at as low a price as possible. And given the performance, it’s not a philosophy we can argue with. The GT 335M absolutely screams when compared to basically any other portable notebook, and graphically, this is the most powerful notebook this side of 5.5lbs. So far, so good.

The performance side of the deal only got sweeter when the distinctly not-screaming 1.3GHz C2D was replaced with the new i5/i7 ULV chips. This isn’t to say that the original CULV platform was slow; it was certainly adequate for most tasks and the overclocked version in the original M11x was better still, but it was never a powerhouse and definitely did hold the M11x back in certain games. That goes away for the most part with Arrandale’s dynamic clock speed adjustment that can boost processing frequency to 2.13GHz when needed. And even with all the computing power under the hood, the M11x can still last nearly 8 hours on battery power. Pretty sweet, and certainly worthy of the Silver Editor’s Choice Award we gave it last week.

Which isn’t to say that everything is all and well in the M11x’s world: the styling is polarizing, the build quality and keyboard aren’t anything special, and the lack of Gigabit Ethernet strikes us a bit daft in this day and age. But the biggest issue is the screen. As usual, the panel itself isn’t of particularly high quality, but the bigger problem is that the M11x chassis is easily big enough to handle at least a 12” screen, or a even a 13.3” panel in a pinch. Considering that at 4lbs, it’s about the same size and weight as most 13.3” notebooks, Alienware had no real reason to equip the M11x with just an 11.6” WXGA screen. If they could ship it with a WXGA+ (1440x900 or 1600x900) 13.3” screen, it’d be set. However, these are all nits to pick - it’s still the fastest notebook of it’s size by a long ways.

Alternative #1: Sony VAIO Z series

The Z series from Sony is the only sub 4lb notebook in the same performance range as the M11x. It has standard voltage Core i3/i5/i7 processors and the NVIDIA GT 330M graphics chip, which has less shader cores than the GT 335M (48 vs 72) and a faster clock speed (575MHz vs 450MHz). It also has dual 64GB SSDs in RAID 0 configuration, a high contrast 1600x900 13.1” display, and an integrated DVD burner, all in a 3.04lb package. Also, it carries a neat and tidy $1949 MSRP. Gaming performance is close and general performance is likely far better, but the price is just about double the M11x base price. So, it’s an alternative in that gaming performance will approach the M11x, but it isn’t really a competitor to the M11x in any sense of the word.

Alternative #2: ASUS U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc and UL30/50/80Jt

At the same price as the M11x, there is the previously covered ASUS ultraportable lineup, all of which have dedicated graphics cards. Yes, they all share the rather anemic GeForce 310M, but when you’re looking at 4lb laptops that get 10 hours of battery life, any form of dedicated graphics is a plus point. Unfortunately, the GeForce 310M is pretty far from adequate for anything other than older games, so if gaming performance is a high priority, the M11x will still kill all of these.

All-rounder: Asus U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc Road Warrior: Toshiba Portege R700
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  • Friendly0Fire - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    You're painting this as if it was losing its entire battery life in a matter of hours. I've read about 10-20% in a day, with some people claiming 2-5% with some tweaking. The former numbers are high but tolerable unless you're constantly on the go, while the latter numbers are fine by me. Reply
  • jtsarnak - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    I am constantly on the go. This is a luxury class laptop and billed as an ultra-portable business solution. ANY substantial loss after a day, be it 5% or 20%, is unacceptable. It's the only laptop I've ever owned that loses this much power overnight. Anything else doesn't lose that power in a WEEK's time. Reply
  • Alexo - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Note: I am more interested in battery life than gaming performance so my comment is going to address that, but it is equally valid for other benchmarks.

    With the above in mind, I am quite disappointed with the article.
    I came to associate AnandTech's articles, reviews and recommendation with rigorous testing.

    However, of all the notebooks that claim long battery life, only the Asus U30jc was actually reviewed and hard numbers were given. For the rest of the recommendations, battery life times were either "extrapolated" based on assumptions (Asus UL?0jt) or worse -- taken from the manufacturers' claims. There were no measurements to verify the claims/assumptions and no real-life data was given.

    If not a full comparative review, I expected to see at least a short comparison of measured performance. Especially since the actual user experience reported on various forums greatly varies.

    After reading the article, I still have no idea how the RECOMMENDED U30jc, U35jc, UL30jt, 3820tg and X201 compare to each other in terms of performance and battery life.

    Display quality was also glossed over. The article mentioned that most displays were bad but no mention was made which are better/worse than others.

