Alienware M17x (R3) Gaming Notebook Review: It Glows!
Cooling, Portability, Software
Given the powerful Radeon HD 6990M GPU in this laptop, I wasn’t expecting particularly cool operation. I was surprised, then, to find that I was able to comfortably use it on my lap for over an hour while web surfing and editing documents. While the bottom of the laptop did warm noticeably, it hot enough to make me wish I had a lap desk available. Similar compliments can be levied at the laptop’s touchpad and palmrest area, both of which remain relatively cool during normal operation.
Loading games changes the picture, of course, but the impact is again less than you might suspect. The exhaust is in the rear of the laptop, so hot air isn’t blown towards your hands or arms. As long as you have a desk available, you should be able to game on the M17x comfortably for hours.
Fan noise at idle is nearly inaudible in any room with pre-existing background noise. When gaming, the fan kicks into high gear, but remains tolerable. No one will be mistaking this for a hair dryer.
Weighing in at just over nine pounds, this is not a travel-friendly laptop, even if you manage to find a pack that will fit it. Trying to fit the M17x into my messenger bag was entirely hopeless, as the laptop is actually wider than the entire bag at its widest point. I could stuff it into my backpack, but I couldn’t close the zipper on the laptop compartment.
Endurance is provided by a gigantic 9-cell battery rated at 90Wh, which is the largest standard battery we’ve ever seen in a laptop. In the event that you are using this laptop away from a power outlet, it’s possible to disable the HD 6990M GPU and instead rely on the Intel IGP, but this does not appear to take place automatically when you unplug the laptop. The user has to make the switch manually, either using a function key or by the Catalyst software suite. Compared to the butter-smooth transitions of Nvidia’s Optimus, this is disappointing.
Even with discrete graphics disabled, this is obviously not the kind of laptop that you would purchase for its portability. The fact it can last a reasonable length of time on battery is a nice bonus, however.
Unlike some consumer laptops from Dell (*cough* Inspirion 14z *cough*) this Alienware is fairly light on bloatware. The only truly annoying feature was a piece of backup software that, although re-skinned in Alienware branding, is identical to one found on Dell branded laptops. It makes its presence known with a pop-up that appears in the lower right hand corner of the display, covering whatever is open at the time.
All of the other pre-installed software is actually useful, or at least needed. Much of it, like the AlienFX controls that we discussed earlier, is long way from being good. There’s a generally amateur feel which stems from slow responses to user input and interface elements that don’t always line up right, causing different areas of text to bump up against one another.
Still, it works, and you can usually ignore if it you wish. Only the AlienFX menu is absolutely required - the AlienFusion (power settings) and AlienTouch (touchpad settings) functions can be accessed from menus built in to Windows.