With the Alienware M17, Dell's Alienware, best-known for expensive, high-performance PCs, delivers a good gaming laptop at a reasonable price.

When we think of Alienware PCs, two words come to mind - and 'cheap' usually isn't one of them. This boutique game machine maker creates premium packages with premium prices. For an Alienware laptop, the Alienware M17 is priced within a reasonable ballpark, even while packing 1GB of ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics processing power on board. As a result, this monstrous desktop replacement runs modern games at a respectable clip.

Question is: does the Alienware M17 deliver the goods? Yes. We've roamed Fallout 3's post-apocalyptic wastelands at the Alienware M17's 1920-by-1200-pixel native resolution. It's completely playable, and we didn't run into any game-killing snags.

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What caught us off-guard is that the didn't exactly blow the doors off PC WorldBench 6, scoring only an 84 in our real-world speed benchmark.

Frankly, between the GPU, the 4GB of RAM, and the 160GB hard disk drive (spinning at 7200rpm, no less), we were expecting a little better from the Alienware M17.

We suppose the Alienware M17's 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU shoulders some of the blame, but the good news is that this won't affect your gaming experience in the slightest. Both Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Unreal Tournament III, running at 1680 by 1050 pixels and high settings hum along at 44 and 51 frames per second, respectively.

Plenty of desktop replacement laptops - such as the HP HDX18 - have beefier speed benchmarks but squeak along in modern games. The Alienware M17 inverts this trend.

The Alienware M17 has a big 17in screen. Although not as eye-blastingly bright as some laptop displays we've seen, it's certainly sharp enough for watching Blu-ray movies (though our unit came with a DVD-RW drive), and it handled some of the murkier corners of the Left 4 Dead zombiethon game.

Even so, the Alienware M17's screen doesn't get the picture quite right at the default settings. Some colours get a little muted and warmer colours get cool. Also, the screen is glossy. That means colours look good when viewing the LCD indoors, but viewing anywhere near daylight will bring a little glare.

It also goes without saying that desktop-replacement notebook batteries don't last long. In the case of the Alienware M17, you get just under 2 hours on a charge.

That's really not surprising given the Alienware M17's big, gawky, heavy design: it weighs a full 5kg and measures 45x397x299mm. Even compared with Alienware's Alienware Area 51 m15x, which we reviewed a number of months ago, the m17 is a half-step backwards to old-school boxy notebooks.

NEXT PAGE: The Alienware M17's build quality and quirks in use

With the Alienware M17, Dell's Alienware, best-known for expensive, high-performance PCs, delivers a good gaming laptop at a reasonable price.

We have a love/hate relationship with the keyboard on the Alienware M17. For a moment, let's dwell on the positive. We like the unusual font and the backlighting on the keys that make them easier to see in dim lighting conditions. And being able to change colours is a nice touch.

Although the qwerty key spacing is a little on the tiny side, it is functional and more than springy enough to satisfy. And the Alienware M17's shortcut buttons are neatly labeled and work exactly as you'd expect.

Now the negatives: First, we like that the Alienware M17's keyboard has a number pad, but this pad is so tiny and scrunched together, we'd almost prefer Alienware not bother and just stick with a larger standard keyboard.

And while the lit keys are neat, they pretty much always need to be on. Without the backlighting, seeing the Alienware M17's keys is tricky. For touch typists, that's not a big deal, but for advanced hunt-and-peckers it's a problem.

Our biggest beef is with the rubberised wrist rest. Or maybe we should say, "wrist landing pad". Its so huge, we could park a can of coke on it without fear of hitting it as we type. Seriously, it feels like an unnecessarily large gap between the keys and the edge of the notebook (our guess is that the Alienware M17's beefy GPU needs room to breathe).

We do like the Alienware M17's touchpad and its long, thick mouse button bar, but trying to go back and forth between that and the keys forced my hands into an awkward angle. So get an external mouse. A plus, though, is that the machine's coating feels good. Its supple, rubbery matte covers most of the beefy computer. It's even on the Batman codpiece-like laptop lid.

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The rest of the Alienware M17's case offers a reasonable stable of features: a PC Card and SDHC card slots, three USB 2.0 ports, VGA, FireWire, and ethernet jacks.

The Alienware M17 also has some solid multimedia nods that we like: an eSATA port, an HDMI out, and an optical audio-out (TOSLINK). And thank you, Alienware, for throwing in an old-time analogue dial for cranking the audio.

We're not joking: we prefer the analogue dial. And the Alienware M17 provides fairly solid audio with its 2.1-speaker configuration. While a little tinny, the two front-firing cones are acceptable enough for desk-based rocking - and surly looks from neighboring officemates.

On the software side, Alienware gives you a gussied-up launch page.

Basically, the Command Center breaks down the lighting and offers some power management, but not much more - although it sure looks pretty. We just think the Alienware M17 would be better served with more sophisticated tweaking options. Maybe it's us, but we assume gamers are a little more comfortable flipping switches to eke out performance.

PCWorld.com

Alienware M17: Specs

  • Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme Processors (6MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB)/Intel Core 2 Duo Quad and Extreme Processors (12MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB), Intel PM45 + ICH9M-E Chipset
  • Up to 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1066MHz, 2 dedicated SO-DIMM slots for Dual Channel DDR3 Memory
  • Windows Vista Ultimate/Home Premium
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3870 CrossFireX Enabled
  • Integrated HD TV (ATSC) Tuner (Coaxial), HDMI 1.3b Connector, VGA
  • up to 500GB
  • 8x Dual Layer Burner (DVD±RW, CD-RW) (Blu-ray optional)
  • 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N, Bluetooth 2.1
  • Integrated Gigabit Ethernet RJ-45
  • 2.1 speaker set
  • HD audio via digital out
  • mic/headphone socket
  • 3x USB
  • 7-in-1 card reader
  • 17in widescreen
  • 45x397x299mm
  • 5.35kg
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme Processors (6MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB)/Intel Core 2 Duo Quad and Extreme Processors (12MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB), Intel PM45 + ICH9M-E Chipset
  • Up to 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1066MHz, 2 dedicated SO-DIMM slots for Dual Channel DDR3 Memory
  • Windows Vista Ultimate/Home Premium
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3870 CrossFireX Enabled
  • Integrated HD TV (ATSC) Tuner (Coaxial), HDMI 1.3b Connector, VGA
  • up to 500GB
  • 8x Dual Layer Burner (DVD±RW, CD-RW) (Blu-ray optional)
  • 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N, Bluetooth 2.1
  • Integrated Gigabit Ethernet RJ-45
  • 2.1 speaker set
  • HD audio via digital out
  • mic/headphone socket
  • 3x USB
  • 7-in-1 card reader
  • 17in widescreen
  • 45x397x299mm
  • 5.35kg

OUR VERDICT

That gripe aside, those who want to get their game on will get a good deal out of the Alienware m17 - especially considering the price. As a gaming machine, the Alienware M17 delivers speed where it counts, but it lags a little in more conventional office-application tests.

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