Alienware M17x R4 Notebook Review

Florian Glaser, 05/27/2012

It's partytime! While Nvidia's Kepler flagship still keeps us waiting, AMD's new Radeon HD 7970M is seriously mixing up the gaming notebook segment. In combination with Intel's new Ivy Bridge processors, Alienware had enough reasons to refresh its Luxury gamer M17x. Will the 17" notebook be able to score our "Gaming Reference" title again?

Alienware M17x R4

Gaming enthusiasts with at least 1500 expendable Euros get just the right fodder from Dell. The manufacturer's second largest gaming notebook after the M18x can be configured extensively on their internet site.

As mentioned, Intel's new Ivy Bridge processor is used. The three currently offered variants 3610QM3720QM and 3820QM are all quad-core chips from the high end lineup. The GeForce GTX 660M can also be replaced with a more powerful model. There is the GeForce GTX 675M, which, unlike the GTX 660, is a re-badged Fermi chip and not part of the new Kepler generation. Then there's AMD's very promising Radeon HD 7970M, which could become the mandatory choice for enthusiast gamers.

Regrettably, Dell’s pricing is feisty as usual. This is readily visible with RAM. For the upgrade from 6 to 8 GByte at 40 Euros (49.50 USD), Dell is asking four times as much as prices on the open market, where 2 GByte of DDR3 Ram go for 10 Euros (12.37 USD). If you need any more than 8GByte, you should just upgrade the RAM yourself.

Customers have the widest range in hard drive choices. The M17x sports an mSATA bay and two regular 2.5" bays, which can be configured nearly any way you please. Dell offers several matching RAID-0 bundles. The 17" screen is also available in several variations. Instead of the HD+ panel (1600x900), you can integrate a Full-HD panel (1920x1080), including an also available version that supports 120 Hz, pointing to 3D capability.

Optical drive options are limited to two choices; a DVD burner or a Blu-Ray combo drive. With the 'Killer Wireless-N 1103', there's a WiFi radio specifically designed for gamers on offer. The 64-Bit version of Windows 7 is either as Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate pre-installed. We'll ignore the various software and support options for the moment. Be aware that Dell's configuration options and pricing change frequently and may vary from country to country.

 

Case

gumming on the lid
gumming on the lid

The 410 x 304 X 46 Millimeter Case weighs 4.4 Kilogram and is available in a discreet black (Stealth Black) or a striking red (Nebula Red).

Comparing the 4th revision with the 3rd (see test), there are minimal visual differences. Apart from an additional grating at the bottom, the Notebook remains untouched externally. The futuristic design, with its prominent lines and unique shape, remains as it was, to be loved - or hated.

Not many are able to beat its build quality. You might discover a few rough edges in regards to finish, but overall, the M17x appears to be of very high quality and good workmanship. The pleasant gumming on lid and wrist rest amplifies the positive overall impression. The matte finish makes the base unit relatively resistant to contamination. The display on the other hand, with its reflective plastic screen cover, is extremely sensitive to finger prints and scratches.

Case stability is above average, as usual. With exception of the keyboard and the exhaust grating, the casing withstands strong pressure. The lid isn't quite so strong, vibration prompts the display to bob back and forth, sometimes markedly so. If opening the lid with one hand, expect the base unit to follow to a small degree.

 

Connectivity

Interfaces

The available interfaces are largely identical to the previous revision. Positioning of connectors was copied 1:1, Alienware merely updated the USB ports. Of the five USB ports, four now support USB 3.0, rather than just 2 in the last revision.

Otherwise, everything remains the same. Three video interfaces (VGA, HDMI 1.4 and Mini-DisplayPort) as well as four audio connectors (including 7.1 Surround Sound) are not a standard for gaming notebooks. Thanks to an HDMI input, the screen can even be used as a display for other devices. A Kensington Lock, a 9-format card reader and an RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port should come as no surprise to anyone, however.

Alienware makes up for the missing FireWire port with an eSATA connector. Some customers will also miss the ExpressCard slot, but overall, the manufacturer did a good job, many competing notebooks are less eager to connect.

Wireless Communications

By default you receive Intel's Centrino Wireless-N 2230, sporting Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, in addition to WiFi b/g/n with its maximum 300 Mbit/s transfer rate.

Service and Upgrades

Removal of the service hatch is simple: remove the battery, followed by two small screws in the bottom cover and you are done. One look into the inside of the case shows that Alienware does not place needless obstacles in the user's way. Aside from the WiFi radio and two RAM banks under the keyboard, all components are easy to access. One can even remove the entire cooling system. This is how it should be done!

