Making the Case for Bling

Despite every fiber of my being arguing to the contrary, I was unfortunately wholly won over by Alienware's aesthetic with the M17x R3. It's the age old conflict...you don't want something gaudy, but then you realize you can change the keyboard's backlighting to a wide variety of pretty colors. And dude...it even glows out of the vents. And the alien head on the lid, it glows! And you can configure the colors for all of these, choosing from pretty much the entire rainbow! Soon you feel like a gibbering moron and begin to question your own taste.

But there's something to the design of the M17x R3. First off, the entire unit is basically one color, a dark, gunmetal gray (though you can order yours in "nebula red.") The overwhelming majority of the surfaces of the M17x R3 are an incredibly comfortable rubberized plastic surface, with glossy plastic used sparingly and fairly intelligently deployed. The lid has soft contours, a choice that extends to every surface of the notebook.

When you flip it open, you'll see the first instance of gloss, but it isn't too alarming. The screen is a glossy panel, and rather than have a bezel there's simply a single glossy surface from edge to edge. It all winds up being fairly reflective which is no doubt going to disturb at least a few of you, but on a system targeted at gamers (read: consumers with disposable income) it's understandable. The only other glossy surfaces are around the speaker grilles in the front of the notebook, but these are unlikely to see any finger traffic and the mild accent is appropriate.

Honestly, it's when you get to the keyboard, media buttons, and touchpad that you really see Alienware blow Clevo out of the water. The keyboard on the M17x R3 is a very smart design, making effective use of the 17.3" form factor's ample real estate. It isn't cramped and the 10-key is appropriately standardized, and the whole thing is backlit (once again, you can choose the color of backlighting.) The keys also share the comfortable rubberized surface texture of the rest of the notebook. My only complaint here is that there's a little bit of flex under the keyboard that seems to correspond with the three different backlighting zones.

The touchpad is just as pleasant to use. Surface friction is just right, and the mouse buttons offer the appropriate amount of tactile feedback without being audible.

Ultimately the M17x R3 seems a little glitzy or gaudy at first, but actually using it and getting a feel for it pays dividends. There was some clear thought put into the user experience; configurable backlighting may seem silly, but it's one more way for the end user to personalize the notebook for him or herself. Given the overall solid build quality, powerful components, and comfortable keyboard, it's just one more thing that improves the experience...no corners were cut.

Introducing the Alienware M17x R3 Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I can add quite a few more concerns. All that weight in the screen would make it top-heavy. Also, the screen would now need to be an inch thick with a quarter inch thick keyboard. Yay? Maybe they should just make the whole bottom of the laptop aluminum and then use it as part of the heat sink, and then they could somehow make the whole laptop a lot thinner. Wait... Apple tried this with the MBP 17 and while it's thin, it also runs extremely hot and it has a GPU that's 1/3 as potent as the 6970M. Incidentally, the 6970M can draw up to 100W, give or take, so you're going to need a lot of airflow and heatsink to dissipate all that heat.

    If you want a thin, light, and inexpensive gaming laptop, you're right: they don't exist. Given current technology and the laws of physics, such a laptop simply can't exist. In ten years when CPUs and GPUs are a lot more powerful, software will be more demanding as well and such a design will continue to not exist.

    If you still don't think that's correct, take tablets as an example: the Tegra 2 stuff puts all of that performance into a package that's less than a centimeter thick, and the iPad 2 is similar and it's even faster! But how much performance are we really talking about? The CPUs in these tablets are slower than a dual-core Atom. Looking at the iPad 2 for instance, in Geekbench an i7-2720QM is generally anywhere from 5-10X faster on single-threaded tests, and 15-40X faster on multi-threaded tests. In general, it's easily more than an order of magnitude faster.

    The GPU is a similar story: 8 "shader cores" is basically what you get -- never mind that these are DX9 cores compared to modern DX11 cores on the PC stuff. Peak performance, the 543MP2 at 300MHz is capable of around 19.2GFLOPS. By comparison, NVIDIA's GTX 460M is capable of 518.4GFLOPS (27 times faster!), and the 6970M tested here can hit a whopping 1305.6GFLOPS.

