Alienware's Medium-Sized Monster

Understanding that many users would just as soon want to be able to game on the go without having to lug a ten pound land monster with them, Alienware offers the M14x, a notebook that offers portable performance without breaking your back in the process. Featuring support for quad-core Sandy Bridge mobile processors and a reasonably fast GeForce GT 555M, the M14x promises an awful lot of power in a reasonably small package. But at what cost?

This review continues our coverage of Alienware's current mobile lineup, coverage that began with the M17x R3. We also have the M11x R3 in-house and that review is forthcoming, and the M18x is due for review soon. The M14x is basically Alienware's "mainstream" offering for users who don't want a giant gaming machine but aren't interested in going with their pint-sized M11x R3. On paper at least, there's an awful lot to recommend it.

Alienware M14x Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
(4x2.0GHz + HTT, 2.9GHz Turbo, 32nm, 6MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 2x2GB Hynix DDR3-1600 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M 3GB DDR3
(144 CUDA cores, 590MHz/1180MHz/1.8GHz core/shader/memory clocks, 192-bit memory bus)
Display 14" LED Glossy 16:9 900p (1600x900)
SEC544B
Hard Drive(s) Samsung SpinPoint MP4 500GB 7200-RPM HDD
Optical Drive Slot-loading DVD+/-RW Combo (HL-DT-ST GS30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Internal WirelessHD
Audio Realtek ALC665 HD Audio
Klipsch 2.1 speakers
Mic and two headphone jacks
Battery 8-Cell, 14.8V, 63Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 3.0
Ethernet
Kensington lock
Left Side VGA
HDMI
Mini-DisplayPort
USB 2.0 charging port
Mic and two headphone jacks
MMC/SD/MS reader
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.27" x 10.17" x 1.49" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.45 lbs
Extras 2MP Webcam
82-key backlit keyboard
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Internal WirelessHD
Configurable lighting
Klipsch audio with subwoofer
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,099
Price as configured: $1,543

Just by looking at the specs it should be reasonably clear the M14x is potentially one of the fastest, if not the fastest, 14-inch notebooks available. It weighs an extra pound for the privilege, but Alienware has specced it with performance in mind, period. The Intel Core i7-2630QM in our review unit is actually the second-slowest processor you can order the M14x with, and there's only one dual-core option: the i5-2410M. Strapped to the integrated memory controller is 4GB of DDR3-1600, configurable up to 8GB.

On the GPU side we have NVIDIA's mobile branding nightmare, the GeForce GT 555M. In our recent mobile graphics guide we cited two completely different GPUs shipped as the GT 555M, but in the case of the M14x we seem to have the more desirable version. This one comes with 144 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores and a frankly excessive 3GB of DDR3 strapped to a 192-bit memory bus. That extra 1.5GB of DDR3 is a $100 upgrade and isn't liable to bring any real improvement in performance, so when custom ordering you'll probably want to just stick with the stock 1.5GB. The GT 555M comes clocked at 590MHz on the core and 1180MHz on the shaders, and the DDR3 runs at an effective 1.8GHz for 43.2GB/s of bandwidth. (For the record, the GDDR5 version offers slightly more bandwidth and slightly less compute, but the deal breaker is that it only has 4 ROPs.) As part of NVIDIA's 500M series, the GT 555M also supports Optimus graphics-switching technology, which Alienware puts to good use.

The rest of the M14x is delightfully modern, sporting two USB 3.0 ports, a slot-loading DVD+/-RW drive, and a keyboard with color-configurable backlighting. Probably the biggest perk you can get from the M14x may not even be the powerful underlying hardware, but the 1600x900 resolution on a 14" screen. Having spent some time with this notebook, the biggest shame is that this is the exception and not the rule.

Great Looks, But Some Things Shouldn't Be Universal
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  • cknobman - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Hmm Sony C' series laptops are 14' with 1600x900 panels and offer ATI 6630 graphics in them.

    Last year I bought the CW series before they discontinued them which was a 14' 1600x900 panel and came with Nvidia 330m graphics.

    There are other (and cheaper) options out there besides dellienware.
    Reply
  • etamin - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    A couple friends asked me to look into a few portable laptops for them the past week and I spent some time looking for hi-res options on 14" models. The only other notebook I found with a 1600x900 screen was the HP Elitebook 8460p which, in my opinion, is the best business notebook for $1500. It's absurd that most vendors stop at 1366x768 even on their 15.6" models. Reply
  • lunarx3dfx - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I bought mine on release day, and I love it. At the time that I ordered mine the i5 wasn't even an option cpu wise, but I have found that if you keep the GPU in check (aka don't use it when not needed) the fan noise isn't bad at all. On my unit the fan usually only runs for a few seconds at a time unless I'm gaming, and I haven't noticed the laptop getting all that hot. I agree that the cooling could definitely be better.

