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Alienware M17x R4 review

Verdict

A quad-core Ivy Bridge CPU and AMD’s Radeon HD 7970M combine to make the M17x R4 a gaming force to be reckoned with

Review Date: 18 May 2012

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,533 (£1,840 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

While most manufacturers are busy paring down their Ultrabooks to the daintiest of proportions, Alienware’s M17x R4 looms somewhere at the other end of the scale. This giant of a laptop spills over the edges of the average lap, packs in the priciest components money can buy, and tops it all off with a 17in Full HD screen. And now that Intel’s Ivy Bridge has wormed its way inside, it promises to be seriously fast too.

Physically, the M17x R4 is much the same as ever. With the AlienFX lighting array capable of illuminating the laptop in multiple colours or being switched off completely, the M17x R4 can glow or adopt all the subtlety of a flashing, neon-lit Ibiza nightclub. It’s entirely up to you.

The thick, contoured body continues the air of brutishness, but there’s one downside to the bombproof construction: it’s almost impossible to carry with one hand, and with the M17x R4 tipping the scales at a considerable 4.37kg, it isn’t a laptop we’d relish carrying about with any regularity.

That bulk, however, proves the perfect ally for the kind of high-end gaming components secreted within, leaving plenty of room for sizeable internal heatsinks, large twin exhausts and a pair of internal 2.5in hard drive bays.

Those rear exhausts aren’t only for effect, either – they provide the quad-core processor and mobile GPU each with its own dedicated cooling, so temperatures remain reasonable even when they’re both working flat-out.

With the GPU cooled by a triple heatpipe and the CPU by a dual heat-pipe arrangement, the Alienware brushes off the demands of all-day gaming effortlessly. The only downside is noise – push the CPU and GPU flat out with a combination of Prime 95 and the devilishly challenging FurMark, and both fans spin up to intrusive levels.

The hardware

The powerhouse behind all this is Intel’s Ivy Bridge quad-core Core i7-3610QM processor. It’s a 45W CPU whose nominal 2.3GHz clock speed Turbo Boosts up to 3.3GHz. As with all the new Ivy Bridge parts, the Core i7-3610QM hosts a range of advances over the previous generation.

The die shrink to 22nm combines with Intel’s Tri-gate transistor technology to leave the processors providing even more performance per watt. The integrated GPU, meanwhile, has been upgraded to Intel HD Graphics 4000, which adds DirectX 11 support and an extra four execution units to bring the total up to 16.

Alienware M17x R4

Tasked with the challenge of our Real World Benchmarks suite, the new Ivy Bridge hardware teamed up with the M17x R4’s 64GB Samsung PM830 SSD to produce a scorching result of 0.94. By comparison, the Samsung Series 7 Gamer we reviewed earlier this year, powered by a 2.2GHz Sandy Bridge Core i7-2670QM, scored 0.84. It’s also only 6% slower than our reference desktop PC, powered by a Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600K.

It’s a stunning achievement, and even more so when you consider the Alienware’s performance in the media encoding portion of our benchmarks, where it proved 3% quicker than the reference PC.

The CPU performance is undeniably impressive, but the Alienware doesn’t really get into its stride until gaming comes into the equation. Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 takes the reigns for everyday tasks, but the top-of-the-range AMD Radeon HD 7970M steps forward for games.

It’s a beast of a GPU: with 1,280 pixel shaders and 2GB of RAM at its disposal it tore through our Crysis benchmarks, pushing an average of 42fps with Crysis running at Full HD resolution and High quality. It wasn’t until we engaged Crysis’ Very High quality setting that the card dropped below 40fps, finishing with a final average of 35fps.

Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 architecture might pale in comparison to AMD’s top-end GPU, but it marks a solid improvement over Sandy Bridge’s HD Graphics 3000. With Crysis running at 1,366 x 768 and Low quality, Intel’s upgraded GPU managed an average of 43fps, 25% faster than its predecessor.

Upping the resolution to 1,600 x 900 and nudging Crysis up to Medium quality saw that drop to 22fps. Given that Ivy Bridge’s Crysis performance is almost on a par with AMD’s new Trinity platform, it’s certain that AMD is will have to work hard to remain price competitive.

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User comments

How about the follow-up to the Asus G74S as a competitor?

I was surprised on the pod cast to hear that there was no competitor product to this.

I have an equally large; equally heavy; equally well-built (non-)portable also designed for gamers with a 3GB graphics card; room for a second hard disk; room for 4 memory cards; and a similar 1920x screen.

It's the Asus G74S and although this model doesn't have Ivy Bridge, the store is now selling - at the same price I paid a few months ago - the next version with Ivy Bridge.

Now admittedly I'm in Finland where Dell's prices tend to be so exorbitant that I never bother to look at their site these days, but given the price you were quoting on the podcast, I'd say that unless UK Asus prices are much higher than their Finnish prices the Asus for similar build quality and everything else is going to run at several hundred pounds less.

If that isn't a competitor product, I don't know what is.

By MikeW2 on 19 May 2012

Remove the battery

Why don't they make this laptop without a battery? No one's going to use this beast in public i.e. on a train/coffee house just to update office documents, owners are more likely to take it round there friends for LAN parties or deploy it at home as a smart looking desktop replacement, in either location there's likely to be an abundance of power sockets. Alienware could even use the space where the battery was for a retractable power cable. Come on Alienware....are you listening?!?! Heck even coffee houses/trains have power sockets. It'll be a darn sight lighter as well.

By anthonysjones on 24 May 2012

He ain't heavy, he's my brother...

Wow, thats some extedned battery ;)

By seanie3000 on 25 May 2012

God it's ugly!

'nuff said.

By Gogster on 29 Nov 2012

Keep the battery, make it bigger

I have to disagree with the post about getting rid of the battery. My M17x goes everywhere I go, the bus, train, coffee shop, mc donalds, internet cafe and to work. None of those places except my company has outlets to plugin, so I rely 100% on battery every day. My commute is about an hour in each direction, which is about how long the battery lasts at full brightness, so it works out perfectly for me. I also see fellow gamers on the road each day with me, all relying on battery. So if anything, we need an option for a larger battery, or new battery technology that holds a charge much longer and gives more power so the video card wont down-clock as much. Having a battery is also extremely helpful when you lose power during a storm, giving you at least an hour to save files and shut down properly. I also use the battery power at work when I bring my laptop into meetings. So yeah, keep the battery. BTW, at home, I use my Alienware desktop for gaming, so the M17x is my gaming on the road machine thanks to battery power.

By M17x_Road_Warrior on 21 Feb 2013

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