The Alienware M17x certainly looks the part. It’s built like a tank – big, sturdy and heavy, with the gratuitous glowing lights and glaring speaker grills that are Alienware’s eye-candy trademark. The 17.3in screen pushes the weight of the unit well over the 4kg mark, so you certainly won’t be carrying it around on your should very often. See Group test: what's the best high-end laptop?

Despite that, the M17x is well-designed and comfortable to use when you’re settling in for a long gaming session. The large screen provides full-HD resolution of 1920 x 1080, with excellent image quality – although the glossy, reflective screen coating can be annoying.

The size of the screen also means that there’s plenty of room for a large, comfortable trackpad and keyboard, along with a handy set of additional buttons for controlling media playback and activating the AlienFX utility that provides a range of customisation options. We were also pleased to see that the M17x ran quiet and cool through all our tests. The only minor disappointment was the speakers – which are fairly loud, but produce a rather tinny sound at higher frequencies.     

There are plenty of build-to-order options for the M17x on Dell’s web site, including a variety of graphics cards from either nVidia or AMD. We tested a model that costs a hefty £1749 that comes equipped with a quad-core Intel Core i7-3210QM running at 2.3GHz, 8GB RAM. A 500GB hard disk is given a bit of a boost by an additional 64GB solid-state module. Dell also tell us that they’ll be giving that processor an Intel speed-bump to 2.4GHz early in the new year  at no extra cost.

The i7 chip includes Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 4000, and our unit included a separate AMD Radeon 7970M, a graphics processor that produced the best all-round results in our various performance tests. The M17x managed a strong 57fps when running Batman: Arkham City at 1920 x 1080 resolution with DirectX 11 and High graphics detail plus anti-aliasing (AA).

It also hit 59fps when we dropped to 1280 x 720 resolution and Medium quality settings, as well as taking top place in our other tests with Stalker, Hard Reset and the more general-purpose PCMark 7.

Battery life isn’t too bad either, given the size and power of the M17x. We got 2.5 hours when streaming video using the built-in Wi-Fi and the AMD Radeon graphics card. You could also extend that significantly by switching to the integrated Intel graphics for non-gaming tasks. It’s a shame, though, that you have to reboot to switch between the two GPUs – most laptops that have switchable graphics can do so on the fly.

By Darren Gladstone.

You can put a price on laptop power: the Alienware M17x desktop-replacement gaming laptop costs from £1,699 inc VAT.

Like the Alienware M17, the Alienware M17x laptop tries loading up on features while still achieving a fairly reasonable entry price for a base model. The base-level 17in machine will earn a warm reception from gamers but, of course, what descended upon our desktop was anything but entry-level. It's got every conceivable bell and whistle, from a Blu-ray drive to the backlit illuminated keyboard.

It's also fast. The Alienware M17x managed to score an impressive 100 in our test suite thanks largely an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 processor, 4GB of RAM, and two 160GB solid-state hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. Certainly no slouch, it edged out the 17in MacBook Pro (that notebook earned a 98).

Once you fire up the dual 1GB nVidia GeForce 280m GPUs, the Alienware M17x turns up the heat. We turned the dial way up on games such as Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Unreal Tournament III at 1680-by-1050-pixel resolution with all the settings maxed.

The Alienware M17x ran at 65 and 84 frames per second, respectively. In short, you're getting blistering gamer-approved performance for a notebook.

But even running games at 1680 by 1050 hardly does the Alienware M17x justice. The sharp 17in screen supports a native resolution of 1900 by 1200. So we decided to throw on a couple more games: Left 4 Dead and Mirror's Edge. The first is a dark, dank firefight against zombie hordes; the other, a mad sprint through a bright, shiny dystoptian metropolis. Both are fantastic tests that show off both the range of the screen and the power of the Alienware M17x.

It didn't falter on either count - solid performance in both games ensured a smooth gaming experience. The Alienware M17x's screen fared well, making it easy to spot enemies lurking in the inky shadows as well as armed guards giving chase across rooftops with nary a frame drop.

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So we've established that the Alienware M17x has power in spades. The other big thing that Alienware crows about is the design. It is a step in the right direction beyond what the company attempted with its M15x. That creaky box felt like it was held together with duct tape and true grit.

The only signs of creakiness or slight seams showing in this otherwise solid chassis were the shortcut buttons above the Alienware M17x's keyboard. While they did quick launch a variety of handy proprietary apps (see below), it required a fairly hard press sometimes for us to see something happen. It could be the unit we had, but otherwise, no complaint on build quality. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find many screws (they hide behind the battery for access to upgradable components).

