Introducing the Alienware M17x R3

We've had our hands on quite a few gaming notebooks here, but most of the time they're Clevo-based machines. These aren't necessarily bad notebooks; they're fast, typically have good screens, and they get the job done. Yet they also have some persisting drawbacks: build quality isn't often that hot, the battery is a glorified UPS system, and they feature some of the worst keyboards on the market. ASUS, MSI, Toshiba, and HP all offer fairly compelling alternatives, and today Alienware brings us a particularly interesting contender in the form of the M17x R3.

Truth be told, I was ambivalent about laying hands on the M17x R3. Gaming notebooks can tend to be gaudy affairs, and Alienware's notebooks (at least on the shelf) are practically exemplars of this goofy kind of excess. But there's something to be said for a little bling, and if the whole thing feels right, who's to really complain if it looks like the gaming equivalent of a racecar bed?

Performance-wise, it's definitely going to feel right. Alienware has upgraded the M17x R3 with Sandy Bridge processors, and graphics options start at the AMD Radeon HD 6870M, upgradeable to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M. Or you can go for the big daddy like our review sample has: the AMD Radeon HD 6970M.

Alienware M17x R3 Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-2720QM
(4x2.2GHz + HTT, 3.3GHz Turbo, 32nm, 6MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 4x2GB Hynix DDR3-1333 (Max 4x4GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB GDDR5
(960 stream processors, 680MHz/3.6GHz core/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
LG Philips LGD 02DA
Hard Drive(s) 2x Seagate Momentus 750GB 7200-RPM HDD in RAID 0
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (HL-DT-ST CA30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Internal WirelessHD (with external receiver included)
Audio IDT 92HD73C1 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Battery 9-Cell, 11.1V, 90Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side MMC/SD/MS Flash reader
Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 2.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
HDMI in
Left Side Kensington lock
VGA
HDMI
Mini-DisplayPort
eSATA/USB combo port
2x USB 3.0
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.14" x 11.96" x 1.75-1.77" (WxDxH)
Weight ~9.39 lbs
Extras 3MP Webcam
Backlit keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Internal WirelessHD
Configurable lighting
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,499
Price as configured: $2,503

The Sandy Bridge processor at the heart is the major part of this refresh of the M17x. You can custom order all the way up to the Intel Core i7-2820QM (the 55-watt i7-2920XM isn't available), but the i7-2720QM presents a nice balance of performance and value. With a 2.2GHz nominal clock rate capable of turbo-ing up to 3.3GHz on a single core (or 3GHz on all four cores), the i7-2720QM should offer more than enough processing horsepower. Alienware also joins four DIMM slots instead of two to the i7's memory controller allowing for a maximum of 16GB of memory, enough to get some serious work done.

Handling graphics duties is the AMD Radeon HD 6970M, basically a mobile version of the desktop Radeon HD 6850. This is arguably the fastest mobile GPU currently available, duking it out with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 485M for the top slot. It features 960 stream processors, a 680MHz core clock, and 2GB of GDDR5 clocked to an effective 3.6GHz on a 256-bit bus for a staggering 115.2 GB/sec of memory bandwidth. The M17x R3 also supports GPU switching, allowing you to switch to the IGP while on the battery to substantially improve running time. Unfortunately the solution here isn't quite as automatic or seamless as NVIDIA's Optimus, but it gets the job done.

The M17x R3 sports two drive bays, but the storage options offered on the Dell website leave something to be desired. The default configuration is a pair of 320GB, 7200-RPM hard drives in RAID 0 and in fact outside of a single 256GB SSD option, everything is RAID 0. Understanding that the M17x R3 should be spending most of its life on your desktop, this is nonetheless a disappointing set of options. Ideally you'd want an SSD serving as the boot drive and a HDD handling mass storage duties. I use a RAID 0 on my desktop for my scratch video drive and gaming drive, but honestly for the latter it's not a substantial improvement. In a notebook, even one that will live its life on flat surfaces, this is still a questionable choice.

From here there are three fairly sizable selling points for the M17x R3: HDMI in, wireless display, and 3D. The HDMI input is only 1.3 and can't support 3D should you configure the M17x with the 120Hz 3D screen option, but for connecting your PS3 or Xbox 360 it's sufficient and works basically as a passthrough to the laptop screen. The built-in wireless display connectivity isn't tied to Intel's Wi-Di but instead uses WiHD. Like most wireless display technologies, though, I had some trouble getting this one working right. While Vivek is a big fan of things like Intel's Wi-Di, I'm not really sold on it; you still have to connect a receiver box to your TV's HDMI port, and frankly, if you can afford to buy this notebook, you can afford to buy a dedicated blu-ray player with Netflix and Hulu functionality built in. Finally, there's a 120Hz 3D-capable panel option for those so inclined, but unfortunately our review unit didn't include it so there's no way to test it.

