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.