The Alienware M11x is touted as the “world’s smallest gaming laptop” and this year the little beast has been upgraded to include the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processors and improved Nvidia graphics chipsets.
This so-called ‘subnotebook’ sells on Alienware’s NZ website for $2599 and packs a dual-core Intel Core i7-2617M processor running at 1.5GHz (up to 2.6GHz with Turbo Boost), 6GB of DDR3 memory, Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card, 750GB 7200RPM hard drive, and an 11 inch 1366x768 WLED display.
First impressions of the M11x are good – it is solidly built, and has the typical sleek Alienware look about it (the power button is even a little alien head). The external casing has a rubberised matte finish which lends it a good grip and doesn’t pick up fingerprints or dust very easily. At approx 2kg and measuring 33x234x286mm it is also extremely portable.
The first obvious concern is the lack of an optical drive – this is only available as an optional external DVD burner for an extra $225, which is a bit steep. It does save on size and weight for the unit however, and most gamers could get away with not having a drive as most games are available through download services these days.
Once powered up the M11x has a cool fluorescent glow emanating from the keys and various other parts of the casing (you can pick which colour when ordering) and very little fan noise is present. Alienware mercifully neglect to load the system full of bloatware, with the only extras loaded in being base installations of antivirus and MS Office applications, as well as a proprietary Alienware application which helps you customise things like key illumination and power management settings.
Being a small subnotebook, the keys are fairly narrow, but they're easy enough to get used to. They also have good resistance, bounce and a short throw which works well with gaming. The multi-touch, gesture-supporting touchpad is also good quality, with a matte finish and honeycomb texture providing a good mix of resistance and sensitivity.
One other minor niggle is the positioning of the input/output ports. There are plenty of them – including HDMI, DisplayPort, USB 2.0 & 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, Firewire, flash card slots, and headphone/microphone jacks – but they are all positioned along the sides of the case, meaning utilising even just a couple of them is going to rob you of precious space for a gaming mouse to move around in. I feel some of these ports could easily have been moved to the blank areas on the front or rear panels of the M11x.
As for performance, personally I don’t feel that the M11x warrants the title of “gaming laptop”. At medium settings with anti-aliasing disabled, Trackmania Nations Forever (DX9) Crysis 2 (DX10) Bad Company 2 (DX11) and STALKER: Call of Pripyat (DX11) all averaged between 30 and 35 frames per second, with noticeable drops down to around 20 at times in some games. The 3DMark11 Entry-preset score was also abysmal at E1611. Sure, “low” settings may have made the games more playable, but who buys a gaming laptop to play games with all the visual quality settings stripped down to a bare minimum?
The funny thing is, the GeForce 540M graphics chipset installed is the 2GB version – as if this puny GPU could warrant such a large memory buffer in the first place.
The display too is a bit hit-and-miss. It is nice and bright, but it struggles to produce a dark black, the contrast appears fairly average and it is highly reflective which makes it a pain to use in bright rooms or outdoors. Perhaps the assumption is that gamers rarely venture into either of these situations. The Klipsch speakers sound pretty damn awesome though, compared to other notebooks.
It is a pity that there is no option to upgrade to a better GPU, as this would infinitely increase the appeal of the M11x, however it's probably nigh-on impossible to cool anything much more powerful that the GT 540M. The only options you get in the hardware space are downgrading to a 1.4GHz Core i5 CPU, upping the RAM to 16GB, or adding a 256GB SSD, none of which is really going improve gaming performance.
The Alienware can only be recommended if you really need a tiny notebook that is capable of some light gaming and don’t mind paying extra for this capability.
There is no doubt that it is a sexy little unit, and other than the middling GPU it packs some reasonable grunt under the hood, but you can definitely get better hardware for cheaper from other brands – as long as you can deal with ho-hum design and a larger package.
Our initial publication of this review erroneously stated that the M11x is not equipped with a webcam. Our apologies for any confusion caused.