Introducing the Alienware M17x R3

We've had our hands on quite a few gaming notebooks here, but most of the time they're Clevo-based machines. These aren't necessarily bad notebooks; they're fast, typically have good screens, and they get the job done. Yet they also have some persisting drawbacks: build quality isn't often that hot, the battery is a glorified UPS system, and they feature some of the worst keyboards on the market. ASUS, MSI, Toshiba, and HP all offer fairly compelling alternatives, and today Alienware brings us a particularly interesting contender in the form of the M17x R3.

Truth be told, I was ambivalent about laying hands on the M17x R3. Gaming notebooks can tend to be gaudy affairs, and Alienware's notebooks (at least on the shelf) are practically exemplars of this goofy kind of excess. But there's something to be said for a little bling, and if the whole thing feels right, who's to really complain if it looks like the gaming equivalent of a racecar bed?

Performance-wise, it's definitely going to feel right. Alienware has upgraded the M17x R3 with Sandy Bridge processors, and graphics options start at the AMD Radeon HD 6870M, upgradeable to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M. Or you can go for the big daddy like our review sample has: the AMD Radeon HD 6970M.

Alienware M17x R3 Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-2720QM
(4x2.2GHz + HTT, 3.3GHz Turbo, 32nm, 6MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 4x2GB Hynix DDR3-1333 (Max 4x4GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB GDDR5
(960 stream processors, 680MHz/3.6GHz core/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
LG Philips LGD 02DA
Hard Drive(s) 2x Seagate Momentus 750GB 7200-RPM HDD in RAID 0
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (HL-DT-ST CA30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Internal WirelessHD (with external receiver included)
Audio IDT 92HD73C1 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Battery 9-Cell, 11.1V, 90Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side MMC/SD/MS Flash reader
Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 2.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
Left Side Kensington lock
eSATA/USB combo port
2x USB 3.0
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.14" x 11.96" x 1.75-1.77" (WxDxH)
Weight ~9.39 lbs
Extras 3MP Webcam
Backlit keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Internal WirelessHD
Configurable lighting
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,499
Price as configured: $2,503

The Sandy Bridge processor at the heart is the major part of this refresh of the M17x. You can custom order all the way up to the Intel Core i7-2820QM (the 55-watt i7-2920XM isn't available), but the i7-2720QM presents a nice balance of performance and value. With a 2.2GHz nominal clock rate capable of turbo-ing up to 3.3GHz on a single core (or 3GHz on all four cores), the i7-2720QM should offer more than enough processing horsepower. Alienware also joins four DIMM slots instead of two to the i7's memory controller allowing for a maximum of 16GB of memory, enough to get some serious work done.

Handling graphics duties is the AMD Radeon HD 6970M, basically a mobile version of the desktop Radeon HD 6850. This is arguably the fastest mobile GPU currently available, duking it out with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 485M for the top slot. It features 960 stream processors, a 680MHz core clock, and 2GB of GDDR5 clocked to an effective 3.6GHz on a 256-bit bus for a staggering 115.2 GB/sec of memory bandwidth. The M17x R3 also supports GPU switching, allowing you to switch to the IGP while on the battery to substantially improve running time. Unfortunately the solution here isn't quite as automatic or seamless as NVIDIA's Optimus, but it gets the job done.

The M17x R3 sports two drive bays, but the storage options offered on the Dell website leave something to be desired. The default configuration is a pair of 320GB, 7200-RPM hard drives in RAID 0 and in fact outside of a single 256GB SSD option, everything is RAID 0. Understanding that the M17x R3 should be spending most of its life on your desktop, this is nonetheless a disappointing set of options. Ideally you'd want an SSD serving as the boot drive and a HDD handling mass storage duties. I use a RAID 0 on my desktop for my scratch video drive and gaming drive, but honestly for the latter it's not a substantial improvement. In a notebook, even one that will live its life on flat surfaces, this is still a questionable choice.

From here there are three fairly sizable selling points for the M17x R3: HDMI in, wireless display, and 3D. The HDMI input is only 1.3 and can't support 3D should you configure the M17x with the 120Hz 3D screen option, but for connecting your PS3 or Xbox 360 it's sufficient and works basically as a passthrough to the laptop screen. The built-in wireless display connectivity isn't tied to Intel's Wi-Di but instead uses WiHD. Like most wireless display technologies, though, I had some trouble getting this one working right. While Vivek is a big fan of things like Intel's Wi-Di, I'm not really sold on it; you still have to connect a receiver box to your TV's HDMI port, and frankly, if you can afford to buy this notebook, you can afford to buy a dedicated blu-ray player with Netflix and Hulu functionality built in. Finally, there's a 120Hz 3D-capable panel option for those so inclined, but unfortunately our review unit didn't include it so there's no way to test it.