Left side: Kensington Lock, RJ-45 Gigabit-LAN, VGA, HDMI, Mini-DisplayPort, 2x USB 3.0, 4x Sound
Left side: Kensington Lock, RJ-45 Gigabit-LAN, VGA, HDMI, Mini-DisplayPort, 2x USB 3.0, 4x Sound
Rear: power connector
Rear: power connector
Right side: optical drive, card reader, 2x USB 3.0, eSATA / USB 2.0, HDMI-In
Right side: optical drive, card reader, 2x USB 3.0, eSATA / USB 2.0, HDMI-In
Front: no connectors
Front: no connectors
pre-installed software
pre-installed software

Software

Even though the Manufacturer loads up the notebook with diverse programs and tools, it doesn't feel slow upon delivery. Among the high lights are PowerDVD 9.6 and the so called 'Command Center'. While AlienFX takes care of illumination and AlienFusion stands for power management, AlienTouch allows for touch pad configuration.

Accessories

What would an Alienware notebook be without a rich set of accessories? The manufacturer deserves praise not only for the potent 9-cell battery sporting 90Wh, but also for the large but surprisingly thin 240 Watt power supply. The package is rounded off with a protective velvet cover, a mouse pad, a few info pamphlets and several DVDs. Customers receive a driver DVD and a recovery DVD to restore the operating system. The customary thick manual unfortunately gave way to a quick start guide. Dell reasons this to be better for the environment.

Warranty

The base configuration includes 12 months on-site warranty service. For additional cash, that duration can be extended to two or three years. Protection against accidental damage can be purchased as well.

AlienFX
AlienFX
AlienFusion
AlienFusion
AlienTouch
AlienTouch
AlienAdrenaline
AlienAdrenaline

Input Devices

Keyboard

The input devices leave little to criticize. Alienware has resisted the chicklet trend for years and prefers classic keyboards with closely spaced keys. The relatively small usable surface of 12 x 13 millimeters is not a hindrance in everyday use, as the keys are slanted markedly toward their edges.

In regards to layout, Dell chances no experiments; the full number keypad further helps shorten the time to get used to the keyboard. The comparably soft feel when typing was pleasant to the reviewer. The keyboard is quieter than a lot of competitors' keyboards. Above the keyboard, toward the right, there's a handy row of buttons to control multimedia functions, activation of the WiFi radio and ejecting optical media, as well as opening the command center.

Talking about the command center; the keyboard offers a four-zone illumination feature, which can be adjusted elaborately through software. The 20 available colors should include something for every taste. Aside from the keyboard, you can also light up the Alienware logo, the special button row, the touch pad and the speaker meshes. Being able to save your customized settings in custom profiles puts the dot on the "i".

 

illumination
illumination
illumination
illumination
Lighting elements Alienware M17x R4

Touchpad

We liked the version 7.4 Synaptics touch pad a lot, and it can be deactivated. One of the greatest advantages is the extremely smooth surface. The finger feel and ease of gliding are excellent. Inputs are accepted smoothly and accurately. With an area of 100 x 55 millimeters (3.9 x 2.2 inches), its usage is very comfortable.

Multi-touch and horizontal or vertical scrolling were not activated by default on our test unit, but had to be enabled using the Synaptics driver or Alienware's command center. Our experience with gestures was excellent. Thanks to its illumination and slightly receded position, the touch pad was always easy to recognize in total darkness. The two mouse buttons convince with their soft response and quiet click sound.

Keyboard
Keyboard
Touchpad
Touchpad

The 17.3" glare display continues to deliver great image quality. Alienware integrates the same Full HD panel from the 3rd revision. The LGD02DA may not be among the top models, but it doesn't fare badly in any particular area. It supports various 16:9 resolutions like 1366x768, 1600x900 and 1920x1080.

287
cd/m²
285
cd/m²
282
cd/m²
242
cd/m²
264
cd/m²
250
cd/m²
239
cd/m²
250
cd/m²
245
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
Gossen Mavo-Monitor
Maximum: 287 cd/m²
Average: 260.4 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 83 %
Center on Battery: 264 cd/m²
Black: 0.46 cd/m²
Contrast: 574:1

An average of 260 cd/m2 is proof that the monitor's brightness isn't lacking. Other gamer notebooks like the Schenker XMG P702 or the MSI GT70 are in a similar range. The black value of 0.5 cd/m2 is also good. Dark areas in movies or games appear less gray than on substandard panels. For a true black however, the value would have to be still lower, under 0.3 cd/m2.

The contrast matches the high end claim of 570:1 offering a vivid and detailed image. As our screen shots show, the panel covers the sRGB color space fairly well, thanks to the reflective display surface, colors appear particularly lively.

