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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  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Macbooks at similar prices get entire articles regularly as do top of the range graphics card and computer parts which would also be out of most people's price category so a page or even article on the Z on a site like this doesn't seem too much.

  • GTaudiophile - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I just bought one...sort of like a cheaper Z...

    Intel Core i3 330 UM (1.2GHz)
    ATI HD 4550 w/ 512MB VRAM
    4GB DDR3 RAM
    320GB HDD
    5+ hours battery with WiFi
    Less than 4 lbs.
    About $800
  • darunium - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    The M11x is an impressive notebook, despite the undervolting of the CPU, but why is there no mention of the Asus N82Jq? With a standard clock of the i7-720QM and GT335M, plus a solid screen in a 5lb package, I think that as a gaming portable notebook it really stands strong, even if it isn't specifically marketed in that segment.
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Read more carefully, it's there. Try the page with the Envy 14.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    What new Puma platform? What the heck are you guys smoking. Puma is 2 years old WWWWTTTTTFFFFF? This whole thing reads like a big stinking pile of intel advertising.
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    My bad, that was supposed to read Nile, dunno why I said Puma (fixed now). But the rest of that is accurate: the new AMD-based ultraportables still don't have the battery life to touch the Intel portables, simple as that, but performance is starting to catch up, benchmarking similarly to the equivalent Core 2 CULV parts, and the HD 4225 is obviously a ways faster than GMA.

    Where AMD is really winning right now, both in desktop and mobile, is in environments where power requirements don't matter so much and they can provide tri- and quad-core processors for dirt cheap. Honestly, if you don't care about battery life in a 15" machine, you'd rather have an AMD quad than an Intel dual core, right?
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I had the unfortunate displeasure of using a N450 netbook this weekend. The things are just not usable for anyone with a pulse. Of course AMD cant beat that battery life, because those things dont even do anything except sit there frozen half the time. Everything I've read about the K125 suggests usable performance with respectable battery life.
  • Chloiber - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Is it even available in Europe?
  • jtsarnak - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    As an owner of Sony's Z-series laptop, I want to chime in and discourage anyone seriously considering an ultraportable from looking at Vaio machines.

    There is a known problem with Sony's newer laptops and battery drain. The battery loses life at an appreciable rate when completely shutdown. The only way to prevent loss is to physically remove the battery. Some have speculated the battery care function, some the hinged design common to the lines experiencing the problem, but Sony has done nothing and in fact call it a "feature".

    The Z would be perfect (although expensive) if not for the drain. Now I have to remove the battery whenever I'm not using it or keep it plugged in. The 7+ hours of battery life in a machine this powerful mean nothing if I have to keep it constantly plugged in.

    No review site has mentioned this issue which just goes to show you should head to notebookreview's forums before making any decisions on a laptop.

    Mr. Gowri, you'd be doing the buying public a great service by looking a little deeper into this problem with Sony's laptops and making the problem more public. Maybe Sony will finally be forced to make a change...
  • GTaudiophile - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I have no such drain issue with my Y-series.

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