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Alienware M14x Review: Giving Portable Gaming Another Go

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Alienware

Introduction, Design, User Interface

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Gaming. Laptop. Portable. These may well be the three most contradictory words in the PC industry. It’s been possible to game on laptops for years, but making a high-quality gaming experience portable is a goal rarely achieved.

Alienware made a stab at resolving the contradiction in 2010 when it released the M11x, but the result was questionable. No one can argue that the M11x isn’t portable, but its gaming performance is no better than a 15.6” laptop with mid-range discrete graphics. There simply isn’t enough room in the chassis to cool a larger, more powerful GPU. Worse, the M11x is simply too small for most people to use every day. 

Enter the Alienware M14x. The larger display size of this laptop makes it possible to equip a more powerful GPU as well as a full-power Core i5 processor rather than a low-voltage model. Let’s look at the full specifications.

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We can already see that the M14x will easily outperform its smaller cousin. The better hardware increases price as well as size, however – the base is $1099 and our review unit, featuring upgrades like a quad-core processor and 1600x900 resolution, rings in at $1274.

Continue reading our review of the Alienware m14x Gaming Notebook!!

It’s also possible that the beefier hardware and higher display resolution will significantly decrease the decent battery life that makes the M11x portable. Let’s see if the M14x turns out to be a great compromise or an incomplete package. 

Design

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The Alienware M14x looks like…an Alienware. The company goes to great lengths to provide all of its laptops with a unique look that ties all of its products together. Though obviously one of the smaller laptops offered, the M14x has the same beefy, muscle-car-like lid found on other Alienware. It also includes the same faux-vents at the front. They’re non-functional, but do provide an outlet for the custom LED lighting which can be configured using pre-installed software tools. 

All of these flourishes translate to a laptop that absolutely drips masculinity despite its decidedly geeky intent. This is what happens when you kidnap a normal laptop, put it through a top-secret government combat training program, and then release it back into the real world. 

The LEDs and muscular surfaces could trick you into thinking this laptop puts form over function. In truth, it’s plenty practical. All surfaces (besides the display) are as matte as you’ll find on any ThinkPad, though the luxurious soft-touch coat used is easier to scratch than the hard plastic used on business laptops. 

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Build quality is a mixed bag. Chassis flex is minimal even when the laptop is handled by its edges, but certain surfaces feel flimsy when pressured. Twisting the display lid by its edges seemed to cause the display panel to move slightly inside its frame, and there’s a fair amount of keyboard flex as well.

Having a big frame gives the M14x plenty of room for connectivity. Two USB 3.0 ports are included, as well as an additional USB 2.0 port. Display connections include Mini-DisplayPort, HDMI and VGA while audio is handled by two audio-out ports and an audio-in/microphone port. Ethernet and a 9-in-1 card reader are made available as well. The power connection is notable because it connects in the rear of the laptop, which is preferable. 

User Interface

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The Alienware M14x’s keyboard looks like…an Alienware. As with the aesthetic design, the keyboard is simply a version of the same keyboard used by every other laptop from the company.

That means you’re getting a beveled keyboard, which is rare these days. Key travel is also much better than average. Don’t mistake this for a typist’s keyboard, however. Key feel is soft and key flex is slightly noticeable even in normal typing. I would not be surprised if this was an intentional design decision, as long gaming sessions tend to be more tolerable on keyboards with low resistance, but it feels sloppy if you’re trying to do anything besides pwn noobs.   

Backlighting is provided by the same AlienFX system that controls other lighting elements in the laptop. Lighting can be turned on or of using a function key, but you’ll need to open the pre-bundled AlienFX software to control color and brightness. Normally I would complain about this, but I don’t see any way to implement manual controls for the huge number of backlighting options available on this laptop.

Below the keyboard is a small touchpad. Alienware laptops always seem to tack these on as an afterthought, and the story is no different here. The surface isn’t large, the individual left/right buttons aren’t great and multi-touch is turned off by default.  

February 29, 2012 | 10:28 AM - 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 | 11:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Did you use the latest Verde drivers???

February 29, 2012 | 10:01 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Yes, drivers were updated before testing.

March 1, 2012 | 01:27 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 | 11:08 AM - 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 | 06:47 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 | 07:06 PM - Posted by @Haze2K1 (not verified)

Laptops are NOT for gaming.

I repeat, laptops are not for gaming.

March 2, 2012 | 11:09 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

Why?

September 21, 2012 | 05:58 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 | 02:34 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 | 07:21 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 | 07:07 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i heard something about the heat will make it breake down

July 17, 2012 | 07:36 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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