Alienware M17x R4 vs. sRGB (grid)
Alienware M17x R4 vs. sRGB (grid)
Alienware M17x R4 vs. AdobeRGB (grid)
Alienware M17x R4 vs. AdobeRGB (grid)
Alienware M17x R4 vs. Asus G75V 3D (grid)
Alienware M17x R4 vs. Asus G75V 3D (grid)

The biggest drawback of the glare display surface is strong reflections. If users aren't careful in positioning, they will have to live with irritating reflections. During the day, the fun in using this laptop is limited. A window or any other light source will quickly turn into a nuisance. For outdoor use, the notebook is unsuitable. Sad that Alienware still doesn't offer displays with non-reflective coating. Dell's engineers should have a look at Apple notebooks' non-reflective glass covers, which would be more in line with the price.

Außeneinsatz
Außeneinsatz
Outdoor use Alienware M17x R4

Horizontal viewing angles score a "good" rating. If one ignores the increasing yellow tint, the image remains pretty accurate even at a 90 degree angle. In vertical direction however, one should avoid oblique angles.

Viewing angles Alienware M17x R4
Viewing angles Alienware M17x R4

Performance

Ivy Bridge
Ivy Bridge

Processor

With the fourth revision of the M17x, Alienware relies completely on Intel's latest generation Ivy Bridge CPU. With the Core i7-3610QM3720QM and 3820QM, a choice of three potent quad-core models is offered at the moment. Since most 3D software is limited by the GPU and Intel's current product line-up sports high efficiency (performance per MHz), the average consumer will already be very happy with the cheapest variation.

Like its pricier siblings, the core i7-3610QM can process 8 threads simultaneously (hyper threading) and raise its clock speed dynamically, as needed (turbo boost). TDP is 45 Watts for all versions. The 3720QM sports six MBytes of L3 cache, while the 3820QM features eight MBytes. Ivy Bridge CPUs are manufactured with Intel's latest 22 nm process rather than their Sandy Bridge predecessors' 32nm process.

A further advantage is the integrated HD-4000 GPU, Intel's first to support DirectX 11, which handles everyday tasks like video and simpler games without trouble. Why are we talking about this? Because the Alienware M17x can automatically switch between Intel's integrated GPU and the dedicated GPUs from AMD or Nvidia, which are only activated for graphics intensive software (more on this later). Note: M17x models equipped with the 3D display have to do without GPU switching, due to technical issues.

Systeminfo CPUZ CPU
Systeminfo CrystalDiskMark (HDD)
Systeminfo CrystalDiskMark (SSD)
Systeminfo HWiNFO
Systeminfo AIDA (HD 7970M)
Systeminfo CPUZ RAM SPD
Systeminfo CPUZ RAM
Systeminfo CPUZ Mainboard
Systeminfo CPUZ Cache
Systeminfo DPC Latenzen
System information Alienware M17x R4

Turbo Boost

The Turbo Boost technology offers no unpleasant surprises. Regardless of single core or multi core loads, the Ivy Bridge CPU always clocks up to over 3GHz. To save energy, the quad-core chip clocks down to 1.2 GHz when idle. To our knowledge, this notebook runs without any throttling from temperature issues or power consumption.

Single-Core-load
Single-Core-load
Multi-Core-load
Multi-Core-load

Performance CPU

The Core i7-3610QM has no need to hide behind its more expensive siblings. In Cinebench R11.5, which is optimized for multi core loads, its 6.27 points are only 8% behind the Core i7-3720QM, which scored 6.73 points on the One M73-20 notebook and 6.8 points in the Asus G75V. For this, Dell is asking an additional 300 Euros (371 USD). Overall, a CPU upgrade is hardly worth it. The Core i7-3610QM offers a lot of performance and won't be obsolete any time soon.

Cinebench R10 Rendering Single 32Bit
4431
Cinebench R10 Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit
17341
Cinebench R10 Rendering Single CPUs 64Bit
5584 Points
Cinebench R10 Rendering Multiple CPUs 64Bit
21452 Points
Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL 64Bit
66.23 fps
Cinebench R11.5 CPU Multi 64Bit
6.27 Points
Help

GPU

GPU-Infos
GPU-Infos

Dell was the first Manufacturer able to supply us with the brand new Radeon HD 7970M. This luxury GPU is based on AMD's latest GCN architecture (Graphics Core Next) and answers to the code name Wimbledon XT.

Aside from the overall technology, the manufacturing process also changed, in comparison to the old high end model Radeon HD 6990M, dropping from 40 nm to 28 nm (chip area 212 mm2). The 2GB GDDR5 video RAM still uses a 256 Bit Bus, but is clocked at 1200 MHz rather than 900 MHz. The GPU core clock speed was 'only' increased by 19% from 715 MHz to 850 MHz, but is based on a completely new architecture.

