Alienware Aurora m9700 Notebook with SLI and RAID
Features and Upgradability
The big feature of the Alienware Aurora m9700 laptop is of course its dual GeForce Go 7900 GS GPUs which makes the Aurora m9700 the fastest game performer we've ever tested here on PC Perspective. The dual graphics cards come at the expense of shortened battery life, but it's an acceptable tradeoff considering the performance gain. We take an indepth look at game performance later in this article in addition to battery tests.
In addition to the dual GPUs, the m9700 has some incredible disk performance thanks to onboard RAID using two internal SATA drives. This makes the m9700 incredibly fast to boot Windows and load large programs like games and office applications. The odd thing about the Aurora m9700 is that only one of two RAID modes are available in the BIOS. So you either have RAID 0 (Striped for fastest performance, but bad data integrity) or RAID 1 (Mirrored for reduced total drive capacity, but fast read rates and best data integrity), and which one you get depends on how you configure the m9700 during your order.
Our laptop came with RAID 0 for blazing fast read and write performance, but at the risk of data integrity. I strongly suggest ordering RAID 1 since it gives you nearly as fast read speeds, and much needed mobile data security. Of course you can disable RAID all together and just use the disks like your standard drives.
The Aurora m9700 has a full compliment of audio hookups for 5.1 analog audio and digital audio output via a honest-to-goodness standard optical jack that is relatively rare on laptops in general.
Other optional features include: Airgo MIMO functionality for wireless, a TV tuner, and a variety of mice.
Lastly there's excellent support and warranty you get with every Alienware product. There are some notable benefits to Alienware's policy specifically relating to the battery and dead pixels. For more information, be sure to read the Support and Warranty section near the end of this review.
Upgradability is also another feature of a laptop that many consumers overlook until that day comes when you need to add or replace hardware on the notebook. Upgrading mobile computers is often a mixed bag with some vendors doing a better job than others at allowing user installed upgrades. To me, the more user upgradable parts on the laptop, the better. With that said, the Alienware Aurora m9700 has unprecedented upgradability with most parts accessible via the base of the notebook.
There are two SODIMM slots that are filled with two 1GB SODIMMs (you can have it configured differently) both of which you can upgrade yourself. The CPU is held in place using a standard socket and heatpipe mechanism so it shouldn't be difficult upgrading this yourself, but be aware this will likely void your warranty.
The two NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GS GPUs can also be upgraded thanks to Alienware's use of the NVIDIA MXM bus. However, I have never seen MXM GPU modules being sold at a retailer so buying an upgrade outside of Alienware may be difficult. If upgrading the GPU is something that concerns you, best to talk to Alienware about MXM upgrades when placing your order.
Since there are two 2.5" SATA hard drives for RAID, it makes sense that both of these are removable in the event of disk failure. These are your standard 2.5" SATA mobile hard drive which you can purchase at any computer part retailer. However, if you are using RAID 0, hot swapping a hard drive will make your computer unbootable. Be sure you understand the different RAID options before purchasing your m9700.