Introducing an Ultraportable Demon

We've been keeping track of Alienware's M11x series since the very first one landed and have had the privilege of testing each one. The move from Penryn to Arrandale in the R2 netted a substantial boost in performance at the cost of some battery life, though that issue was mitigated somewhat by the introduction of NVIDIA's Optimus graphics switching, replacing the more finicky software-based GPU switching in the first generation model. With the vastly improved power consumption and efficiency of Sandy Bridge, do we have a true successor to the last two models?

From first impressions, it certainly looks that way. Everything in the M11x R3 has gotten a healthy boost--everything, that is, except the screen. So spoiler alert there: the one big change we were hoping for, our last major complaint about the M11x in the R2, still remains present in the R3. Yet the move from Arrandale to Sandy Bridge has yielded dividends in other notebooks, and the GPU has received a stellar upgrade from the old GeForce GT 335M. And as a final bonus, Alienware is packing USB 3.0 in the R3.

Alienware M11x R3 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2617M
(2x1.5GHz + HTT, 32nm, 4MB L3, Turbo to 2.6GHz, 17W)
Chipset Intel QS67
Memory 2x4GB Hynix DDR3-1333 (Max 2x8GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M 2GB DDR3
(96 CUDA Cores, 672MHz/1344MHz/1.8GHz core/shader/memory clocks, 128-bit memory bus)
Display 11.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
(AU Optronics AUO305C Panel)
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus 7200.5 500GB 7200-RPM HDD
Optical Drive -
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 802.11a/b/g/n
Audio Realtek ALC665 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Mic and dual headphone jacks
Battery 8-Cell, 14.8V, 63Wh battery
Front Side Speakers
Left Side Kensington lock
DisplayPort
HDMI
USB 2.0 (Chargeable)
Ethernet
MMC/SD/MS Reader
4-pin FireWire
Right Side Dual headphone, mic jacks
2x USB 3.0
Back Side AC adaptor
Exhaust vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 11.25" x 9.19" x 1.29" (WxDxH)
Weight 4.4 lbs
Extras 2MP webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB charging
Klipsch speakers
RGB configurable backlit 82-key keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited warranty (available up to four years)
Pricing Starting at $999
Priced as configured: $1,419

Much like in our review of the Alienware M14x, right out the gate I'll tell you that most of the upgrades to the base system aren't going to seem worth it. Our review unit comes equipped with the fastest processor Dell makes available in the M11x R3, the Intel Core i7-2617M. For just a 17W TDP it's a remarkably capable piece of kit, able to turbo up to 2.3GHz on both cores or 2.6GHz on a single core, and it promises to be a major improvement on the i7-640UM the previous generation sported. The alternative choice, for $200 less, is the i5-2537M, which takes a 300MHz hit to both turbo clocks, comes with a slightly slower 1.4GHz nominal clock, and 1MB less of L3 cache. Given the low resolution screen, it's hard to really swallow a $200 upgrade to the faster i7.

That's especially true when you realize the CPU and GPU are tied together into two specific combinations: you can get either the i7-2617M and 2GB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M, or the i5-2537M and 1GB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M. That extra gigabyte of video memory is a waste on a part like the GT 540M, whose 96 CUDA cores and 128-bit memory bus are ill-equipped to take advantage of the extra space. The 540M ships at spec, with 672MHz on the core, 1344MHz on the shaders, and an effective 1.8GHz on the DDR3. This is a massive improvement on the GT 335M that the M11x R2 shipped with, running more than 200MHz faster on the core while offering an additional 24 shaders. It also brings support for DirectX 11 and has performance around the AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5650, just as we requested in our review of the R2.

The last notable upgrade is the inclusion of USB 3.0: the two USB ports on the right side of the M11x R3 are now USB 3.0 instead of the 2.0 used in the last generation.

Essentially what we're left with is a very healthy improvement to the system itself along with better connectivity. Unfortunately we're still missing out on the better screen--something Alienware otherwise gets right with their M14x, M17x and M18x. Other than the heavy rejiggering of the M11x R3's insides, though, the shell itself remains unchanged and in line with the rest of Alienware's notebooks: glossy black accents on the speaker grilles along with edge-to-edge gloss for the screen, a backlit keyboard, and a smooth rubberized texture on the plastic shell. The design has gone largely unchanged from the very first iteration, so our thoughts there still apply. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and while I personally still take some issue with the intake on the bottom of the notebook, at least the parts included in this version should generate less heat than the two previous generations.

The Fastest Ultraportable on the Block
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  • shangshang - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    gaming laptop is so out of fashion at this point. I'll take the ipad2 toy anyday. Reply
  • theda3g0 - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    "out of fashion"?? What does fashion have to do with it? This is the most functional ultra-portable gaming laptop available on the market. It's about function, not fashion. (though the lights and flashy gimmicks might imply otherwise) Reply
  • NicodemusMM - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Actually for certain aspects the light are functional.. at least one of them. I've run into situations where such a small form factor and a lighted keyboard are very handy. Mine gets used very little for gaming, but as a PC to interface with machines that may be in dark, enclosed areas it's paid for itself many times over.

