E3 2010: Alienware (Hands on)

by: John -
My first appointment for day 2 of E3 was with uber-PC makers, Alienware. The guys with the unique case were showcasing a few of their units with the M11x being, in my opinion, the one to see at the booth.

The M11x is the 11” gaming notebook and while it’s not new, the line gets a refresh with new CPUs. Now, you can pick up a M11x sporting an Intel Core i5 or i7 with the NVIDIA Optimus video switching technology. The Optimus automatically switches from integrated graphics to discrete graphics and vice versa depending on what you are doing. It’s a pretty cool tech that I’ve read about for a while now and one that could help save on some battery life since you aren’t using the more power hungry discrete card if you don’t need to.

The 11” laptop weighs at a very svelte 4.5 pounds and has an average battery life of around 7 hours. That puts my netbook to shame, which my netbook isn’t the norm since it uses NVIDIA ION and a dual core Atom CPU. The discrete card on the M11x is the NVIDIA GeForce GT 335M, which lets you play some of the modern games with some decent speed depending on the options enabled. The 11.6” screen maxes out at a resolution of 1366x768 giving you a decent amount of pixels in the small size as well.

The keys on the M11x are pretty close together and isn’t as wide as my ASUS 1201n netbook but typing on it felt comfortable. For me, I’m used to the full size keyboard of my netbook but I know it wouldn’t take me long to get used to the spacing for the M11x. In fact, I did some typing on the unit displayed just to see how well I could get used to the configuration and it didn’t take me long for me to type decent without having the need to look at the keyboard. I’m sure with a few hours logged in with the unit, I would be as speedy typing on it as with my other full size setups. It’s certainly not as small as other netbooks out there though, which for me is good. Oh, the keyboard lights up too, which is nice.

I played some Blacklight Tango Down on the M11x and it seemed to play fairly well on the small and extremely portable notebook. Of course, I didn’t do any benchmark testing of course but you can be sure that some numbers would be posted should I review the unit. The 11” size really does make it ultra-portable and to have that power along with the battery life in such a compact size is pretty amazing. I’m very tempted to replace my current netbook with the Alienware M11x because of all that it brings in such a portable size.

Two things I asked about were considering of Seagate’s hybrid drives and the GeForce 480M GPU. While both aren’t on the radar for the near future, Alienware is looking at how the hybrid drives shape up and I’m pretty sure that the mobile Fermi will be part of their line sometime soon.

I also went through their desktop line, which Alienware produces a nice number of SKUs in various price ranges so both casual users and enthusiasts can benefit from. Their cases and internals are pretty slick in helping achieve airflow to vital parts as well as providing easy access to certain components. The high end case has a really nice vertical hard drive mounting system that has air flowing up through it. Cages are available for those that want to use a 2.5” drive. The bottom compartment holds the power supply and there’s a nice flow of air from the front of the case towards the back. If you need more ventilation, the top of the case has adjustable vents that open and close.

Another more compact case was equally impressive in design. The cases have lights that go around it but the left side panel is devoid of wires when taking it off. Instead, there’s a small contact piece that connects to the main case allowing for control and power of the lights on the left side. The smaller case doesn’t have the vertical hard drive section but has easy access perpendicular slots to allow for ease of hard drive installation as well. Finally, pushing the Alienware head on the front produces a cool sliding of the top half piece down to reveal the 3.5” bays.

I’ve always enjoyed the Alienware line’s look and components from afar and I can say that up close, all the systems look great as well as having the components needed to be a fast machine.


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