And the keyboard? It certainly feels good enough as our fingers dance over the backlit keys. Actually, maybe we should say that our fingers moved over the dance floor because you can change the colour of the backlighting on the keys. But we digress. Although the touchpad is a little on the small side for our tastes, it's textured and easy enough to use. The buttons also have a good amount of give as they jut above the large wrist rest.

Like any self-respecting desktop replacement, the Alienware M17x laptop uses its monstrous size (it measures 402x320x45mm and weighs 5.54kg) to accommodate a gaggle of ports. Crammed around the sides are a four-pin FireWire port, four USB plugs, an eSATA/USB combo port, an ExpressCard slot, and an eight-in-one Media Card reader. The Alienware M17x also makes room for DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA video-outs. A bunch of audio-out jacks for external surround sound provides a pretty strong indication that you won't be tempted to stick with the two built-in speakers.

Pro tip #1: The Alienware M17x's internal speaker pair provides decent sound in a pinch. Good mids, nothing too tinny - but nothing that hot, either. You'll want a pair of headphones for your next gaming session. Consider that to be one of the few corners trimmed for this already expensive machine. But if you're dropping this much money on a laptop, don't skimp on sound.

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Otherwise, the Alienware M17x comes with a pimp-my-rig-worthy lighting kit for the keyboard, numberpad, touchpad, and trim lights. Sigh. (I know that I'm just showing my age on this one, but really - you need running-light LEDs on a laptop?)

That leads us to Pro tip #2: Don't bank on long battery life from this traveling arcade. Initial tests show that the Alienware M17x will hang in for about 2 hours, 56 minutes - a little above average for a desktop replacement machine, not that you'd lug this one around often.

Want to optimise features or tweak the way the lights twinkle? Alienware still has its user-friendly software on hand. Want to customise (or turn off) the extra lighting? No problem. If you want to adjust touchpad sensitivity or activate the facial recognition software (Pro tip #3: We highly recommend against using that facial recognition package), it's there. The performance-tweaking software, we have to say, hits that basic customisability that a gamer craves. But hardcore coders and tweakers - the guys that want to squeeze out every ounce of performance - will need to dig into the BIOS.

Verdict:

So to the £1,699 (and the rest) question: should you buy this sort of muscle machine? Y'know, these days it may seem ridiculous to drop so many ducats on a laptop that you can upgrade only so far - but some live in ivory towers and demand the best. Like this notebook. If you have to own the best, get the Alienware M17x - but it is a lot of money.

Alienware M17x: Specs

  • Processor: 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM, quad-core (3.3GHz Turbo)
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 7970M, 2GB/Intel HD 4000
  • Display size and type: 17.3" (1920x1080) glossy LCD
  • Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Storage: 500GB HDD + 64GB SSD
  • Memory: 8GB DDR3 1600MHz
  • Ethernet: Gigabit
  • Optical drive: Blu-ray/ DVD±RW combo
  • Video out: VGA, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n (Intel 2230)
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0
  • Webcam: 1080p
  • Speakers: Klipsch stereo speakers
  • USB: 4x USB 3.0
  • eSATA: 1
  • Trackpad: 97x55mm, two-button
  • Other software: Alienware Command Centre
  • Battery: 90Wh, Lithium-ion, removable
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 410x304x44.5mm
  • Weight: 4.26Kg
  • Processor: 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM, quad-core (3.3GHz Turbo)
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 7970M, 2GB/Intel HD 4000
  • Display size and type: 17.3" (1920x1080) glossy LCD
  • Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Storage: 500GB HDD + 64GB SSD
  • Memory: 8GB DDR3 1600MHz
  • Ethernet: Gigabit
  • Optical drive: Blu-ray/ DVD±RW combo
  • Video out: VGA, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n (Intel 2230)
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0
  • Webcam: 1080p
  • Speakers: Klipsch stereo speakers
  • USB: 4x USB 3.0
  • eSATA: 1
  • Trackpad: 97x55mm, two-button
  • Other software: Alienware Command Centre
  • Battery: 90Wh, Lithium-ion, removable
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 410x304x44.5mm
  • Weight: 4.26Kg

OUR VERDICT

There’s no doubt that the M17x is one of the most powerful gaming laptops currently available. However, in the form we tested it, it’s also one of the most expensive, with a price tag well over £1700. The machine’s sheer size and weight may also deter anyone looking for anything portable.

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