Alienware M17x R4 review

18 May 2012

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

Price when reviewed: 
1,840(£1,839 inc VAT)
5

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,533
Price inc VAT £1,840
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 4
Performance 6

Warranty

Warranty 1yr on-site

Physical specifications

Dimensions 304 x 45 x Unknownmm (WDH)
Weight 4.370kg
Travelling weight 5.4kg
Travelling weight with extended battery 410.0kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i7-3610QM
Motherboard chipset Intel HM77
RAM capacity 8.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 17.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics 4000, AMD Radeon HD 7970M
Graphics card RAM 2.00GB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 64GB
Hard disk usable capacity 60GB
Spindle speed N/A
Internal disk interface SATA/600
Hard disk Samsung PM830 mSATA
Optical disc technology Blu-ray reader
Optical drive HL-DT-ST CA30N
Battery capacity 7,800mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
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 yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 1
FireWire ports 0
eSATA 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 4
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader yes
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset SoundBlaster Recon3Di
Speaker location Front
Hardware volume control? yes
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 2.1mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 3hr 2min
Battery life, heavy use 1hr 10min
3D performance (crysis) low settings 93fps
3D performance setting Low
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.94
Responsiveness score 0.86
Media score 1.03
Multitasking score 0.94

Operating system and software

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