Like the desktop version Radeon HD 7870, the mobile DirectX 11.1 GPU sports 1280 shaders and 80 texture units. The new PCI Express 3.0 interface is rather less important during every day use. According to Alienware, the power consumption of around 100 Watts TDP is roughly the same as Nvidia's GeForce GTX 675M. We shall verify if the Radeon HD 7970M has the stuff to be the new gaming king.

Enduro

GPU-switching
GPU-switching

AMD's GPU-switching technology, recently renamed to Enduro, is not nearly as polished as Nvidia's Optimus system. For one thing, Enduro is short on configuration options and for another, automatic switching shows a poor rate of software recognition.

Of the 19 games tested, 60% were started with the wrong GPU, Intel's HD 4000. As a result, the user has to go find the right menu in the Catalyst control center (see image) and assign the program to the correct GPU by choosing "High Performance" in order to have it run the Radeon HD 7970.

It is not obvious which GPU is currently active without additional tools like the AMD system monitor. Nvidia's Optimus feature offers far more polish and useful features. For people who prefer to work or play without automatic GPU-switching, Alienware included the Fn + F7 function key, setting the system to always run with the dedicated GPU (reboot required).

Nonetheless, AMD should finally get their act together and improve their GPU switching software. Disappointingly little has happened over the last few months and Nvidia can only smirk about its competitor's lack of progress.

Note: due to the Radeon HD 7970M delivering markedly worse results with automatic switching activated, we advise to make use of the function key and turn off GPU switching for gaming purposes.

Enduro causes worse performance
Enduro causes worse performance
Without GPU-switching, the notebook performs sometimes markedly better.
Without GPU-switching, the notebook performs sometimes markedly better.

Performance GPU

The Radeon HD 7970M impresses with - for notebooks - stellar 3D performance. Particularly in 3DMark 11, the old elite is beaten by a large margin. At 1280x720, a GPU score of 5514 points makes our high end GPU roughly 70% faster than the GeForce GTX 675M with 3272 points in the Schenker XMG P702, or the Radeon HD 6990M with 3227 points in the Schenker XMG P701.

In the Unigine Heaven Benchmark, the difference is also enormous. While the Radeon HD 6990M manages 36.6 fps, the Radeon HD 7970M more than doubles that at 80.1 fps. The fastest competitor from Nvidia, the GeForce GTX 675M at 47.2 fps is trounced with 70% higher speed by the new Radeon. It appears that AMD succeeded with a massive increase in DirectX 11 performance.

Just to state it at the outset, when playing actual games, the differences are not quite as large. Whenever Nvidia will release their new top model, things could get interesting again. The GeForce GTX680 is actually based on the Kepler architecture and might fight the Radeon for the title of the "fastest mobile single chip GPU". Initial benchmarks speak against the GTX680M though. Currently the title clearly belongs to the Radeon HD 7970M.

3D Mark
3DMark 0394730 points
3DMark 0529121 points
3DMark 06
 1280x1024
23197 points
3DMark Vantage21472 points
3DMark 115802 points
Help

Storage

AS SSD Benchmark
AS SSD Benchmark

Alienware chose to install both an SSD and an HDD; An mSATA SSD, to be specific, Samsung's small 64GByte PM830 uses ToggleDDR NAND-Flash, supports 6 GBit/s and weights 8 grams.

For sequential access, this solid state drive may lose out to some larger 2.5" variants like Intel's SSD 330 (see Schenker XMG A502). But with 261 MB/s read and 162 MB/s write speed, other mSATA models like the OCZ Nocti (see the One M73-20) were left in the dust. For small files, even the RAID-0 array of the MSI GT70 couldn't keep up. Access time is quite fast too, at 0.2 ms read and 0.1 ms write.

In the Alienware M14x, containing the same mSATA SSD, transfers were considerably faster. Presumably, the solid state drive in the M17x is only connected through the older SATA II standard.

Additionally, there's a 500GByte Seagate HDD sporting 3 GBit/s, 16MByte cache and a height of 9.5 millimeters. Thanks to 7200 rpm, the Momentous 7200.4 delivers good performance, not every competitor reaches 100 MB/s.

Samsung SSD PM830 64 GByte mSATA
Sequential Read: 257.4 MB/s
Sequential Write: 172.2 MB/s
512K Read: 200.1 MB/s
512K Write: 155.6 MB/s
4K Read: 18.75 MB/s
4K Write: 45.91 MB/s
4K QD32 Read: 185.6 MB/s
4K QD32 Write: 68.01 MB/s

Performance System

Mobile high end power for a luxury price describes the Alienware M17x R4 pretty well. The potent components provide excellent software performance, surpassed by only a few notebooks. An 18816 point score for PCMark Vantage proves that the manufacturer assembled a very snappy overall package. The 17" unit plays in the same league as the Schenker XMG P702 (18874 points) and Asus G75V (20517 points).

