Alienware is renowned for its high-end gaming systems with an individual design. If you're familiar with previous iterations of Alienware's laptops then there will be a distinct sense of deja vu when it comes to this year's Ivy Bridge-wielding Alienware M14x. The exterior design is unchanged from the last batch. Read more laptop reviews.
It's not that we don't like the design which isn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but it was and still is a bit on the chunky side. We were hoping the Alienware M14x would come in a new and more slender chassis. We measured the laptop and found it is 38mm thick and weighs just under 3kg.
The Alienware M14x is the smallest and most portable of the range since Alienware decided not to update the M11x. Our review sample came in a matt black finish called 'cosmic black' but it's also available in an altogether more standout 'nebula red’ finish.
The laptop has the distinct Alienware design combination of sleek yet aggressive lines – a love it or hate it type of situation. The finish feels like a cross between plastic and rubber which feels nice to the touch and helps with grip in areas such as the wrist supports.
The keyboard and trackpad are both of a decent size and there is the usual set of customisable lights spread around the laptop including four sections underneath the keyboard and surrounding the trackpad. There are numerous colours available to choose from and can be setup to notify you of something simple like a new email to getting shot in a first person shooter game.
Alienware M14x: Build quality
Robust is the best word we can think of to describe the build quality of the Alienware M14x. The chassis feels solid in all aspects with the screen offering a small but not worrying amount of flexibility. Our only worry is the long term durability of the coating particularly on the lid which we feel could get marked or damaged if care is not taken.
Alienware seems to have this into account and supplies the M14x with a plush suede bag for transportation and storage.
Alienware M14x: Hardware
Before we delve under the bonnet of the Alienware M14x it is worth pointing out that the laptop is available built-to-order and the specifications on offer vary greatly – this is one of the advantages brought along by Dell purchasing Alienware.
One of the most customisable areas is the choice of hard drives with traditional drives, SSDs and hybrid combinations available. Prices start at £999 including VAT but this requires you to drop below the standard included specifications.
Our Alienware M14x came powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM processor clocked at 2.6GHz– rising to 3.6GHz when in Turbo mode. This was backed up by 8GB of DDR3 1600MHz RAM. You can opt for a slightly faster Core i7-3820QM and up to 16GB of RAM.
Adding to the performance of this machine was a combination of a 64GB mSATA SSD dedicated to the Windows Home Premium OS and a 500GB hard drive for traditional storage purposes.
In our WorldBench 6 real-world benchmark test the Alienware M14x scored a fantastic score of 168 – the highest score we've ever seen from any notebook computer.
This Ivy Bridge chip has integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics – but the Alienware M14X has a dedicated nVidia GeForce GT650M graphics processor. As standard this has 1GB of GDDR5 memory but you can pay an additional £50 to double this to 2GB.
Alienware M14x: Performance
The Alienware M14x breezed through our basic FEAR test, as we expected it to, with an average framerate of 84fps – the lowest we saw it drop to was 41fps.
Stepping things up to the next level, we ran Crysis at 1024 x 768 resolution with Low detail and DirectX 9. Here the Alienware managed an average framerate of 107fps.
We moved onto DirectX11 and STALKER: Call of Pripyat. We ran the benchmark at 1280 x 720 and a medium detail level which the M14x sailed through at an average frame rate of 109fps crying out for something more challenging.
The next step was to up the resolution to the laptop's native 1600 x 900, increase the detail to Ultra and to enable tessellation and contact hardening shadows. The result was an impressive 60fps, a more than comfortable rate.
As you can guess from the name, the M14x comes with a 14.1in screen, LED-backlit. It has an aspect ratio of 16:9 and a relatively high resolution of 1600 x 900. This gives the laptop a good balance between a usable screen size and portability.
The screen offers crisp detail and has a glossy finish which making viewing the screen difficult at times. It reflects things like windows and lights all too easily; we would prefer a matt finish option here.
Connectivity is well rounded with VGA, HMDI, Mini Display Port, USB 2.0, microphone, headset and headphone ports plus a full-size SD slot and microSD slot, all on the left hand side of the body.
On the right is a Kensington lock slot, gigabit ethernet, two SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports and a slot-loading optical drive.
The drive on our sample was a DVD±RW type but can be optionally upgraded to Blu-ray.
Standard wireless connectivity is provided by an Intel Centrino Wireless-n 2230, and for an extra £15 you can get a Killer Wireless-n 1202 a/g/n 2x2 MIMO designed for gaming and video. Both come with Bluetooth 4.0.
Alienware M14x: Power and battery life
We recorded power consumption at 35W when idling with the screen at half brightness. When put under stress during the Crysis benchmarks the M14x needed 98W from the mains.
We managed to get just over five hours of life from the 63Wh battery. In the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test it lasted for 307 minutes.