    All in all, I got the impression that some of the recommendations were based on press releases.

    Vivek, can you get your hands on these models and give us some actual numbers?

    Best regards,
    Alex.

    P.S.,
    Another minor thing that I'd like to mention: The PL?0jt (the "business" version of the UL?0jt) is apparently available with matte displays.
    Reply
  • SongEmu - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I was impressed with the looks of the new HP Envy line, and was hoping they'd turned a new leaf in thermal management as well... guess not. Reply
  • Munna2002 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Thanks for a great list, but I still don't see a laptop that fits all of my criteria.

    1) Non-ULV i5/i7
    2) Optimus technology
    3) 13-15" screens
    4) Decent non-Intel graphics card for light gaming
    5) Pointing stick
    6) (*Optional*) About 6 hours of battery life

    The closest match that I see are Thinkpads T410, HP Elitebook 8440p, and Dell Latitude E6410. (but these don't have Optimus, and T410 has really bad battery life)

    Suggestions anyone?
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    All of the Asus U30/33/35 line is sold elsewhere with Core i5 processors. If you were so inclined, you could technically just buy a Core i5 or i7 processor and swap it in yourself. Or there's always the Sony Z.....LOL.

    Optimus is still in the ramping up stages, only a few makers have had the chance to use it by now, so give it a few months and as more of the fall releases hit, there should definitely be at least a few that fit your needs.
    Reply
  • sam333 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I've been reading anandtech for quite some time and I've always felt that you are biased towards Intel giving them the publicity and advertising.
    Abt time if you gave a fair comparison.
    Reply
  • rhys006 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the post. I'm curious why you chose to flag 'heat' as an issue for the Envy 14? The developers realized that the previous versions had short comings in this area and modified the unit accordingly. I've been following owner forums since the Envy 14 came out and excessive heat has not been cited as an issue.

    Do you have more intel than we do?
    Reply
  • batterycompanycomau - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    1. Most of the new Laptop Battery at the factory are set to sleep mode, the first boot with only about 5% of the electricity. You should not use an external power supply at this time, let the battery exhausted, until shutdown, then switch on the external ac adapter and the first charge had better over 15 hours. After fully charged, you should charge after the exhaustion of batter, the time of the second and third charge should be more than 12 hours, in order to activate TOSHIBA Laptop Battery and lay a good foundation for future use.
    2. TOSHIBA battery life is measured in terms of the number of charging and discharging. Do not enable the TOSHIBA Laptop Battery unless it is necessary, if you don't use the battery for a long time, you should charge it to about half full and place in a cool place to keep. If you enable the TOSHIBA battery, you should run out of power after the charging, and do not plug in the AC power before exhausted. When the TOSHIBA Laptop Battery fully charged, you should disconnect the AC input because overcharge will make the TOSHIBA battery overheat and that will shorten the TOSHIBA battery life.
    3. Generally speaking, nowadays the laptop are with intelligent TOSHIBA battery protection, the TOSHIBA Laptop Battery will not be damaged due to normal operation, but still may damaged for the life-span of travelmate battery or other special reasons.
    4. Lithium-ion TOSHIBA Laptop Battery should fast charge in constant current and then switch to slow charge in constant voltage when the voltage reaches a certain value. Usually the laptop doesn't have a strictly constant-current charge monitoring device. Charge current will turn small when system load large and vice versa, the current is decided by the TOSHIBA AC adapter power margin, it is obviously.
    5. Discharge in a current as small as possible, the action is to slow down the CPU, stop the hard disk, adjust the screen to the most dark, and then do not run any programs until the laptop automatically shut down. The reason to emphasize the small current discharging is to prevent the TOSHIBA laptop premature detect the Laptop Battery voltage shortage.

    www battery-company com au
    Reply
  • matt b - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Given that numerous laptops 13.3 inchs and smaller are shipping with AMD nile dual core processors (K325 and K625), can we get a review of these? You must have some in your labs b/c you say that they still fall short of the Intel CULV processors on battery life. Can we see some actual reviews from Anandtech? I've seen mixed reviews on the internet. Toshiba has a 13.3 with the k625 that they claim gets over 6 hours of battery life. The k625 does not have bad performance, and in actual games (versus benchmarks like PC Vantage that Anandtech has shown that Intel's latest drivers have broken) the ATI 4225 cards are faster than Intel's. The price is right too. I'd like to see a i3 or CULV comparison using the same battery (one just not rated the same) versus the K625.
    My take from seeing the number of design wins was that Nile must be pretty impressive.
    Reply

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