We love having high-end options such as Intel’s uberpowerful Core i7-920XM CPU, and it’s a plus that Alienware has finally gotten onboard the 16:9 display bandwagon; but if you want serious gamer options such as dual video cards or two hard drives, you’ll have to trade up the bigger 17-inch model.
While it starts at a deceptively promising $1,499, our review unit clocked in at $3,199, which is a steep premium for a system with a single GPU and hard drive (not even a solid state one, at that). Still, the Alienware mystique counts for something, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better built, or faster, 15-inch laptop.
Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,349 / $1,499
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-920XM
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR2
Hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel PM55 Express Chipset
Graphics 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 14.9×12.2 inches
Height 1.9 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 9.4/10.9 pounds
The new look of the M15x is essentially a slightly shrunken clone of the current 17-inch M17x. Much like that model, this M15x has a modern minimalist design. There are fewer distracting flourishes on the keyboard tray than on previous Alienware systems, and there’s a slick edge-to-edge glass overlay on the display. The front edge, rather than squared off, has an angled automotive-inspired grille that helps the overall look from being too slablike, complete with adjustable glowing lights.
The anodized aluminum case is built like a tank, but also about as heavy as one. Even though this is technically a fairly portable 15-inch laptop, we don’t see it taking too many trips out of the house.
Alienware’s Fusion FX lighting and settings control system is a unique selling point. You can set the color for the backlit keyboard in four separate zones, meaning you can create a rainbowlike design across the keys. The same software package also provides a fairly comprehensive power control suite, which offers more detailed options than the basic Windows power settings, as well as security controls, including facial recognition log-in software.
The keyboard has a more traditional tapered key design, rather than the wider, flat keys many laptop makers are partial to these days. When we reviewed the similar-looking 17-inch model, Alienware explained that these tapered keys provide more space between the individual letters, which is better for first-person shooters, which make heavy use of the WASD keys.
The 15.6-inch wide-screen LED 16:9 display offers a 1,920×1,080-pixel native resolution, which is as good as you’d find on any 17-inch or larger laptop. That matches the 1080p standard for Blu-ray and other HD video, making the M15x well-suited for media watching. For $100 less, you can opt for a lower resolution 1,600×900-pixel screen, but we don’t see why anyone would.
Alienware M15x Average for category [mainstream] Video VGA-out, DisplayPort VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio 5.1 speakers, headphone (2x)/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion ExpressCard/54 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner/Blu-ray player DVD burner
Dell continues to push the DisplayPort standard as an alternative to HDMI, and having only three USB ports may be a bit limiting for a gaming machine, but other than that, the M15x is well-equipped for networking, expansion, and accessories.
As expected from Dell and Alienware, there are enough configuration options to create some very different final products (as well as easily doubling the price). The most notable is the new Intel Core i7-920XM CPU. It’s a whopping $900 upgrade over the default Core i7 720QM (itself nothing to sneeze at), and includes a requirement that you also choose the larger nine-cell battery option.
With that superpowerful processor, we saw some of our best performance numbers to date, even beating a hybrid laptop built with desktop quad-core components. Make no mistake, you’re paying a lot for the privilege, but at least for right now, no one will have a faster laptop if you go for the most expensive processor upgrade.
Actually using the Alienware M15x was a smooth, pleasing experience–windows snapped open and shut instantly, annoying pauses were virtually nonexistent. Gaming was likewise excellent, even with only a single video card. Running Unreal Tournament 3 at a whopping 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution, we got 99 frames per second. A few SLI dual-card laptops, such as the Asus W90, could beat that, but not by much, and even those systems fell behind at lower resolutions. The combo of a killer CPU and a good single GPU was a powerful one, and we can only imagine what we’ll get from the first system we test with a Core i7-920XM plus dual Nvidia GeForce 260M or 280M video cards
As one would expect, the Alienware M15x won’t run very long away from a wall socket. Even with the extended nine-cell battery (required by the Core i7 920 processor), the system ran for 1 hour and 46 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. That’s alright for a high-powered desktop replacement, but very low for a 15-inch system with at least pretensions of portability.
Alienware includes an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the system, which includes in-home service. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $299, and several other options are available for purchase, including “Tech Team” coverage for all your Dell products. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base and driver downloads.