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Alienware M14x Review: Giving Portable Gaming Another Go

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Alienware

Performance - Synthetic 3D, Game Benchmarks - Conclusion

3D Benchmarks

Before we get into games, we take a look at synthetic 3D benchmarks. These provide a broad perspective of 3D performance. Usually these results mimic the performance we’ll see the game benchmarks closely.

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In 3DMark 06 we see that the M14x manages to beat the N55 by a small margin and also offers nearly 70% of the performance of the Alienware M17x. However, in 3DMark 11 the M14x is trounced rather badly by the M17x – and is even beaten by the ASUS K53T. 

It’s not unusual to see different results between these benchmarks because they test different features.  I do wish that we had some more high-end Nvidia GPUs in this benchmark. I am beginning to suspect that 3DMark 11 favors Radeon mobile graphics – or that AMD has done put particular focus on optimizing its hardware for 3DMark 11.

Game Benchmarks

Here’s all that matters, really. This is a gaming laptop, so we want to see how it performs in real games. Our test suite is designed to throw games that place different levels of demand on a GPU at the laptop.

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Here we see that the M14x performs well, though its minimum FPS score is much lower than the ASUS N55. This game is entirely playable at 1366x768 and, in unofficial testing, appeared playable at 1600x900 as well. 

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In Just Cause 2 we see that the nearly identical GPUs in the M14x and N55 offer nearly identical framerates. I said before that the upgrade to 3GB of RAM is probably overkill, and so far it doesn’t seem to be helping the M14x at all. Unfortunately, the M17x will be dropping from radar now, because we don’t have 1366x768 benchmark results for Just Cause 2 or Battlefield 3.

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It turns out that the M14x can handle Battlefield 3 reasonably well at 1366x768, scoring an average FPS of nearly 40. Gameplay was extremely smooth to my eye, and according to FRAPS minimum FPS never dipped below 28. However, gameplay wasn’t significantly different from what I enjoyed on the ASUS K53T, which managed to play the title at an average of 35 FPS.

Conclusion

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The performance of the M14x is strong, but it doesn’t outrun some other mid-range laptops as well as one might hope. The ASUS K53T throws a wrench in the works because it manages to play Battlefield 3 nearly as well and also achieves a higher 3DMark 11 result while costing half as much.

Still, the M14x is clearly a better package. The Dawn Of War 2: Retribution benchmark shows the weakness of all AMD Fusion laptops – the CPU. It simply can’t handle processor intensive games. The K53T is also much slower in Just Cause 2. 

The ASUS N55 offers nearly identical performance (after all, it has nearly identical hardware), but it also costs just as much. If you want similar performance on a tight budget there are options from companies like Sager, the build quality and design doe

Let’s return to our original question – that of gaming and portability combined. The M11x managed it, but was too small to be useful. The M14x is a better compromise. It’s useful for productivity, has reasonable battery life and is portable enough to take with you on short trips. You could potentially use this laptop as your only computer without feeling that ownership is a chore. Better still, this laptop can play all modern 3D games at an enjoyable framerate, though not at high quality.

There’s also a cohesiveness of design that you simply don’t find from other gaming laptops. Geeks are quick to pile on Alienware, accusing them as being overpriced Dells. It’s true they are often a bit more expensive than laptops with similar hardware from other companies, but those laptops simply aren’t as well designed. Adequate? Sure. As nice as Alienware? You’ve got to be kidding. Only ASUS is close. 

I can see why the M15x was replaced with this laptop. That outgoing model was simply too large to carry on a daily basis, which meant there was little practical destinction between it and the M17x. The story is now different. The Alienware M14x offers a combination of affordability, portability and power that's not available elsewhere.

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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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