    So yes, power requirements are higher, and thus size requirements are higher, but we're looking at roughly 20 times the CPU performance in multi-threaded workloads and over 50 times the GPU performance. What does this have to do with your "put the hot components in the screen" idea? Mostly I'm hoping to show you that just because you can get a lot of "stuff" into a tablet like the iPad 2, there's a reason the cooling system in a notebook like the M17x weighs a couple pounds and has a large fan: it's because it has to have it.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I've had the same idea, except I wouldn't put the GPU/CPU behind the lid, I'd just run a couple of flexible heatpipes through the hinges to a passive radiator built into the LCD cover. The point wouldn't be to create a significant amount of additional cooling, though. The surface area of a lid with reasonable physical properties (i.e. not too heavy and without lots of delicate fins) would only be a small fraction of the cooling capability of a typical fan driven cooling system. The point of such a system would instead be to allow the laptop to run completely silent at light to moderate loads, then spin up a typical fan cooling setup when stressed. Reply
  • Thale - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Hold S, D, and then press the space bar on an M17x R3. You won't jump/roll/ do whatever else the combination would usually do. It's mildly annoying for FPS style games or WoW, and an absolute killer for overhead style games that use WASD controls.

    For a quick example off the top of my head, it makes some sections of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light unplayable (anywhere where you need to make a jump while running down+right).

    Dell's priorities seem to lie more with charging a lot for silly lights than making a real game machine if they can't even be bothered to pay extra attention to rollover for the usual 'gaming cluster' of keys.
    Reply
  • colinw - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I'd love to see how this thing stacks up against a Dell Precision M6600. The prices are similar for high-spec machines, but I do love the aesthetics of the Precision line, as well as their general high quality. They make surprisingly able gaming machines. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    We reviewed the M6500 a while back; the M6600 is mostly the same design with a few upgrades on the hardware. We won't get into upgrade pricing on the RAM and HDDs, because Dell really rips you off there ($330 to upgrade to 8GB RAM, and another $420 to go from a single 250GB HDD to two 500GB HDDs!). If you grab an M6600 with the current sale, though, you can get the FirePro M8900 (basically a workstation version of the 6970M), 2GB RAM, and a single HDD with the anti-glare 1080p LCD for $1924. That includes a 3-year warranty as well.

    Add in your own RAM for $73 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8... a high-performance SSD for $470 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8... and even a single large HDD for $90 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8... That would bring the total up to around $2600, with a much higher performance SSD + HDD setup.
    Reply
  • colinw - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Yeah, when I was looking at the configurations I definitely counted on buying a few after-market upgrades from newegg. Rather ridiculous upgrade prices.

    As you spec'd it, it's a pretty good system for $2600!

    But as far as I can tell they don't feature switchable graphics? I haven't seen any reviews of the SNB M6600 yet, so I'm not sure. Battery life won't be quite so happy with the M8900 in use all the time.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Yes, Dell does charge a bit for the M line workstations. These are, however, workstations and not gaming laptops. As you've suggested buying the minimum and upgrading it yourself, if you're up to the task, is far far less expensive. Although I'm an Engineer and not an IT person, I upgrade the PCs and laptops to save our department money all the time hahaha Can use the savings for a free lunch, all win-win :D Reply
  • ggathagan - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Not sure if it's universal, but everything I've ever owned with that "incredibly comfortable rubberized plastic surface" turned into "incredibly sticky dirt/dust magnet surface" in a year or so.
    Given the heat this can put out, I wouldn't be surprised if it starts feeling tacky in 6 months or so.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Yea, I know what you're thinking hehe. I have my R2 for about a year now and it runs pretty much 24/7. Aside from the accumulated dust balls and water/soda spilling it still looks like brand new. I am assuming the R3 differes little btw. Plus, taking it apart isn't that difficult which makes cleaning easier than on a desktop. Reply
  • Brad4 - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Two reasons why I won't buy this laptop.

    1. The most important reason is the resolution. 10x9 resolution laptops are horrible and are only good for watching movies.

    2. The laptop looks like it is marketed for young teenagers. How about a nice laptop without the silly lights?
    Reply

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