Alienware M14x Gaming Notebook Review
Not that long ago there was a relatively long list of “boutique” PC manufacturers like Voodoo, Hypersonic, Falcon Northwest and Alienware but after years of slow attrition, only a few remain. Even the venerable Alienware was taken over by Dell. While many decried the loss of one of the foremost independent gaming PC companies, the former “bastion of beige” has been able leverage their supply channels and massive marketing budget to continue Alienware’s tradition.
One of the most significant things Dell did to revitalize the Alienware name was the expansion of what used to be a very limited and exclusive product lineup. Sure, ultra high end custom designed rigs are still available and they still cost an arm and a leg but lower end computers are now available at some very accessible prices.
The M14x is regarded by many to be the notebook to get if you are looking for gaming on the go and it actually starts at a reasonable price of around $1100. Naturally, “portable” is a loose term considering this small 14” laptop weighs in at a hefty 6.5 lbs and as with most Alienware products, it can be optioned out to a point where it will beggar all but the most well heeled gamer. But the M14x does start out with a solid base upon which you can build a dream notebook.
For this review Dell sent us a mid-tier M14x which houses one of their most popular configurations. It has a 4 core, 8 thread i7 2630QM standard voltage Sandy Bridge processor, 8GB of 1600MHz memory, a quick 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, the standard 1600 x 900 screen and most importantly an NVIDIA GT 555M graphics processor with Optimus and 3GB of memory (though a 1GB version come standard with most configurations). In their base configuration, Alienware has now substituted the 2630QM with a 2670QM which offers similar performance (it is 200MHz faster) at an identical price point.
For good measure, a wireless HD transmitter and the upgraded Intel dual band WiMax supporting series-6250 network card were also thrown in. And the price for all of this gaming goodness? About $1600 but when on sale we’ve seen this configuration go for just under $1500. So while it isn’t all that expensive in the grand scheme of things, our configuration certainly isn’t cheap for a 14” notebook either.
If performance upgrades are your thing, be prepared for some treats. In addition to the specs of our review unit, a 2860QM processor can be yours for $350. Want Sound Blaster X-Fi audio software or a drool worthy SSD setup? That’ll be $20 and $500 respectively. Just about the only thing that isn’t upgradable is the graphics processor due to the chassis’ internal cooling limitations and a fully decked out M14x with all of the bells and whistles will run you a cool $2500.
Our M14x unit just happened to come in a highly photogenic metallic red (or Nebula Red as Alienware describes it) but is also available in a standard matte black finish. With that being said, the exterior may look a bit frail but the paint seems to be applied thick enough that most scratches will rendered invisible and there is a slightly textured finish so it won’t slip out of your hand.
There is certainly a lot of plastic on Alienware’s M14x but the build quality here is really second to none and the exterior design isn’t all that bad either. The gently angled front and rear panels slim down its substantial 1 ½” thickness and end up making some space for the interesting (yet completely non-functional) illuminated front “vents”.
Unfortunately this sloped design and a rear-mounted power connector makes for a lesson in frustration as you fumble around looking for a way to plug the M14x in. The illuminated power cord looks cool but it doesn’t help in this task either. Sure, flipping it over isn’t all that hard but the sharp front edges can scratch a laminated desk very easily.
Opening up the lid we see a colour scheme that seems straight out of Dell’s Vostro line with a sea of matte black surfaces but there is more here than what first meets the eye. The keyboard, trackpad and front “lip” are covered in a supple finish that adds grip while absorbing any light, thus eliminating unwanted reflections. This also makes for a highly durable surface which –much like the ASUS U36SD we reviewed- absorbs scratches and doesn’t bat an eye when liquid is spilled.
If you want something that won’t stand out in a crowd we recommend you avoid the red finish since it really does make a bold statement and every viewable surface is covered in it. Even the M14x’s underside screams “performance” with a pair of large vents for the heatsink’s intake and exhaust. There’s also a personalized, numbered plaque that can be engraved with your own message (or name) for no additional charge.
This is first and foremost a gaming notebook and Alienware has made it a point to include every conceivable connector. The left hand side holds a VGA port, outputs for both HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort, a single USB 2.0 connector, TWO headphone jacks (perfect for watching movies with your significant other or playing multiplayer games) and a mic input, a 9 in 1 card reader and a SIM card slot for this notebook’s WAN options.
The right edge meanwhile houses a slot loaded DVD drive (Blu Ray isn’t an optional), two SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, a LAN jack and the arbitrary Kensington lock.
You know it from the hit CSI TV shows and Hollywood blockbusters: the iconic glowing Alienware logo that graces their laptops puts in an appearance here as well. If you want to stand out in class or at a LAN party, here’s your chance to mesmerize the competition and elicit envious stares from pretty much everyone.
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