May 28, 2010 4:03 pm

The Alienware M11X: A little dog with a big bite

Gamers on the go have always had to trade portability for power, and vice versa. If you  wanted a killer system, you had to be ok with lugging around a “lapmonster”, and if you wanted small and light, you had to cosign yourself to a less-than-ideal set of specs.

The guys and girls at Alienware were tired of that trade-off too, and solved the problem with the Alienware M11X Gaming Laptop. This is 11” of pure power – one of the most impressive gaming rigs I’ve used, packed into a little, tiny, netbook-sized package. And it’s LIGHT! My machine weighs in at just about 4.5lbs, which is plenty light to toss into a messenger bag and tote around all day.

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Chassis design is very Alienware – black polycarbonate, sharp edges, etc. – but what really stands out are the specs. Inside my unit is a ULV Pentium U4100 (there is a Core2Duo model available), 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 256GB SSD, backlit keyboard and webcam. Graphics are switchable; run the integrated Intel graphics when you’re browsing the web and doing basic productivity work to save juice, and hit the Binary GFX button to kick on the discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M card for ultimate fragging power. The GeForce GT 335M is a mid-range notebook graphics card, but still packs good power, clocking in a 6.5 WEI score for both desktop and 3D graphics. The card supports CUDA, too, so it’s available to handle processor cycles in certain scenarios like video encoding. This is handy since the Intel Pentium U4100 isn’t all that powerful and can choke a bit on processor-intensive actions. Switching is fast and near-seamless, and I found myself switching modes pretty regularly.

Battery life is surprisingly good. I got about 4 hours of normal use out of the M11X (using largely the integrated graphics mode). While gaming I stayed plugged in but logically assume that battery life will tank when cranking hard on a 3D game.

Admittedly I’m not a huge gamer (having an 18-month old at home severely impacts one’s ability to retreat to my home office for an hours long HALO-bender), but I did take one for the team and spend a few of my working hours playing favorites like Street Fighter IV and Batman Arkham Asylum, and both performed beautifully. Running full-screen at full-frame rate, Batman ran nearly lag-free with only the occasional very short stutter. Sound is immersive and fills the room, and helped me easily blow an entire afternoon on the game.

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One of my favorite things about this PC (beyond the sheer power of the hardware) is the Alienware Command Center, a pre-loaded app that lets you completely customize the look and feel of your PC. That includes dropping on the “Alien Guise” custom theme, and changing the led backlighting on the Alienware logo, keyboard and case accents to almost any color you want. It’s a nice way to make the PC as unique as its owner, and it’s a great compliment to the Aliensense facial recognition software, which makes login as easy as smiling at the built-in webcam. Check the video to see it in action:

While my loaded M11x costs about $1800 (nearly $600 of which was due to the fact that I splurged on a giant 256GB SSD!), you can get one starting at $799. That’s a very reasonable price point for hardware of Alienware’s quality.

If you’re a gamer and are looking to keep playing even when you’re away from your main rig, definitely look into the M11x.

Questions/comments/concerns? Leave a comment or hit me on Twitter @BenThePCGuy.