PC Mark
PCMark Vantage18816 points
PCMark 74665 points
Help
7.6
Windows 7 Experience Index
Processor
Calculations per second
7.6
Memory (RAM)
Memory operations per second
7.8
Graphics
Desktop performance for Windows Aero
7.9
Gaming graphics
3D business and gaming graphics
7.9
Primary hard disk
Disk data transfer rate
7.7

Gaming Performance

max details possible in nearly all games
max details possible in nearly all games

In regards to games, the Radeon HD 7970M leaves most gaming GPU's far behind. With the exception of the extremely challenging Metro 2033, every tested title played fluidly with maxed out settings.

Even Battlefield 3, which brought every notebook GPU to its limits in the past, ran well enough with the "Ultra" preset and 1920x1080 resolution. 2x or 4x anti-aliasing was no problem for the HD 7970M. Usually, you can simply set every single graphics slider to max.

If that’s not enough, this high end card leads the Radeon HD 6990 or GeForce GTX 675M with a 50% average speed advantage across 18 games in 1920x1080 with maximum details.

Whoever has enough cash left over should upgrade to this card - the expenditure pays off in spades. Nvidia would have to offer its GTX 675M a lot cheaper to lure potential customers away from the HD 7970. For enthusiasts, the latest AMD model is currently the only choice.

low med.high ultra
Metro 2033 (2010) 133.9115.773.626.9fps
StarCraft 2 (2010) 322.9118.2116.199.2fps
Mafia 2 (2010) 117.2114.3112.888.8fps
Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) 164.6126.3117.7105.9fps
Crysis 2 (2011) 101102.2102.854.5fps
Dirt 3 (2011) 230.9148.4136.864.1fps
Deus Ex Human Revolution (2011) 219.4189.586.7fps
F1 2011 (2011) 149958565fps
Fifa 12 (2011) 520.2321.7263.7228.8fps
Batman: Arkham City (2011) 16414411157fps
Battlefield 3 (2011) 120.390.771.834.7fps
CoD: Modern Warfare 3 (2011) 264.4160.5131.390.7fps
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) 9788.377.255.6fps
Anno 2070 (2011) 270.3170.8108.555.4fps
Alan Wake (2012) 12191.144.7fps
Mass Effect 3 (2012) 6059.659.6fps
Risen 2: Dark Waters (2012) 94.2101.68043.1fps
Diablo III (2012) 243.1210.6128.2100.8fps
Dirt Showdown (2012) 97.781.178.348.7fps

Emissions

Following results were all recorded with GPU-switching.

System Noise

Like its predecessor, the M17x R4 is surprisingly quiet when idle. Since the fans deactivate when temperatures are low, you can only hear an unobtrusive noise from the HDD. We measured 31 dB from a distance of 15 centimeters (6 inches). In spite of slight clacking sounds the noise level of the Blu Ray drive is fine too.

Under 3D load, the unit is clearly audible at 35-45 dB, but we wouldn't call the acoustics annoying - at least not with GPU auto-switching active. With Enduro disabled, the cooling system occasionally became louder. The 50dB shown in our diagram are only reached during the full load test and have no bearing on every day use.

Noise Level

Idle 30.7 / 31.0 / 31.3 dB(A)
HDD 31.0 dB(A)
DVD 35.2 / dB(A)
Load 42.0 / 50.3 dB(A)
 
    30 dB
silent
40 dB
audible
50 dB
loud
 
min: , med: , max:    Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)

Temperature

Stresstest (Furmark & Prime)
Stresstest (Furmark & Prime)

A look at the components shows that Alienware designed a good cooling system. Even after an hour of full load under Furmark and Prime, the temperature of the Radeon HD 7970M did not break 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Intel's Core i7-3610QM reached about 176 degrees Fahrenheit according to the CPUID hardware monitor - a perfectly acceptable value.

The outer surfaces aren't quite as cool as other gamer notebooks. While the upper surface reached 93 F during the stress test, the bottom got to 100 F. In idle mode, temperatures only dropped very little, we measured 93 F topside and 97 F at the bottom. The Schenker XMG P502, which we also tested at a room temperature of 75 F, remained notably cooler at 82 F, but the soft touch surfaces of the M17x were never unpleasantly hot.

