Alienware M11x: World’s Smallest Gaming Laptopby Jarred Walton on March 30, 2010 8:16 AM EST
The Alienware M11x first hit headlines in January at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show. Even without testing the unit, we could see that there was some real potential in the component selections. ASUS already showed us with their UL series that overclocked CULV processors can easily cope with most modern games, provided they have a GPU that is up to the task. The UL series uses GeForce G210M graphics cards, and while they’re substantially faster than any current IGP solution, they still struggle with running many games at anything more than low/minimum detail settings. A faster GPU is necessary for higher quality settings, but where exactly does the bottleneck shift from the GPU back to the CPU when we’re dealing with overclocked CULV? The M11x looks to answer that question by going with a rather potent GeForce GT335M.
|Alienware M11x Specifications|
Core 2 Duo SU7300 (45nm, 2x1.30GHz, 3MB, 800FSB, 10W)
Pentium SU4100 (45nm, 2x1.30GHz, 2MB, 800FSB, 10W)
Overclockable to 1.73GHz
|Chipset||Intel GS45 + ICH9M|
2x1GB to 2x4GB DDR3-1066
2x2GB DDR3-1066 Tested
NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M
Intel GMA 4500MHD
|Display||11.6" LED Backlit WXGA (1366x768)|
Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros AR8132 / L1c)
Dell DW1520 802.11n WiFi
Mobile Broadband (Optional)
|Audio||HD Audio (2 speakers with mic and 2x headphone jacks)|
Mini 1394a FireWire
Flash Memory Card Reader
1 x USB 2.0 (powered)
2x Headphone jack
2 x USB 2.0
AC Power Connection
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
|Dimensions||11.25" x 9.19" x 1.29" (WxDxH)|
|Weight||4.39 lbs (with 8-cell battery)|
AlienFX Zoned Lighting
86-Key LED Backlit Keyboard
3-in-1 Flash reader
1-year standard warranty
3-year and 4-year extended warranties available
Advanced and Premium In-Home Service available
Starting at $799
Test System: $1099 ($1198 with TactX Mouse)
Like the G210M, the GT335M supports DirectX 10.1 functionality and is built on a 40nm process technology. That’s where the similarities end. The GT335M bumps the SP count from the 16 in the G210M all the way up to 72 SPs, providing much more computational power; similarly, the memory interface is 128-bit instead of 64-bit. The actual core and shader clocks on the G210M are slightly higher: 625 core and 1500 shader versus 450 core and 1066 shader on the GT335M; memory speed on the other hand is bumped from 1600MHz to 2133MHz. The result is that the GT335M has 166% more memory bandwidth and 224% more computational power… all with the same overclocked CULV SU7300 (or SU4100) processor as the ASUS UL series.
Of course, the GT335M isn’t the only game in town when it comes to faster mobile GPUs. We recently reviewed the ASUS N61Jv with an i5-430M CPU and GT325M GPU, so that will be an interesting matchup from the performance standpoint. GT325M cuts the SP count down to 48, with a slightly lower shader clock as well, but it has the same memory bandwidth. With 63% more computational performance, the GT335M should be noticeably faster than the GT325M, but GPU memory bandwidth is often the bigger bottleneck on 128-bit GPUs and the N61Jv CPU is substantially faster than an overclocked SU7300 CULV. In games that are CPU limited on the M11x, we’ll see the N61Jv come out ahead (or at least close the gap), whereas GPU limited games should still prefer the M11x. Of course, there’s no getting around the size advantage of the M11x: it weighs less and has a chassis that’s much more portable. Really, there’s no competition for the M11x unless you’re willing to move to a 13.3” chassis. In that case ASUS has the UL30Jc, but that has a G310M GPU (a 2% higher shader clock than the G210M) so it’s still a big step back in terms of gaming potential.
The base model M11x comes with 2GB DDR3, a 160GB 5400RPM hard drive, and a Pentium SU4100 processor. Our test unit bumps the CPU up to the Core 2 Duo SU7300 for $100 extra; considering the only difference is 3MB L2 cache (versus 2MB on the SU4100) and support for VT-x (hardware virtualization), most users will be better off saving the $100 for other upgrades. The 500GB 7200RPM Seagate 7200.4 hard drive, on the other hand, is a very welcome addition. It should offer improved performance relative to 5400RPM drives while still providing a lot of storage capacity. The $150 to upgrade the hard drive is a bit steep, though, considering you can purchase the same drive for $85. Finally, Alienware shipped us a system with 4GB DDR3 (another $50), which brings the total price of our system to $1200. Obviously this isn't a cheap laptop, but if you take the base system and just add 4GB RAM (and clone the HDD to your own HDD/SSD when you get it) you can get everything you need for under $1000.
The short summary of the M11x is simple: it’s the smallest laptop ever made that can still manage to play games. Really. There’s nothing else even close when you get down to sub-14” laptops, and it can outgame many 15.6" and larger notebooks. Not only can it run every current game on the market, but we managed to get 30+ FPS at medium or higher detail settings in every game we tested! That’s the good news. The bad news is that a great design is once again saddled with a mediocre LCD, and Alienware omitted at least one feature that they really need: NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology. We don’t mind manually switching between IGP and discrete GPUs that much (though it was odd to see Dell’s Data Safe Online Backup utility trigger a block a few times—the toaster.exe process); far more important is that Optimus laptops will get better driver support in the future. We already encountered several games that complained about our drivers (for example, Batman and Left 4 Dead 2) and we suspect things will only get worse. NVIDIA has yet to deliver a Verde driver with Optimus support, but that should come in the next release. If you want new drivers for switchable graphics laptops like the ASUS ULx0Vt series and the M11x… well, don’t hold your breath.
