Gaming Portable: Alienware M11x

This pick is almost a given, but hey, can you blame us? Alienware’s gaming ultraportable has been all the rage since it was unveiled at CES 2010, and for good reason: an overclocked CULV processor and an NVIDIA GT 335M dedicated graphics card in an 11.6”, 4lb frame starting at $799? Yes please!

Now, since then, the familiar Core 2 Duo ULV chip has been replaced with the new Arrandale ULV chips, Optimus has been added, and the pricetag has gone up to $949 (the old C2D model is still available for $799), but the principle behind the M11x remains the same: as much GPU as you can stuff into a 4lb chassis, at as low a price as possible. And given the performance, it’s not a philosophy we can argue with. The GT 335M absolutely screams when compared to basically any other portable notebook, and graphically, this is the most powerful notebook this side of 5.5lbs. So far, so good.

The performance side of the deal only got sweeter when the distinctly not-screaming 1.3GHz C2D was replaced with the new i5/i7 ULV chips. This isn’t to say that the original CULV platform was slow; it was certainly adequate for most tasks and the overclocked version in the original M11x was better still, but it was never a powerhouse and definitely did hold the M11x back in certain games. That goes away for the most part with Arrandale’s dynamic clock speed adjustment that can boost processing frequency to 2.13GHz when needed. And even with all the computing power under the hood, the M11x can still last nearly 8 hours on battery power. Pretty sweet, and certainly worthy of the Silver Editor’s Choice Award we gave it last week.

Which isn’t to say that everything is all and well in the M11x’s world: the styling is polarizing, the build quality and keyboard aren’t anything special, and the lack of Gigabit Ethernet strikes us a bit daft in this day and age. But the biggest issue is the screen. As usual, the panel itself isn’t of particularly high quality, but the bigger problem is that the M11x chassis is easily big enough to handle at least a 12” screen, or a even a 13.3” panel in a pinch. Considering that at 4lbs, it’s about the same size and weight as most 13.3” notebooks, Alienware had no real reason to equip the M11x with just an 11.6” WXGA screen. If they could ship it with a WXGA+ (1440x900 or 1600x900) 13.3” screen, it’d be set. However, these are all nits to pick - it’s still the fastest notebook of it’s size by a long ways.

Alternative #1: Sony VAIO Z series

The Z series from Sony is the only sub 4lb notebook in the same performance range as the M11x. It has standard voltage Core i3/i5/i7 processors and the NVIDIA GT 330M graphics chip, which has less shader cores than the GT 335M (48 vs 72) and a faster clock speed (575MHz vs 450MHz). It also has dual 64GB SSDs in RAID 0 configuration, a high contrast 1600x900 13.1” display, and an integrated DVD burner, all in a 3.04lb package. Also, it carries a neat and tidy $1949 MSRP. Gaming performance is close and general performance is likely far better, but the price is just about double the M11x base price. So, it’s an alternative in that gaming performance will approach the M11x, but it isn’t really a competitor to the M11x in any sense of the word.

Alternative #2: ASUS U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc and UL30/50/80Jt

At the same price as the M11x, there is the previously covered ASUS ultraportable lineup, all of which have dedicated graphics cards. Yes, they all share the rather anemic GeForce 310M, but when you’re looking at 4lb laptops that get 10 hours of battery life, any form of dedicated graphics is a plus point. Unfortunately, the GeForce 310M is pretty far from adequate for anything other than older games, so if gaming performance is a high priority, the M11x will still kill all of these.

All-rounder: Asus U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc Road Warrior: Toshiba Portege R700
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  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Oops! Fixed now, thanks for catching that!
  • EarthwormJim - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I'm surprised that the 13" Macbook wasn't included. Doesn't it have a better display than all the other laptops here?
  • ExodusC - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Well, the Envy 14's screen is 1600x900 (that's in the base model, too!), which definitely beats the 1280x800 on a MBP. I'm not sure if it's IPS, but early reviews of the screen say it is amazing.
  • erple2 - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    No, the screen is not IPS. It's a TN just like every other notebook is. The screen has slightly better viewing angles than some other screens, but it's ultimately more of the same. Same basic color reproduction, same basic everything else.

    While it is "better" than other screens in the 13" market space, I wouldn't call it any better than various other high quality notebook screens (Envy 15 1080p looks a little bit nicer, though the Dell "RGB LED" screen does look noticeably better).
  • zshift - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I know it's currently only available at Best Buy, and it's not even mention on Asus' website, but the U52f is a pretty good laptop. 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, DVD Super Multi drive, Core i3-350M, and around 6.5 hours of battery life (listed), it's a pretty good deal at $679. Granted, it only has Intel HD graphics, but for anyone not interested in gaming or 3D content in general this laptop is pretty good. Also, I've personally used it in the store at my local Best Buy, and the build quality is excellent, being nearly as tough as the Protege 705. As far as the touchpad, though, the buttons were a little uncomfortable to press, requiring a little too much force. All in all, I would recommend this as a cheaper alternative.
  • 8steve8 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I'm super-familiar with this market segment and think there's a real lack of good choices out there with ULV or LV arrandale CPUs.

    It's not just the power consumption, it's the heat generation.

    the X201s with the i7 LV cpu is not available for sale (hasn't been for months)

    what the market needs:

    dell V13 with arrandale ULV cpu and a little better battery
    X100e-like thinkpad with arrandale ULV (trackpoint FTW) @ 2.5lbs
    macbook air with arrandale ULV or LV (not waiting for this since apple is sold on having nvidia graphics)

    the R700 is nice (ive used it), it should use a LV cpu, but still nice... too bad they spent the volume and weight on an optical drive, totally useless now days.
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Arrandale ULV is still brand new, most of them (other than the one Acer TimelineX 1830T I'm struggling to think of one) haven't started shipping yet.

    I'd love to see what Toshiba could do with the R705 if they took out the DVD drive. Can you imagine like a .8" thick 2.7lb notebook with those specs and a $749 pricetag? I really hope they think about that.
  • HHCosmin - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    the article seems ok but i guess you do injustice to acer. i do not really know the acer models you mentioned but i have the 3820tg featuring i5 430m, 4gig of ram, hdd, 13,3", 1,8kilos, up to 6,5hours of REAL battery life, discrete ati 5460 graphics, 640gb of hdd. it has no optical drive and i do not think it is useful to have optical unit in a ultraportable. an ultraportable needs to be light, have lots of conectivity and be powerfull enough.
  • HHCosmin - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    and it has aluminum chasys and it is quite strong.
  • 5150Joker - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Anandtech made terrible choices in the entire article. What's the deal with all the Asus picks? They make cheap laptops with some of the worst build quality and displays around.

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