Making the Case for Bling
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  • aranyagag - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    It is very rarely that I play any games or watch any movies on my laptop, however, I do use my laptop for Internet browsing and productivity software like Microsoft Word and open office.. Even when I watch movies, I strongly prefer to have player controls below the actual picture. Therefore, for me, And the taller a screen the better. Why is it that nobody other than apple can manage to find a 16:10 screen on a 17 "laptop.
  • b0tch02 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    One thing I haven't seen anyone mention is an option for laptops I've been wanting for years... HDMI-In. For those of us that travel a lot (i.e. Military) and don't have the means of transporting a 55" HDTV with us, HDMI-In for a laptop is a big selling point so we can hook up our XBOX360 or PS3. I for one will probably buy this "blinged-out kid's toy" for this feature. Blasphemy you say? I love computer games just as much as any of you, but the cold hard fact is that game designers are obviously focusing their efforts mostly on console games. And even if a game is multi-platform, the console versions tend to be the most polished versions and less buggy. For example, both a friend and myself who are professed PC gamers who have always loathed console gamers have crossed to the dark side. Because the PC version of Battlefield 2: Bad Company had initially been so buggy, and unplayable online, we both bought PS3's and the PS3 versions of the game to get our Battlefield fix.

    So, in short, having a gaming laptop and portable HDTV ( HDMI-in option) for my PS3 has sold me on this laptop or the m18x.
  • arvee - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the excellent review; timely because I'm in the market for something like this and was just looking at these machines a few days ago.

    My main issue is that I'm not really a gamer, I play the occasional game but what I really want is everything that comes with these machines minus the expensive video cards. I'm a programmer and also need a good CPU and large amount of RAM for virtualization. My general formula at the moment is:

    SNB i7 + RAM++ + big beautiful screen + 2 drive bays

    The Dell Precision line is more up my alley but I can't comprehend how those prices are justified. It seems to me more of a market segmentation exercise--business users *can* pay more and are less likely to skimp than personal users (who buy gaming laptops) who are forking over their own money so I'm sure the margin from Precision is much larger than Alienware.

    Because I need this for work and I'm often with customers while using my laptop I *really* don't need something that a 14yr old would want a poster of for their bedroom wall; I need a bit more professionalism. This is one of the major drawbacks for me with the Alienware line.

    I've been looking at the ASUS G73SW but the specs already look like they could do with a refresh--the inputs for example (1 USB3.0 and no eSATA?) when stacked up against the competition like the Alienware. Plus.... a "stealth fighter"? Really?

    The one that I'm more interested in is the MSI GT780. I've never owned an MSI before but the specs look great, though it's not due out here in Australia for another few weeks:

    A notch up in terms of a professional 'look' than the alternatives, I'm glad they didn't just make a bigger version of the GT680 case.

    Does anyone have one of these? I think they are out in the US aren't they? Any comments on MSI in general?

    And what are the chances of an Anand review of one of these?
  • Bolas - Thursday, October 13, 2011 - link

    Just ordered a refurbished Alienware m17x R3, based largely off of this review.

    Mod Number Mod Description
    K972H 210W/240W switchable Slim 3P A/C Adapter
    N971H 125V Power Cord
    DK04N Alienware M17x R3 Laptop
    5GMTT Processor: Intel Core i7 2820QM 2.3GHz (3.4GHz w/Turbo Boost, 8MB Cache)
    3K4G1 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz (4 DIMMs)
    HD4KK 750 GB SATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
    02TT0 Blu-ray Disc (BD) Combo (Reads BD and Writes to DVD/CD)
    D50W4 2GB GDDR5 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M
    GY0N1 Internal 60GHz WirelessHD Transmitter
    H9XM4 Killer Wireless-N 1103 a/g/n 3x3 MIMO
    VX5CJ 17.3 inch Wide FHD (1920 x 1080 60Hz) WLED Display
    8VWCN Genuine Windows 7 Ultimate
    8409V Soft Touch Nebula Red
    1M57Y Dell Wireless 375 Bluetooth Module
    WHD6215-R Wireless HD Receiver

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