Finally, we should mention that while the M11x technically has an 11.6” chassis, a few aspects of the chassis need mention. First, the M11x is about 1” deeper than other 11.6” CULV laptops we’ve looked at, and at 4.4 lbs. it definitely weighs more. Obviously, Alienware had to pack more cooling capacity into the M11x to keep the GPU and CPU from overheating, but they’re dangerously close to the size of a 13.3” chassis. Look at the LCD bezel and you’ll find a large border, particularly on the top and bottom. The M11x uses an 11.6” 1366x768 LCD, but with a few small tweaks we’re confident they could have put a 13.3” 1440x900 WXGA+ LCD into the chassis. The huge bezel area almost makes us think that they put a smaller LCD in the chassis just so they could lay claim to having an 11.6” gaming laptop. Personally, I would have preferred a 16:10 aspect ratio with a 13.3” LCD—besides, even if this were a 13.3” laptop, it would still be over twice as fast as the nearest competitor in graphics power!
Minor blemishes aside, there’s still no getting around the fact that this is a very capable gaming laptop with a very small footprint. The total performance on tap should be about equal to that of the Gateway P-6831 FX that we praised a couple years ago. The overclocked CULV processor is faster and uses far less power, and the same goes for the GT325M (though the old 8800M did have a memory bus that was twice as wide). Add in switchable graphics and you have a laptop that weighs roughly half as much and lasts two to four times as long on battery power. Join us as we take a closer look at what makes the M11x tick and run it through our benchmark suite.
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Ryan Smith - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - linkCongrats Jarred.
May I suggest the name Ryan for your child? It works equally well as both as a girl's name and a boy's name.;-)
KaarlisK - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - linkWhen Intel mobile CPUs are overclocked by doing BSEL mods (basically, shorting some pins to tell the chipset that the CPU requires a higher FSB clock), the CPUs fall back and are locked to their lowest multiplier - 6x. Maybe ASUS bypassed this protection and Alienware did not...
cknobman - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - linkto include the Sony CW (VPCCW26FX) laptop in your reviews, it would have been a much better choice than the Asus for comparison sake. The sony is a 14' chassis with a core i5-520 and a 330m nvidia and only costs $899. Much closer in size and price to the Alienware.
Why is there no one giving the Sony any attention at all? Its not just anand its everyone that seems to be totally disregarding this laptop.
NICOXIS - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - linkI'll second that, its like the only 14" laptop with a decent GPU, less than 2.5KG, Arrandale CPU, DDR3, good battery life and under 1000.
I haven't seen any decent Vaio CW review out there.
xFlankerx - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - linkThe Alienware may be the cheapest, smallest laptop, but there is one more expensive competitor:
The Sony Vaio Z is a 13.3" laptop that outperforms the Alienware in almost every single area, including aesthetics. The only downside is that the Vaio Z costs upwards of $2000.
erple2 - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - linkThe Sony Z series has the 330m processor, which has 24 fewer Unified shaders (48 vs. 72). The graphical capabilities of the 335m could be up to about 50% faster in the best case scenario.
To be fair, that's still more than in the tested ASUS notebook...
But the Z series starts at 1900 dollars, which is about 1000 more than the M11x...
The CW series has the 310m processor, which has a total of 16 unified shaders. That's 1/6th the total number of the M11x. Sure it starts at about the same price.
However, that would answer the side question of whether the GPU in the Sony is significantly slower than the one in the M11x - I'm betting the answer is "yes". I don't think that there's any comparison, honestly. Though, perhaps that's the whole point of the article - how much does the GPU matter, and how much does the CPU matter? For gaming, I think that this article showed quite clearly that the GPU was "king".
cknobman - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - linkNot sure what CW your looking at but there are CW models with a 330m in them - I own one.
NICOXIS - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - linkThe point is that the Vaio CW is a LOT more comparable to the M11x than the Asus that was chosen in the article. It is similar in size 13" vs 14" (size not display), M11x has slightly better GPU but CW has arrandale and price wise they are in the same level.
JarredWalton - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - linkYou'll notice that I specifically mentioned this in the conclusion:
"The only competing laptops in terms of performance are going to need something like the GT330M, GT240M, GeForce 9700M GTS, or a faster GPU. Finding laptops with those GPUs for a reasonable price is fairly easy—the ASUS N61Jv is one example, and the Sony VAIO VPCCW22FX/R is another—but the VAIO is the smallest reasonable competitor we can find and it still has a 14" chassis and significantly less battery life."
The VAIO is advertised as 4 hours of battery life, and it sounds about right. The ASUS N61Jv is similar and with Optimus (i.e. IGP) it still gets about 4 hours idle. Yes, the Sony will definitely be faster in the CPU department, and GPU performance will be close. It has only 48 SPs but as pointed out the clocks are quite a bit higher than the 335M--net difference is that the 335 has 28% more shader potential; I don't know if they have the same number of ROPs or not, but the 330 has a 575 core clock vs. 450, so that's another are of comparison. RAM bandwidth is the same. If you're more interested in performance than battery life, I'd recommend an i3-330M over the overclocked CULV laptops without hesitation.
EDev - Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - linkI currently possess the M11x. I pick the unit for the lite keyboard as well as the form factor.
Battery life is great, better than my other Gateway lt3103 (gave to Girlfriend). Speed is great, video speed is what I love on the unit.
I do agree about the keyboard being an oddity, actually I find it slippery. If you have any form of skin oil, food oil, etc., my fingers slip easier than on the Gateway.
Also, I dislike the plastic cover/protector on the screen, not only for the glare, but also like other platforms it touches the keyboard and puts lines on the screen which needs to be wiped off.
Other than that, it is a netbook on steroids with battery life and power.