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Alienware M14x Review: Giving Portable Gaming Another Go

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Alienware

Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software

Display and Audio Quality

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The base Alienware M14x comes with a 1366x768 display, but our review unit has the 1600x900 upgrade. Combining this resolution with a small display size results in sharp text and enhances the appearance of high-resolution photos and video.

Image quality is better than average, though short of excellent. Black levels are decent, but there’s a lot of banding in the darker portions of the gradient banding test. Overall contrast is fair, aided by a high-gloss display. Reflections are significant and the backlight isn’t strong enough to overcome them. Using this laptop in a bright room can be difficult –or at least annoying. 

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Though equipped with a small display, this is still a large laptop, and that leaves room for decent audio. Alienware has taken advantage of this to deliver quality that is robust and well balanced. It’s not the loudest, but it can reproduce limited amounts of bass without distorting everything else. This means that both games and music sound excellent. 

Cooling

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Alienware’s fake vents at the front obscure the real cooling system, which is tucked away at the bottom and rear of the laptop.  At idle the fans make virtually no noise, but you don’t have to do much to start a low whirr emanating from the laptop. Even flash games or productivity software can kick the fans in to low gear.

There seems to be a number of different pre-determined fan speeds, which are probably engaged based on internal temperatures. Furmark didn’t have much trouble forcing the fans to spin as quickly as possible, and in this scenario they were quite loud. In normal gaming, however, the fans don’t need to constantly spin at that speed – usually they’re a notch or two down from max.

You’d expect a high-end GPU and quad-core processor in a small package to generate a lot of heat. You’d be right, but perhaps not as right as you’d expect. External temperatures during our stress testing reached as high as 98 degrees near the rear of the laptop. That’s fairly hot, but there are plenty of other laptops that run warmer, such as ultrabooks. 

Portability

Though the display may be only 14 inches, the rest of the laptop surrounding it is large. The M14x measures 1.49 inches thick and isn’t tapered in the least. Weight comes in at just over six pounds, which is far more than average for laptops of this size.

The fact that a high-end gaming laptop is thick and heavy shouldn’t come as a surprise. Portability is relative. A consumer ultraportable is far easier to tote around than this behemoth, but compared with other gaming laptops, the M14x is svelte and reasonably slim. It won’t fit into a standard laptop bag easily, but it will (probably) fit – something you can’t say about most 15.6” gaming laptops and all 17.3” laptops. 

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What about battery life? Battery Eater Standard chewed through the battery in just one hour and four minutes, but the lighter load of Battery Eater Reader’s Test extended life to four hours and twenty nine minutes. Part of the reason for this is Nvidia’s Optimus switchable graphics – the other part is the low idle power draw of Intel’s quad-core mobile processors.

This is below average for a modern laptop, but at least usable. The M11x we reviewed in 2010 actually did not last much longer, as it managed four hours and thirty eight minutes in the Reader’s Test – just nine more than the M14x. 

Software

Usually pre-installed software is expected with dread, but with Alienware laptops, it is just part of the package. All of those fancy lights need software to control their array of colors, and that comes in the form of the AlienFX editor. Other important software includes AlienFusion, which is used to manage power, and AlienTouch, which is used to control the touchpad.

All of this works – but not well. Responsiveness is part of the problem. Clicking on AlienFX means waiting about ten seconds for the software to load, and clicking on any option usually means waiting another five seconds for your selection to be registered. If you need to change your laptop’s lighting in a hurry, you simply won’t. 

Worse, the software looks like it was written in Flash by a college intern. It’s not as if this software is new, either – both the M11x and M17x were equipped with the same when we reviewed them. As time goes on I’m becoming only more annoyed with it. Surely, Alienware could spend a little more time and money to come up with a better solution.

 

February 29, 2012 | 01:28 PM - Posted by Wolvenmoon (not verified)

My M11x performs just fine in games, Skyrim will run on medium at 1080P on TV, and having a 6 and 1/2 hour battery life in class makes it epic for taking notes. It's also light and quiet (mine has an SSD). So I don't hurt my back carrying it around.

It's not quite a fair comparison. The M11x is a netbook (no optical drive), not a laptop.

February 29, 2012 | 02:34 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Did you use the latest Verde drivers???

March 1, 2012 | 01:01 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

Yes, drivers were updated before testing.

March 1, 2012 | 04:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What's the M14x's performance at its native resolution of 1600x900?
There's no point in getting a higher resolution screen just to run games at the 1366x768 scaled up to full resolution.

March 2, 2012 | 02:08 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

You bring up a decent point. However, since we don't have a database of benchmarks running at 1600x900 (most laptops don't support that resolution) anything we could provide would not have much context.

Still, I think I will begin to catalog 1600x900 results on laptops that support it. We have seen several laptops with that resolution lately - it does seem to be more popular than it used to.

March 1, 2012 | 09:47 PM - Posted by amythompson (not verified)

Alienware seems to have gotten all the "little things" right with this laptop. The form factor is large enough to game or do "real work," yet it is small enough to be portable. The strange-looking beveled keyboard is actually very pleasant to type on - fewer errant keystrokes and better speed. The trackpad has discrete buttons with nice tactile feedback. There is no annoying bloatware (trial AV, toolbars, etc) like you might find on an HP. I was worried that the styling would be garish and distracting/embarassing, but it really isn't that bad.

The components, are, of course, top notch. You could probably get them in other computers as well, though.

March 1, 2012 | 10:06 PM - Posted by @Haze2K1 (not verified)

Laptops are NOT for gaming.

I repeat, laptops are not for gaming.

March 2, 2012 | 02:09 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Why?

September 21, 2012 | 08:58 PM - Posted by Richy (not verified)

That's crap! Some people need the portability of a laptop and enjoy gaming hence the market for gaming laptops. I own a gaming PC and a gaming laptop as I work away from home.My laptop can play the latest games at high- ultra settings and is built specifically for gaming. Don't listen to this tool.

March 4, 2012 | 05:34 PM - Posted by Cheef (not verified)

How do you guys say this preforms with the other pcs in the 1200 dollar range?

March 9, 2012 | 10:21 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Not as good just like the review concluded. Value speaking you might be better off with ASUS' G53 or G7. However they are also quite a bit larger than the others of same screen sizes, because of the extra cooling performance. If you are not planning to move around much, ASUS might be a smarter choice.

April 24, 2012 | 10:07 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i heard something about the heat will make it breake down

July 17, 2012 | 10:36 AM - Posted by osama (not verified)

Dears,

i need to ask one question, i think that since this machine is for games then it comes with very high performance processing, and i am planning to own this machine for a bussiness usage because i have some huge system to run on my laptop and need more processing and rams at least 8g Ram, so could you please advice me is it good for me or not, since i will not use it for gaming just for my huge applications.

thanks in advance

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