    ~ Nicodemus
    Reply
  • The0ne - Monday, July 25, 2011 - link

    Fashion and gaming laptop? Are you serious? Ipad2 over a gaming laptop? To begin comparing the two together? Just wow...

    Alienware is their trademark, hence the keyword "ALIEN". If you want a non-alien gaming laptop go Asus, Clevo and what not. Why must there always be someone that don't understand how trademarks and logo's work.
    Reply
  • sulhogar - Saturday, August 27, 2011 - link

    Being in fashion isn't the most important thing for everyone. Some of us have to find a portable gaming laptop to bring with them on a submarine, where space is limited. Reply
  • redchar - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Ever since the r1, I've seen the m11x as the only laptop that makes sense (for my needs). Most of the benefits of both a netbook and a full-sized laptop, without the drawbacks of each. You get around the battery life you would expect from a netbook or similar, at not much larger than the size of a netbook, too, but yet you get enough power to do everything you might want to do on a mobile device. Sure, you would not be getting top performance for autocad or some compute-heavy professional work, but that's not really the point of most laptops - and people who wish to do that should be looking for a monster-sized desktop replacement style laptop. Also unless someone really needs to go and max crysis 2 output to an external display, the m11xr3 should provide an excellent mobile experience, be it a college laptop for note-taking (would benefit from relative portability and battery life), a movie-playing computer on the go or to squeeze some gaming in, I think the m11x series is just great. It may not be the prettiest device (well, the r1 grew on me over time, it's not as ugly as I originally thought), but I like to recommend the m11x to my friends and family - unless they are opposed to such a small device, and just need something a bit bigger. Reply
  • failquail - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    I broadly agree with most of that.

    Never could get past the incredible uglyness of the chassis though.

    In the end i went for the lower specced Lenovo x100e and spent the price difference on a SSD for it.
    Netbook size and weight chassis, but speed of a larger notebook. (would love the newer fusion-based versions for my next one though)
    Reply
  • redchar - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    I was reluctant to buy the r1 at first, but when I looked around I could find nothing that suited me better - I wanted something netbook-sized, with long life, but as powerful as possible, for around $1000. At first I thought it looked like some riced-up computer-equivalent of a honda civic, but over the months I've grown used to the look. The LED lights can be disabled completely, or enabled for individual areas. If you disable the lights for all but the keyboard, and have the keyboard LEDs to be white, it looks a lot less ugly. With all lights off, and the device closed, it doesn't look as ugly as I used to think. A small, mostly smooth black laptop if you think about it - a lot less uglier than some of the previous alienware designs with crazy ribs on the lid. It reminds me a bit of a ferrari, actually. You know - overall it will certainly stick out, but as long as you don't go out of your way to enable all the LEDs to make it look like a kids civic, the curves aren't too bad, or at least I can put up with them since the m11x has so many other great features.

    I'm not sure that I ever looked for the lenovo x100e when I was searching for a machine of that size. It certainly looks like a fine replacement for a netbook, and is a bit more visually appealing than the m11x, but I think I prefer the bit of ugliness associated with the m11x than to being stuck with an athlon neo. My previous laptop was an ion netbook - wouldn't feel like too much of an upgrade.
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Monday, July 25, 2011 - link

    The only thing I'd like to see more of was touched on in the article. In my Dell M1530, I have an OCZ SSD, which I rather like the overall speed that it brings to the system, but I dislike the fact that I'm stuck with just a 120GB SSD. To get a laptop with two HDD bays, I've found that you typically have to go with a 17" laptop or larger.

    I wouldn't mind the 14" or 15" models with an option to remove the optical drive in lieu of another HDD. Right now, I'm toting around a WD Elements SE 500GB HDD as my secondary drive for my laptop.
    Reply
  • FlyBri - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Seriously, I don't get it. Can we please have a few laptop manufacturers give us consumers some high end displays to choose from? Specifically for me, I want more choices when it comes to 15.6" laptops with an option for a high quality 1080p, where the rest of the laptop is also high end as well.

    But even if it's not 1080p, many of the screens on laptops are just plain sh*t. Look at all the reviews here on AnandTech...all you see in the "display" section of reviews is how bad most of these laptop screen are. As much as I hate to say it, this is where Apple truly shines. You get a high end display, and the rest of the laptop also feels extremely high end and well built. The Samsung Series 9 is finally starting a trend, and the new Dell (bleh, hate Dell), but come on HP, Acer, Asus, etc....GET WITH IT!
    Reply

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