Like the Alienware M17, the Alienware M17x laptop tries loading up on features while still achieving a fairly reasonable entry price for a base model. The base-level 17in machine will earn a warm reception from gamers but, of course, what descended upon our desktop was anything but entry-level. It's got every conceivable bell and whistle, from a Blu-ray drive to the backlit illuminated keyboard.
It's also fast. The Alienware M17x managed to score an impressive 100 in our test suite thanks largely an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 processor, 4GB of RAM, and two 160GB solid-state hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. Certainly no slouch, it edged out the 17in MacBook Pro (that notebook earned a 98).
Once you fire up the dual 1GB nVidia GeForce 280m GPUs, the Alienware M17x turns up the heat. We turned the dial way up on games such as Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Unreal Tournament III at 1680-by-1050-pixel resolution with all the settings maxed.
The Alienware M17x ran at 65 and 84 frames per second, respectively. In short, you're getting blistering gamer-approved performance for a notebook.
But even running games at 1680 by 1050 hardly does the Alienware M17x justice. The sharp 17in screen supports a native resolution of 1900 by 1200. So we decided to throw on a couple more games: Left 4 Dead and Mirror's Edge. The first is a dark, dank firefight against zombie hordes; the other, a mad sprint through a bright, shiny dystoptian metropolis. Both are fantastic tests that show off both the range of the screen and the power of the Alienware M17x.
It didn't falter on either count - solid performance in both games ensured a smooth gaming experience. The Alienware M17x's screen fared well, making it easy to spot enemies lurking in the inky shadows as well as armed guards giving chase across rooftops with nary a frame drop.
So we've established that the Alienware M17x has power in spades. The other big thing that Alienware crows about is the design. It is a step in the right direction beyond what the company attempted with its M15x. That creaky box felt like it was held together with duct tape and true grit.
The only signs of creakiness or slight seams showing in this otherwise solid chassis were the shortcut buttons above the Alienware M17x's keyboard. While they did quick launch a variety of handy proprietary apps (see below), it required a fairly hard press sometimes for us to see something happen. It could be the unit we had, but otherwise, no complaint on build quality. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find many screws (they hide behind the battery for access to upgradable components).
And the keyboard? It certainly feels good enough as our fingers dance over the backlit keys. Actually, maybe we should say that our fingers moved over the dance floor because you can change the colour of the backlighting on the keys. But we digress. Although the touchpad is a little on the small side for our tastes, it's textured and easy enough to use. The buttons also have a good amount of give as they jut above the large wrist rest.
Like any self-respecting desktop replacement, the Alienware M17x laptop uses its monstrous size (it measures 402x320x45mm and weighs 5.54kg) to accommodate a gaggle of ports. Crammed around the sides are a four pin FireWire port, four USB plugs, an eSATA/USB combo port, an ExpressCard slot, and an eight-in-one Media Card reader. The Alienware M17x also makes room for DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA video-outs. A bunch of audio-out jacks for external surround sound provides a pretty strong indication that you won't be tempted to stick with the two built-in speakers.
Pro tip #1: The Alienware M17x's internal speaker pair provides decent sound in a pinch. Good mids, nothing too tinny - but nothing that hot, either. You'll want a pair of headphones for your next gaming session. Consider that to be one of the few corners trimmed for this already expensive machine. But if you're dropping this much money on a laptop, don't skimp on sound.
Otherwise, the Alienware M17x comes with a pimp-my-rig-worthy lighting kit for the keyboard, numberpad, touchpad, and trim lights. Sigh. (I know that I'm just showing my age on this one, but really - you need running-light LEDs on a laptop?)
That leads us to Pro tip #2: Don't bank on long battery life from this traveling arcade. Initial tests show that the Alienware M17x will hang in for about 2 hours, 56 minutes - a little above average for a desktop replacement machine, not that you'd lug this one around often.
Want to optimise features or tweak the way the lights twinkle? Alienware still has its user-friendly software on hand. Want to customise (or turn off) the extra lighting? No problem. If you want to adjust touchpad sensitivity or activate the facial recognition software (Pro tip #3: We highly recommend against using that facial recognition package), it's there. The performance-tweaking software, we have to say, hits that basic customisability that a gamer craves. But hardcore coders and tweakers - the guys that want to squeeze out every ounce of performance - will need to dig into the BIOS.
So to the £1,699 (and the rest) question: should you buy this sort of muscle machine? Y'know, these days it may seem ridiculous to drop so many ducats on a laptop that you can upgrade only so far - but some live in ivory towers and demand the best. Like this notebook. If you have to own the best, get the Alienware M17x - but it is a lot of money.