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Alienware M11x R2 review

Verdict

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

Review Date: 19 Jul 2010

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,246 (£1,464 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

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.

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User comments

3G

why the hell haven't they included a 3G module unlike the rest of the world AGAIN?!

By gavmeister on 19 Jul 2010

3G

There is an option in the BIOS to enable/disable 3G, so I presume there must be a mini-PCI slot sitting empty somewhere inside...

By SashaMuller on 19 Jul 2010

OK but that's only half the story

what about the antenna?

By gavmeister on 19 Jul 2010

Details, details....

I'll email Alienware now and post back asap. :)

By SashaMuller on 20 Jul 2010

thanks!

they did say in March 3G would be included "within months" [CNET review though so don't trust it! ;-)]. My cash awaits!

By gavmeister on 20 Jul 2010

any luck?

By gavmeister on 27 Jul 2010

Not yet....

My contact is on the case, but apparently it's not as simple a question to answer as you or I might imagine.

I'll keep chasing...

By SashaMuller on 27 Jul 2010

thanks again

i think i heard it mentioned that it's not included because they haven't found a carrier to do a deal with. but if that's the case why rip out the technology? Why not leave the antenna and card in there and let us find the carrier? Or at least offer it as an option which we can choose to pay for? it seems wilfully obstructive not to.

By gavmeister on 27 Jul 2010

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