Max. Load
 35.7 °C35.9 °C36.4 °C 
 34.0 °C35.4 °C34.4 °C 
 32.4 °C32.7 °C31.2 °C 
Maximum: 36.4 °C
Average: 34.2 °C
38.9 °C47.5 °C42.4 °C
36.6 °C42.7 °C41.5 °C
31.0 °C31.7 °C32.6 °C
Maximum: 47.5 °C
Average: 38.3 °C
Power Supply (max.)  53.7 °C | Room Temperature 24 °C | Voltcraft IR-550

Speakers

THX TruStudio Pro
THX TruStudio Pro

The sound quality is convincing for the most part. Alienware installed 2 Klipsch speakers at the front of the case, behind lit speaker meshes. The highlight is inside though, as the sound chip is better than standard fare from the likes of Realtek, but rather a module from Creative Labs.

The Soundblaster Recon3Di supports THX TruStudio Pro, Crystal Voice to improve speech transmission, scout mode to locate enemies more quickly and an encompassing software package.

The sound quality itself is above average, but the M17x does not embody a new reference. Sound appears less dull and soggy with THX active, but we would have liked more precision and clarity. External speakers or headphones are not absolutely mandatory though.

Battery Life

The power drain leaves a mixed impression. In comparison to a notebook equipped with the GeForce GTX 675M power consumption shows to be relatively moderate. While the Schenker XMG P702 was pulling between 124 and 218 Watts from the mains, the Alienware M17x remained between 109 to 166 Watts. This difference points to the energy efficiency of the Radeon HD 7970M design. In spite of higher performance, AMD's high end model uses less power than Nvidia's Fermi GPU.

Running at idle, our 17" unit has to accept criticism. 32-44 Watts is worse than average for a notebook with auto-switching GPUs. According to the tool HWiNFO, the HD7970 doesn't clock down very much in idle mode. Even without activity, its core never drops below 720 MHz. The Radeon HD 6990M had to fight with a similar problem upon its release. Power saving mechanisms seem to lack optimization at the moment.

Power Consumption

Off / Standby 0.2 / 0.7 Watt
Idle 32.2 / 38.6 / 43.6 Watt
Load 108.6 / 166.3 Watt
 
Key: min: , med: , max:         Voltcraft VC 940

Battery Life

Thanks to the M17x R4's strong 9-cell battery, runtime is fairly decent. Internet surfing over WiFi with 60% screen brightness yielded roughly four hours. Our DVD test with 100% screen brightness ran just under two hours. Like most of the competition, the unit only lasted about an hour when running 3D software. Away from an electric outlet, GPU performance drops by 60% by-the-way (tested with Anno 2070).

Battery Runtime
WiFi Surfing
4h 04min
DVD
2h 02min
Load (maximum brightness)
1h 02min

Verdict

Alienware M17x R4
Alienware M17x R4

As expected, Alienware delivers a great gaming notebook with the M17x R4. Picture and sound quality are on a high level as in the past. Interface selection, including 4x USB 3.0, was nicely done.

The modern case isn't exactly thin or light at 4.4 kg, but it scores with good input devices, easy to reach components and loads of illumination. We especially liked the gummed soft touch surfaces, with good workmanship leaving an impression of quality. In regards to quality, most competitors can't touch the M17x.

The most important feature by far is the incredibly fast GPU. AMD's Radeon HD 7970 not only strikes fear into the hearts of previous top dogs GeForce GTX 675M and Radeon HD 6990M with a 50% performance increase, it doesn't have to hide behind desktop PC's either. Maximum details and high resolutions at 1920 x 1080 rarely bring this GPU to its limits.

On the other hand, the inept auto-switching software elicits criticism. AMD's Enduro technology trails Nvidia's Optimus significantly. Aside from a sad rate of game recognition, Enduro causes a significant loss of performance. With Enduro disabled (function keys Fn + F7 and reboot), games often run with dozens of fps more. AMD hasn't made any visible progress on this for months. Otherwise, there's not much to complain about the M17x, except the extremely reflective display.

In conclusion, Alienware snatches the gaming crown once again. The second place currently goes to the Asus G75V, followed by the barebones notebooks from Clevo (Schenker XMG P702) and MSI (GT70).

