Alienware M11x R2 review

19 Jul 2010

Alienware's M11x R2 is portable, powerful and - barring the overpriced SSD - just that little bit special

Price when reviewed 
1,464
5

Alienware's M11x isn't your usual ultraportable. Most laptops fed by low-voltage processors shudder at the mere thought of 3D gaming, but Alienware's miniature portable practically salivates at the prospect.

It isn't long since we reviewed the M11x, but mere months later it's gone under the knife at Alienware HQ and emerged as the M11x R2. Visually, it's almost identical, cutting the same bold, futuristic dash as its predecessor. We're definitely fans of the new Stealth Black lid, though: its smooth, rubbery-feeling matte-black looks far classier than the glossy grey of its predecessor.

Underneath the moody black contours, the M11x R2 has undergone some serious internal upgrades. Intel's Core 2 architecture has made way for Intel's Core i5 and i7 ULV chips, and, most importantly, Nvidia's automatic graphics switching technology, Optimus, now takes a central role.

As a laptop destined to lead dual lives - one-half energy-efficient ultraportable and one-half mighty gaming pipsqueak - Nvidia's Optimus makes the perfect partner. It's Optimus that now allows the M11x R2 to switch seamlessly and automatically between the power-frugal Intel HD graphics and the power-hungry Nvidia GT335 chipset. Fire up a game, and the GT335 leaps into action. Fire up Microsoft Word, and Intel takes the lead.

Alienware M11X R2 front

Where Nvidia's Optimus adds some finesse to the proceedings, Intel's Core i5 and i7 ULV processors add a bit of brawn. Our review unit came with the more affordable 1.06GHz Core i5-520UM, 4GB of RAM and a stupidly overpriced Samsung 256GB SSD. Dump the SSD and you'll save £505 right away; more than enough to afford the £180 upgrade to the 1.2GHz Core i7-640UM.

A processor rated at a mere 1.06GHz might sound like a return to the days of the Pentium III, but the Core i5-520UM has all the usual tricks up its sleeve. TurboBoost is capable of shunting the processor up to a maximum of 1.86GHz and, while it's a mere dual-core processor, those two physical cores are accompanied by virtual Hyper-Threaded cores allowing up to four processing threads at once. The results speak for themselves. The previous model with its Core 2 Duo SU4100 overclocked to 1.73GHz managed just 0.85 in our benchmarks; the Core i5 cruised to 1.10 at stock speed.

Overclocking remains an intrinsic part of the Alienware's appeal. The previous model provided the ability to run at stock speeds or at a set CPU overclock of 1.73GHz, but with nothing in-between there was little scope for tweaking. And with no guarantee: you either had a CPU capable of a stable overclock, or not. The new BIOS improves matters by allowing the base clock to be pushed up from its standard 133MHz to 166MHz in 1MHz increments. The results still depend very much on the particular CPU, but pushing up to 146MHz left the Core i5-520UM running at 1.17GHz and TurboBoosting to 2.04GHz, and increased its score in our benchmarks to 1.15.

The M11x R2 pushes well ahead of its predecessor in application performance, but our gaming benchmarks weren't quite the game, set and match we expected. In our least-demanding Crysis test - run at 1,024 x 768 and with detail set to Low - the Alienware managed just 44fps; significantly below the previous model's average of 55fps. All the evidence points towards the CPU being the limiting factor. As we moved the resolution up to 1,600 x 1,200 pixels and upped the detail to High, the graphics card became the bottleneck, the M11x R2 averaging 14fps, neck-and-neck with its previous incarnation.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,246
Price inc VAT £1,464
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 286 x 233 x 33mm (WDH)
Weight 2.040kg
Travelling weight 2.4kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i5-520UM
Motherboard chipset Intel QS57
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 12.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce GT335M / Intel HD graphics
Graphics card RAM 1.00GB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 256GB
Hard disk usable capacity 238GB
Spindle speed N/A
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Samsung PM800
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Battery capacity 5,600mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 100Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 3
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Front edge, Under keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 6hr 43min
Overall application benchmark score 1.10
Office application benchmark score 1.09
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.13
Encoding application benchmark score 0.99
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.21
3D performance (crysis) low settings 44fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied N/A