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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    We're working on getting a Nile system. FWIW, SSDs, don't generally save on power, unless they're something like the SandForce controllers, but even then a lot of the time your HDD/SSD will power down because of inactivity. The SU9400 is also a higher clocked CULV, so it may not be the best representative of the platform. In fact, in our own test of the Adamo, we found battery life to be generally quite a bit worse than the other CULV laptops we've tested, even when looking at battery life relative to battery capacity:

    As for overall performance, the IGP in Nile is definitely better than GMA 4500MHD, but that's not saying much. It's still very slow, and typically inadequate for gaming at native resolution. HD 4200 is faster, but also quite slow -- about on par with the new Intel HD Graphics in the Arrandale processors.

    Anyway, Nile is looking more interesting than the old CULV and should be a lot better than Congo. The real selling point is likely to be price, and as long as the price is right and you don't mind the battery life loss, go for it. Just don't expect to be wowed by performance -- which we'd say of CULV as well.
  • matt b - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    Thanks very much for your response. I look forward to the review and I hope you can get the K625 chip for review as it seems to be the highest performer of the Nile parts (thought I would also welcome a review of the lowest TDP Nile part as well). What is encouraging for Nile is that its best performer, the K625, seems to be on par or better performance wise with the SU9400, the higher performing CULV part, but with better graphics, and very comparable battery life. The lower clocked and single core Nile parts have less power usage (as with the lower clocked and single core CULV parts.) It can play HD video with ease, and some reviews show that the 4225 IGP can play older video games at decent (playable) frame rates. For me, that's something that the 4500 can't do, and a nice feature for a netbookish size.
    I agree, in the end it comes down to price. I suspect that a K625 system is going to be cheaper than a SU9400 system. If it has equal or slightly better CPU performance, equal to slightly worse battery life, and much better GPU performance, at a lower price, that's a compelling solution.
  • Jmills - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    When can we expect a review on the ENVY 14?
  • TareX - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Best netbook to buy:

    ASUS Eee PC 1215N..... EASILY.

    1.8 dual core processor
    ION 2
    Chiclet keyboard
    Matte under keyboard
    less than $500
    Privacy webcam toggle

    Coming August 2010
  • NICOXIS - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    What about Samsung r480 ? one of the cheapest i3/i5 + Nvidia GT 330M 14" notebooks on the market.

    really can't see why this one didn't make it to this article...
  • therich - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - link

    How about the Asus U43JC? For about the same price as the recommended U33JC, you also get an optical drive and a core i5 processor (although it's clocked similarly to the i3, it does have Turbo).
  • j.sanders - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    I've narrowed my choices down to these two machines and I'm the opinion of the commentariat and hopefully Vivek

    The thinkpad is a bit bigger a bit heavier and has resolution of: 1440 x 900 (11.95" x 7.4") vs 1600 x 900 (11.6 wide x 6.5) for the vaio.

    The Vaio Z is first choice but I have some reservations:

    Screen has great resolution but the dims, 11.6 wide x 6.5 high worry me just a tad.. thats a lot pixel data in not a a lot of space. To those who have used this machine, how do you like the screen? Do you have to zoom in much in your day to day use? I"m assuming that the sony screen is better in terms of color accuracy, white point and black point performance. Confirm or deny?

    The other concern I have with the Vaio is the palm rest / keyboard relationship. Palm rest / track pad look pretty small. Any feedback I'd appreciate.

    The thinkpad is a different animal. I like the pointy thing in the keys, I"m totally confident of durability and useability. Of course I'd like to have 1600 pixels wide vs 1440 but I won't die without with extra resolution so if the thinkpad is more usable I'd accept the lower resolution.

  • kakfjak - Thursday, May 5, 2011 - link

    All kinds of shoes + tide bag

    Free transport
  • computerupgradeking - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    MSI GE40 2OC-245US i7-4702MQ 2GB NVIDIA 760M 14"


    The latest 4th generation Intel Core-i7 processor in the MSI GE40 not only saves you battery life for a longer gaming experience, but also maintains the best visuals you can get for your games. Enjoy entertainment the way it was meant to be, smoother, faster, and more efficient than the previous generation.
    Performance isn't the only requirement for gamers. Designed with the professionally hardcore in mind, the brush aluminum interior and exterior of the thin and solid design would leave anyone in awe. Paired together with the red LED's, this portable gaming beast is professional yet aggressive.

    It's Main Features:
    2.20GHZ with a max speed of 3.20GHZ
    Graphics: NVIDIA® GEFORCE GTX 760M 2GB GDDR5
    Clock speed: 2.20-3.20 GHz
    RAM: 12GB upgrade-able to 16GB

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