In Comparison

Dirt Showdown - 1920x1080 Ultra Preset AA:4xMS
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
48.7 fps ∼56%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
35.7 fps ∼41% -27%
Diablo III - 1920x1080 High AA:on
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
100.8 fps ∼39%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
73 fps ∼28% -28%
Risen 2: Dark Waters - 1920x1080 Ultra / on AA:on AF:8x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
43.1 fps ∼52%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
27.9 fps ∼34% -35%
Alan Wake - 1920x1080 High Preset AA:4x AF:8x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
44.7 fps ∼52%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
27.3 fps ∼32% -39%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
30.6 fps ∼35% -32%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
22 fps ∼25% -51%
Anno 2070 - 1920x1080 Very High Preset AA:on AF:4x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
55.4 fps ∼45%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
32.7 fps ∼27% -41%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
34.2 fps ∼28% -38%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
27.6 fps ∼23% -50%
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - 1920x1080 Ultra Preset AA:8x AF:16x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
55.6 fps ∼64%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
40.5 fps ∼46% -27%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
34.3 fps ∼39% -38%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
33.2 fps ∼38% -40%
CoD: Modern Warfare 3 - 1920x1080 Extra, all on, Image Quality: Native AA:4x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
90.7 fps ∼57%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
62 fps ∼39% -32%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
69.8 fps ∼44% -23%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
53 fps ∼33% -42%
Battlefield 3 - 1920x1080 ultra AA:4x MS AF:16x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
34.7 fps ∼34%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
24.2 fps ∼24% -30%
Schenker XMG P501 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2630QM
21.9 fps ∼21% -37%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
19.9 fps ∼19% -43%
Batman: Arkham City - 1920x1080 Extreme Preset DX11 AA:4x MS
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
57 fps ∼54%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
35 fps ∼33% -39%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
29 fps ∼28% -49%
Fifa 12 - 1920x1080 high AA:4x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
228.8 fps ∼67%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
198.4 fps ∼58% -13%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
156.1 fps ∼46% -32%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
154.4 fps ∼45% -33%
Deus Ex Human Revolution - 1920x1080 DX11, Soft Shadows, SSAO High, DOF: High, Post Processing, Tessellation AA:ML AF:16x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
86.7 fps ∼46%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
51.1 fps ∼27% -41%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
50.6 fps ∼27% -42%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
42.6 fps ∼23% -51%
Dirt 3 - 1920x1080 Ultra Preset AA:4x AF:-
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
64.1 fps ∼59%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
44.3 fps ∼41% -31%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
40.4 fps ∼37% -37%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
37.1 fps ∼34% -42%
Crysis 2 - 1920x1080 Extreme
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
54.5 fps ∼54%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
36.3 fps ∼36% -33%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
33 fps ∼33% -39%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
28.5 fps ∼28% -48%
Call of Duty: Black Ops - 1920x1080 extra AA:4x AF:8x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
105.9 fps ∼89%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
87.2 fps ∼73% -18%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
90.2 fps ∼76% -15%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
75 fps ∼63% -29%
Mafia 2 - 1920x1080 high AA:0x AF:16x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
88.8 fps ∼62%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
66 fps ∼46% -26%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
62 fps ∼43% -30%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
54.1 fps ∼38% -39%
StarCraft 2 - 1920x1080 ultra
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
99.2 fps ∼83%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
59.9 fps ∼50% -40%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
63.5 fps ∼53% -36%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
48.6 fps ∼41% -51%
Metro 2033 - 1920x1080 Very High DX11 AA:A AF:4x
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
26.9 fps ∼50%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
17.4 fps ∼32% -35%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
19.6 fps ∼36% -27%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
14.2 fps ∼26% -47%
F1 2011 - 1920x1080 Ultra Preset DX11 AA:4xMS
Alienware M17x R4
Radeon HD 7970M / Core i7-3610QM
65 fps ∼76%
Schenker XMG P702 PRO
GeForce GTX 675M / Core i7-2670QM
46 fps ∼53% -29%
Schenker XMG P701 PRO
Radeon HD 6990M / Core i7-2760QM
48 fps ∼56% -26%
MSI GT70
GeForce GTX 670M / Core i7-3610QM
37 fps ∼43% -43%

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In Review: Alienware M17x R4
In Review: Alienware M17x R4

Specifications

Alienware M17x R4

:: Processor
:: Mainboard
Intel HM77 (Panther Point)
:: Memory
8192 MB, 2x 4096 MB SO-DIMM DDR3-SDRAM PC3-12800 (1600 MHz), 4 slots, max. 32 GB
:: Graphics adapter
AMD Radeon HD 7970M - 2048 MB, Core: 850 MHz, Memory: 1200 MHz, GDDR5, 8.934.2.0
:: Display
17.3 inch 16:9, 1920x1080 pixel, LGD02DA (D3WCF_173WF1), Full HD, WLED, glossy: yes
:: Harddisk
Samsung SSD PM830 64 GByte mSATA, 64 GB + Seagate Momentus 7200.4 (ST9500423AS), 500 GB, 7200 rpm
:: Soundcard
Creative Sound Blaster Recon3Di @ Intel Panther Point PCH - High Definition Audio Controller
:: Connections
1 USB 2.0, 4 USB 3.0, 1 VGA, 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, 1 Kensington Lock, 1 eSata, Audio Connections: 1 Line-In, 3 Line-Out (incl. S/PDIF), Card Reader: 9-in-1, 1 HDMI-In
:: Networking
Atheros AR8151 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller (NDIS 6.20) (10MBit), Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 (b g n ), 4.0 Bluetooth
:: Optical drive
HL-DT-ST DVDRWBD CA30N
:: Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 46 x 410 x 304
:: Weight
4.36 kg Power Supply: 0.82 kg
:: Battery
90 Wh Lithium-Ion, 9 cell, 11.1V, 0.52 kg
:: Price
2109 Euro
:: Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit
:: Additional features
Webcam: 2.1 Mega pixel with two digital microphones, Power adapter: 240 Watt, velvet casing, mouse pad, quick reference guide, further information booklets, Resource DVD, Resource Media DVD, Application DVD, Windows 7 DVD, McAfee Security Center DVD, CyberLink PowerDVD 9.6, 12-36 Months Warranty

