Special thanks to our new favorite reader Joe Kelly, who loaned us his M11x for this review!
Alienware M11x unboxing and hands-onSee all photos
Look and feel
Around the sides you'll find a healthy array of ports: VGA, a powered USB port for charging other devices, Ethernet, HDMI, DisplayPort, a card reader and a four-pin FireWire jack line the left side, while the right sports a mic jack, dual heaphone ports, two more USB ports, and a vast expanse of glossy black plastic. Only a power port graces the back, but on the bottom you'll find a fairly large fan, a battery meter, and a little Alienware plaque commemorating your purchase. The M11x is also quite heavy for a smaller machine at 4.5 pounds -- that's as much as, say, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and you can certainly feel its heft when you hold it.
Keyboard, touchpad and screen
We could have lived without the dedicated menu key and a smaller right Shift if that had meant a larger arrow layout, but overall the keyboard is quite nice, and you can certainly pull off WASD when it's time to game. The trackpad is similarly nice: no mulititouch here, but we've always like textured touchpads, and tracking was nice and accurate. We just wish the buttons were a bit bigger -- we found ourselves clicking dead plastic at the lip of the machine quite often.
We've been harping on crappy displays in cheaper laptops for a while now, but the M11x is the rare low-end machine in a company's lineup that doesn't compromise on the LCD. The 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 LED-backlit display is bright, sharp and has terrific horizontal viewing angles. The vertical viewing angle is a little narrower, but it's easy to find the sweet spot -- kudos to Alienware for using a good panel here instead of trying to lower the price with a substandard display. We just wish it wasn't so, so glossy.
Performance, graphics and battery life
|Alienware M11x (1.3GHz Core 2 Duo, GMA)||2689||654||4.5|
|Alienware M11x (1.3GHz Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA GT 335M)||3141
|Sony VAIO Z (2.53GHz Core i5, NVIDIA GT 330M)||9949
|ASUS UL50Vf with NVIDIA Optimus (1.3GHz Core 2 Duo, integrated GMA)||3724||827||6:10|
|ASUS UL50Vf with NVIDIA Optimus (1.3GHz Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA G210M)||4049
|Lenovo ThinkPad Edge (1.3GHz Core 2 Duo, GMA)||2955||905||5:12|
|Acer Aspire 5738PG (2.55GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI Radeon 4570)||4049
In addition to ULV-like performance, we also got ULV-like battery life when using the integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics: our video rundown test went for 4.5 hours, which is about average. But flip on that NVIDIA GPU and things change fast -- the fan turned on almost instantly every time we swapped graphics, and the heat output of the system increased noticeably. We weren't able to test battery life to completion with the GPU on, but the meter certainly ran down much faster -- we wouldn't expect to get much more than two and a half or three hours of use with the NVIDIA chip active. And remember -- the battery is integrated into the system, so airline gamers can't just pack a second battery and go.
Here's the thing about switching the graphics on this machine, though: now that NVIDIA's seamless Optimus hybrid graphics system is shipping on the ASUS UL50Vf, having the M11x tell you to quit certain apps and black out the screen while it switches GPUs feels positively hacky. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it's hard knowing that there's such a better automatic solution out there -- especially since you'll want to switch back and forth quite a bit to max out battery life. We wouldn't let it stop us from getting one, but we have to wonder why NVIDIA and Dell didn't get together and put Optimus on the M11x right from the start, since it's such a perfect fit. We certainly expect to see it on a later version.
- Gaming-ready GPU and switchable graphics
- Great display
- GPU cuts battery life
- Doesn't have Optimus automatic GPU switching