Alienware M17x R3 Review
Author: Craig Jones
With great performance, cool design and fantastic speakers, the Alienware M17x R3 is a top-level 17-inch gaming notebook, ready to compete against most custom built desktops.
Now into its third incarnation, the M17x R3 promises to live up the standard that had been set by the previous generations. Alienware hasn’t skimped on the aesthetics of the M17x R3 including the signature backlit keyboard and geometric angular design that seems so familiar.
Size & Screen
The M17x R3 has a 17.3-inch display with an “edge to edge” glass covering. The base system has a 1600×900 resolution however Alienware also offer a full HD model and is also available with a 3D 1080p panel with a 120Hz refresh rate which enables the use of the NVIDIA active shutter glasses. The non-3D 1080p display has excellent brightness and is very colourful Contrast is above average; the Command prompt window is a nice deep black. As a TN-type panel, viewing angles are fine side-to-side however the picture becomes distorted when viewed off-angle vertically.
The M17x R3 gets an upgrade in the sound department to that of its predecessor. It features two custom-designed Klipsch speakers integrated below the palm rest. They sound positively fantastic for notebook speakers, boasting full sound with perceptible bass. They have ample loudness with no noticeable distortion up to 90% volume.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The M17x R3 has a traditionally-styled keyboard. It has four-zone customizable LED back-lighting via the AlienFX system lighting. The keys have a slight concave shape and a rubbery non-slip surface which is perfect for those intense gaming sessions when the pressure is on and when palms get sweaty. Key travel is excellent; it doesn’t feel like the keys should move any further up or down. Keys have moderate actuation force (the amount of pressure it takes to depress a key); so resting hands won’t push down the keys. There is some moderate flex towards the keyboard’s centre which is unexpected considering the build quality of the rest of the machine, but it doesn’t do too much to affect the feel of the keyboard when typing.
The large Synaptics touch-pad is responsive and has an excellent matte non-slip surface. The edges are backlit – another part of the AlienFX lighting system. The touch-pad is slightly recessed into the palm rest, making it easy to find by feel. The two touch-pad buttons are quiet and have very good tactile feedback. Overall Alienware did an exceptional job with the input devices.
System performance is the main priority on a gaming notebook and the M17x R3 doesn’t disappoint. Boasting the 2nd-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core processor and the crown jewel of mobile video cards, the new AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of screaming GDDR5 video memory. Combine those two with an ample 8GB of system memory and and a large 1.5TB RAID 0 hard drive array and you get one of the best-performing notebooks on the market. The M17x R3 is available with up to 16GB of RAM and an even higher-end Core i7 quad-core processor.
Heat & Noise
The M17x R3 jets hot air out of the vents located on either side on the back of the chassis. The two large intake vents on the bottom of the notebook provide the air for cooling. At idle the cooling system hardly makes any noise however once under full load, the noise level increases significantly;not too dissimilar to that of an Boeing 747. Fortunately the fans lack any sort of whine or motor noise, although this may change over time, depending on usage.
The top of the chassis remains lukewarm only on the keyboard area; the rest is room temperature. The bottom centre of the chassis gets hot but not alarmingly so. Overall the M17x R3 has a well-designed cooling system, though its predecessor was much quieter.
During a pretty standard test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active, and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds) the M17x R3 manages to squeeze out a very respectable 3 hours of battery life form the large 9-cell battery. A great improvement over its predecessor which only managed to average 2 hours. The M17x R3 features Switchable graphics and ran off the integrated Intel HD graphics on battery as opposed to the beastly AMD Radeon HD 6970M. Things to take into consideration are the AlienFX lighting system and the RAID 0 array of the drives. Both of which have a significant negative effect on the battery performance. I wouldn’t expect the machine to last anywhere close to this when gaming, so make sure you have a plug socket nearby.
Value For Money
The base model of the M17x R3 isn’t exactly going to break the bank, with a price tag of £1,299 ($1980) but if you want a little more out of your machine and you are looking for the immersive experience of a 3D display you may want to think about re-mortgaging.
For someone looking for an ‘easy in’ into the world of PC Gaming, this is a great option. Without the fuss of building a computer, and looking for a PC that has the necessary specs for running GPU intensive games, the M17x R3 houses it all in a very neat little package. The added bonus of portability is something that only helps to add to the appeal. Other highlights of the machine include a great keyboard and touch-pad nice-sounding speakers, and good build quality. Speaking of build quality, that is the one area where Alienware could have improved. As it stands the M17x R3 has good quality, but it is not up to par with its aluminium-clad predecessor.
All in all the M17x R3 is a great machine though the base model is nothing ground-breaking so if you are serious about gaming, and good hardware, then loosen the purse strings a little and spend the extra dosh on the upgraded specs of the Full HD model.