Making the Case for Bling
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  • Brad4 - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    In the above message I intended to complain about 16x9 screen resolutions. Unfortunately, if someone wants a really nice laptop with a 16x10 resolution, the macbook pro is the only option. I will probably purchase the 17" mbp and install win7. Reply
  • Uritziel - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    So for that 1080 -> 1200 small jump into the less common format, you're willing to live with the greatly reduced GPU and halved RAM, while paying separately for the Win 7 license? Those extra pixels must mean a lot to you. Too bad they'll drag the 6750M down even further... Reply
  • Brad4 - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    That is correct. Unfortunately, it is the only option I'm left with. Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Me too. It's not just a change of 1200 pixels - its a general reduction of the entire screen size. it feels like I'm looking through a slit with a 16x9 laptop. I'm not sure I want a MBP, but there's not too many other options out there now.
    I run a lot of VMs, and really need the vertical space.
    Reply
  • cjl - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    Why not just get a nice external monitor for use most of the time? That gives you even more space and resolution (potentially) than the MBP, while retaining the performance advantage of the Alienware. Reply
  • Uritziel - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    I just figured, as a DTR, you could live w/ the 16:9 for the built-in monitor and just get a nice, external, 16:10, giant, productivity monitor. But, if that's not an option for your use case, I guess you're kinda stuck :\ Reply
  • Spazweasel - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    People who attach their self-worth and identity to what hardware they buy have no worth or importance of their own. Without the object of their hatred or the brand they've decided to ride the coattails of, they dry up and blow away.

    It's just hardware, dumbasses. The logo on it has no virtue or evil, no matter what that logo is. If it's evil you want, how about Dell's deliberate campaign of lies to cover up the extreme failure rate of their Optimus computers? Where's the outrage over that? Oh yeah, this isn't about truth. It's about shoring up a shattered self-esteem which actually deserves to be shattered. Haters gonna hate, and that's what makes them inferior.

    Impotence + income jealousy + never having done anything to be proud of = logo hater.
    Reply
  • k1ckass - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I think you mean Optiplex, Optimus is an Nvidia technology... Reply
  • RoninX - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    I'm always impressed by the thoroughness of the Anandtech reviews compared to those of other popular tech blogs, and the M17x looks very nice to me (though I'd probably go with a smaller screen).

    One thing I would like to see in reviews of gaming/high-end laptops is an estimate of battery life while gaming. I know a lot of people use these as desktop replacements, but I already have a high-end gaming rig for home (i7-2600k + GTX570 + SSDs, etc.). However, I do a lot of traveling for business, and the only reason I would buy a gaming laptop is for playing games while waiting for flights (on battery) as well as at the hotel (on AC). This can turn "OMG, not another delay!" to "Oh well, back to gaming."

    I recently purchased a Sandy Bridge Dell XPS 15 L502x, so I'm not in the market right now, but I like to keep up with what's coming down the pike. While some people would say that it's impossible to play high-end games for any significant time on battery power, that's not true. I get around 90 minutes of gaming on my XPS 15, and I carry a spare battery, so that gives me up to 3 hours, which is usually enough to deal with layovers as well as airport delays.

    So, even though battery gaming time may be limited on any high-end laptop, the difference between, say, 90 minutes (one spare battery), 60 minutes (two spare batteries), and 30 minutes (five (!) spare batteries) can be significant. I would find this information very useful, and I'm guessing that others would as well.

    Thanks...
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Your request isn't unreasonable and I know Jarred's dabbled in pulling those kinds of numbers. The problem I've seen is that sometimes notebooks running on the battery, regardless of whatever the power setting is, don't perform quite as fast as they would if they were plugged into the wall. So you wind up having to add a second metric: you're testing gaming running time on the battery, and you're testing performance on the battery.

    Honestly I think anyone wanting to game while on battery power would be best served just buying a Llano-based notebook. Is it going to be as fast as a Sandy Bridge-based one? No, but it's going to last a heck of a lot longer. Jarred ran the Llano test unit through a loop of 3DMark06 to see how long it would run gaming, and he got nearly three hours of running time.
    Reply

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