Dell Alienware M14x review
A no-compromise gaming powerhouse squeezed into a very compact 14in chassis; it’s expensive, but if you refuse to sacrifice performance for portability there’s simply no better alternative
Review Date: 15 Aug 2011
Price when reviewed: £1,879
Reviewed By: Tom Morgan
Dell’s Alienware laptops are known for their powerful components and individual looks. The new M14x is no exception, with its angular chassis, black rubberised finish and LED mood lighting. Whether or not you like the design, you’re sure to be impressed with what’s inside.
An Intel quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM provide plenty of power within Windows; the i7-2630QM might normally run at a pedestrian 2GHz, but can use Turbo Boost to speed up temporarily to a much snappier 2.9GHz. This helped it score an overall 74 in our multimedia benchmarks, which suggests there are very few desktop applications that won’t run smoothly.
Naturally for an Alienware machine, gaming performance is also a highlight. The dedicated GeForce 555M graphics card is the fastest midrange card Nvidia currently produces, so it was no surprise when it blitzed our Dirt 3 benchmark with an average frame rate of 57.2; we could increase the resolution to the display's maximum 1,600x900 and still get a playable 45fps. We were so impressed that we even tried our more intensive Crysis 2 test, which ran at 18fps at 720p - a respectable score even for a fairly powerful desktop PC. You should have no trouble playing even the latest games on the M14x. Unfortunately, the cooling fan spins up to incredibly loud levels when playing games.
All this performance doesn’t come at the expense of battery life; using Nvidia’s Optimus technology to switch from the power-hungry dedicated graphics to the processor's integrated chipset, the M14x managed a reasonable five and a half hours in our light use test. It isn’t quite all-day computing, but this is one gaming laptop that doesn’t have to be chained to its power supply. Just don’t expect to use it in public without turning heads; the illuminated keyboard is a definite attention grabber. Alienware’s AlienFX utility lets you customise the colour scheme using different colours and lighting patterns, but you can also turn them off if you prefer.
The keyboard was very comfortable to type on thanks to the rubberised wrist rest; the full-size isolated keys had plenty of travel but enough spring to provide a good amount of tactile feedback. Unsurprisingly for a laptop this size there’s no separate number pad, but the QWERTY keyboard never felt cramped. The touchpad was equally impressive, with a smooth finish that created minimal drag and two solid buttons that had just the right amount of resistance. The illuminated surround also helped us find it when using the laptop in the dark.
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