    Also, on the issue of media playback. I'd be willing to bet that the GPU was kicking in automatically. By default the optimus settings use the GPU for media players. I went in and set mine to use the Intel GPU, and my media playback battery life went to well over 3 hours.

    Just a suggestion. To the person that mentioned nvidia's drivers not working, you are right. However, it took them a little while to support the m11x R2 after its release as well. Just give it time and they will add support. Until then, modded inf's aren't hard to find.

    All in all, I thoroughly enjoy my m14x, and I'm glad that someone finally stated what I stated in my video review of the m14x on youtube about the memory options for the GPU. I've gotten flamed quite a bit there because I said that the 3 GB option was excessive and not necessary, and would provide no performance improvement.

    Thanks again, for a great review.
    Reply
  • StrangerGuy - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Easy. Replace the useless internal optical drive with another HSF. Problem solved.

    I'm not even sure why they want to squeeze in an ODD in an laptop intended for pure GAMING performance. What a dumb decision.
    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I still don't like the looks on these things-wish you could just get them boxy. The M15x had defective audio-either out of the box, or often within a year.

    Hopefully that's fixed on this...but it has Floptimus and a mid-range GPU... If it looked more normal, and didn't use Floptimus, they'd have something...
    Reply
  • lunarx3dfx - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    What's wrong with optimus? It does exactly what it's supposed to do very well. Also, how would you expect them to fit a high end GPU into a package that small? The purpose of the m14x is to meet those of us who want a portable laptop that can still play games. For that it works very well. Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Regardless whether you want portable or not, when a "GT" 555M can't even outperform an ancient 460M there is a HUGE problem with the industry as a whole. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    The 400M and 500M series are essentially equal, so you "ancient 460M" isn't really that old -- I first tested the 460M in November last year, so it's perhaps nine months old now. (http://www.anandtech.com/show/3998/)

    The second problem is that the GT line has always been the slower (mainstream) line from NVIDIA, while the GTX is for the enthusiast/high performance sector. So, it's really no surprise at all that the fastest current "mainstream" part is slower than the previous generation (aka, "not-speed-bumped") "enthusiast" part. It's like saying it's a HUGE problem that the GT 555M isn't faster than the GTX 560M; it's not supposed to be. If the GT 555M was slower than the GT 445M, then we'd have something to complain about. Not that the memory configuration and different core types isn't a big enough issue with the GT 555M!
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Please. Next you're going to be telling us that the brand new GT520 is a lot slower than the ancient GTX480. And don't even get me STARTED on the MX460/GTX460 flotilla of LIES and ICE CREAM.

    Damn you, industry! Damn you to Hades!
    Reply
  • FH123 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Dustin, you wrote: "The 1600x900 resolution is frankly vastly preferable to the dire 1366x768 resolution invariably employed by notebooks in the 14" class. 1366x768 is just cramped, and on a 15" notebook it's an eyesore."

    I wonder could you not make such blanket statements about high resolution. I completely agree with complaints about poor contrast in todays screens and am glad you're hammering that message home every chance you get. However high DPI is a problem for some of us with less good eye-sight. Windows was designed in an era of 90dpi screens and this still shows. Even with Windows 7 I frequently run across text in some software, some Windows screen or some web-site that won't scale or is blurry as a result. As long as this is the case, high DPI is a strain for me. I particularly take issue with your use of the word "eyesore", as this word applies completely the other way round in my case. It's the high DPI screens that cause my eyes to be sore. As these are normally the premium screens that also have at least half-decent contrast, I am caught between a rock and a hard place. Going with a poor contrast low DPI screen or a good contrast high DPI screen is a toss-up for me. What I really want is a good contrast low DPI screen. Windows 8 looks to change the UI experience yet again, but be under no illusion that it still needs to run all the legacy stuff out there, so I don't see this situation changing for many years yet.

    By the way I have a driving license and naturally had to pass an eye test for that. I do not consider myself disabled and I can work with high DPI screens, if I have to. I simply prefer high contrast, low DPI screens. Going back to my old 4:3, XGA 14" notebook or 19" 1280x1024 (86dpi, PVA) desktop screen is always a relief.
    Reply

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