Dell Alienware M11x review
A portable laptop that can play Crysis for almost two hours on battery power is almost unbelievable, but it's tragically let down by the poor screen
Review Date: 17 Aug 2010
Price when reviewed: £1,464
Reviewed By: Barry de la Rosa
Dell's Alienware brand is known for its outrageous gaming laptops and, despite its diminutive size, the M11x is still worthy of the adjective. While Windows performance was average for a laptop, it has a dedicated graphics card capable of 30fps in Call of Duty 4.
If you switch to the graphics chip that's built into the Core i5 processor, and the M11x will last for almost seven hours before needing a recharge. Dell has installed a 256GB SSD, which is huge in SSD terms. However, it accounts for almost a third of the M11x’s price - £505, to be precise. SSDs improve boot times and application loading times, but do little to affect application performance. The M11x boots to the desktop in just 24 seconds, which is remarkably fast. However, it managed just 56 overall in our benchmarks, which means it’s slower than laptops we've seen costing less than £600.
This is the fault of the Intel Core i5 520UM, a low-power version of the standard mobile Core i5 processor. This dual-core chip may support Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost, but it runs at a paltry 1.06GHz compared to the Core i5 520M which runs at 2.4GHz. Its score of 72 in the single-threaded image-editing test is a good example of Turbo Boost at work, but even this isn't that impressive.
At least the M11x has Nvidia's Optimus technology, which automatically switches between the integrated and dedicated graphics chips depending on whether you need battery life or performance. The GeForce GT 335M delivered a playable 30fps in Call of Duty 4, and it will even run Crysis at 32fps if you turn the settings down to Medium and turn off anti-aliasing. Needless to say, the battery won't last for long if you're playing games - playing Crysis, it lasted only one hour and 53 minutes, but that's the sort of time we'd normally expect see in light-use tests on a gaming laptop.
Despite its size, the M11x is fairly heavy, and only just squeezes into ultra-portable territory at exactly 2kg. It's worth noting that there's no optical drive, so you may want to buy the optional external drive for £61. The M11x is solidly built, though, and the outside of the case is covered in a rubberised finish which adds to the impression of durability. The keyboard was firm and, despite its small size, we found it comfortable to type on. The touchpad is responsive and the two buttons have a light action.
The screen is covered edge-to-edge with transparent plastic, with a glossy black bezel underneath it and a large backlit Alienware logo. Vertical viewing angles were fussy and the glossy finish attracted reflections from overhead lights. A bigger concern was the lack of brightness; whites looked almost grey when compared side-by-side with other laptops, and the image had a strong magenta cast.
This spoils what is otherwise a fantastic laptop. Gaming performance is impressive, and battery life is great as well. Replacing the SSD with a hard disk would make it a lot cheaper, but the dull backlight on the screen is disappointing, and we can't recommend it.
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