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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Really? Because I've owned and reviewed my share of Asus laptops and all of them have done very well. The only one I owned that wound up getting FUBARed was because a friend of mine dropped it on the floor. Thing still works, but the screen is being held together by alligator clips and prayer.

    Asus makes inexpensive laptops. There's a difference between inexpensive and cheap. If you want to see awful build quality and displays, I'm sure we could recommend a few vendors.
  • riku0116 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I'm looking to purchase a portable tablet PC (read: NOT iPad) to take notes and record lectures on.

    I've heard good things about the tm2 and would love to see an AnandTech review of this or other tablet PCs as most of them do fall in the ultraportable range.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Part of the problem is that, in my experience writing for a few different sites, HP can be incredibly cagey with their review hardware. Asus, Acer, and Dell tend to be much cooler about it (and we have excellent relationships with them, to be fair).
  • seanleeforever - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    or take a look at X201 Tablet. it is on the pricey side (got my for around 1600 dollar), but well worth it.
  • attila16881 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    check out the new TM2-2000, i think it would be added to the article ;)
    Size and Weight: 326 x 230 x 24/30 mm, 1,89 kg
    Display: 12,1 wide (1280x800)
    Touchscreen: Wacom digitalizer multitouch
    CPU:Intel Core i3-330UM (1.2 GHz, 3 MB, 800 MHz)
    Chipset: Intel HM55
    GPU: SATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 plus Intel HD (cpu integrated)
    RAM: 4 GB DDR3
    HD: 320 GB (2,5"; 7200 gpm)
    Battery: 6 cells Li-Ion
    Digital fingerprint reader, Trackpad Multi-Touch, USB (3 x 2.0),VGA, HDMI, vga webcam
    LAN: Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000
    WI-FI: 802.11 b/g/n
    Card reader: SD/MMC/MS/MSpro/XD
    OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit
  • jabber - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Fantastic laptop. One of the best devices I've ever bought.

    Always gets missed here over the bloody 11Z which isnt nearly as good.

    Oh and it has trackpad buttons!
  • Friendly0Fire - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Why so little love for the Z? I know it's madly expensive, but after all the complaining about poor screen quality, that thing has an absolutely lavish screen (and a cheap upgrade to 1080p!) on top of a powerful GPU. It also has a DVD drive, backlit keyboard, some pretty powerful non-CULV processors, RAID 0 SSDs and it packages all of that in 3.1 pounds...

    I know it's expensive, but if price is not a limiting factor, it's probably one of the best ultraportables out there.
  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    It is incredible that Sony have managed to pack more hardware than most 13in machines have but in a chassis that's smaller and lighter. It is an expensive and relatively niche machine but on the other hand this is a technology website and the Z series is an extremely interesting machine from a technological point of view, particularly the quad SSDs.

    The screen resolution is the main reason I'm considering a Z series, I currently have an XPS M1330 which has been a superb machine but the low 1280x800 screen resolution is irritating and about the only feature I'd really like to change. The Z series is one of the few machines to go much above this, as is one Lenovo I believe but that's it?

  • Friendly0Fire - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Not just resolution. From what I gathered (I'm looking into buying one soon), the screen is also matte and extremely high-contrast. Of course, that goes with the fact that Sony also happens to be making HDTVs :)

    I only wish there was an Optimus option. Despite the hacking some people have done that appears to enable it in part, I'd rather see a fully support solution. Best would be a manual switch with Auto enabling Optimus.
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Mostly because at $1950 it's well out of most people's price category. But I agree, as an overall machine, the Z is pretty awesome. It still got a mention, but at $1950, it wasn't worth a full page.

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