 

The M17x is available in red or black
The M17x is available in red or black
Intel's Ivy Bridge processors deliver excellent performance.
Intel's Ivy Bridge processors deliver excellent performance.
Nice detail: The battery comes with its own charge level display.
Nice detail: The battery comes with its own charge level display.
90 Wh are pretty substantial.
90 Wh are pretty substantial.
The speaker mesh in the front can be illuminated as well.
The speaker mesh in the front can be illuminated as well.
Alienware mostly trusts in matte surfaces.
Alienware mostly trusts in matte surfaces.
Above the keyboard there are useful multimedia controls
Above the keyboard there are useful multimedia controls
Typing feel is relatively soft.
Typing feel is relatively soft.
We can't figure out why Alienware installed the touch pad somewhat toward the left.
We can't figure out why Alienware installed the touch pad somewhat toward the left.
Surround sound is available over the Audio I/O connectors or HDMI.
Surround sound is available over the Audio I/O connectors or HDMI.
One analog and two digital video out interfaces.
One analog and two digital video out interfaces.
Having four USB 3.0 Ports is great.
Having four USB 3.0 Ports is great.
One could argue about the positioning of the card reader.
One could argue about the positioning of the card reader.
The notebook arrives in a voluminous box
The notebook arrives in a voluminous box
For the accessories, the manufacturer uses a separate box.
For the accessories, the manufacturer uses a separate box.
The accessories delivered are appropriate for the price.
The accessories delivered are appropriate for the price.
The flat 240 Watt power supply gets very hot under load.
The flat 240 Watt power supply gets very hot under load.
The GPU is cooled by 3 heat pipes.
The GPU is cooled by 3 heat pipes.
Six or eight GByte of DDR3 RAM suffice for most users.
Six or eight GByte of DDR3 RAM suffice for most users.
Solid state drives and Raid arrays can be configured.
Solid state drives and Raid arrays can be configured.
There are almost no visual changes since the last revision
There are almost no visual changes since the last revision
Alienware fits the lid with a pleasant gumming
Alienware fits the lid with a pleasant gumming
The bottom reveals two large fan gratings
The bottom reveals two large fan gratings
The gamer notebook sports prominent lines and a futuristic shape
The gamer notebook sports prominent lines and a futuristic shape
Some competitor's notebooks are still thicker
Some competitor's notebooks are still thicker
Maximum opening angle is 135 degrees
Maximum opening angle is 135 degrees
The Alien head lights up when the unit is turned on.
The Alien head lights up when the unit is turned on.
Sadly, there are still no non-reflective displays available
Sadly, there are still no non-reflective displays available
With almost 4.4 kg, the 17" notebook is among the heaviest notebooks in existence.
With almost 4.4 kg, the 17" notebook is among the heaviest notebooks in existence.
Exemplary: The manufacturer offers easy access to the entire interior.
Exemplary:  The manufacturer offers easy access to the entire interior.
The glare display has vivid colors, but reflections are extreme.
The glare display has vivid colors, but reflections are extreme.
In regards to workmanship, Alienware continues to be the reference.
In regards to workmanship, Alienware continues to be the reference.
Most of the connectors are placed on the left side.
Most of the connectors are placed on the left side.
The optical slot drive requires no clunky drawer.
The optical slot drive requires no clunky drawer.
We'd describe the cooling system as well engineered.
We'd describe the cooling system as well engineered.
Unsurprisingly, the M17x sports two hard drive bays.
Unsurprisingly, the M17x sports two hard drive bays.
a nice metal plaque on the bottom.
a nice metal plaque on the bottom.

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Links

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The displayed prices can be up to one day old.

Pro

+Excellent Performance
+Many lighting elements
+Convincing Full HD display
+Good input devices
+Good Workmanship
+Very fast GPU
+Gummed surfaces
+Rich selection of accessories
+Great selection of connectors
+Good sound quality
+Simple to service
 

Cons

-AMD's GPU auto-switching is poor
-The plastic display cover causes extreme reflections.
-High weight

Shortcut

What we like

The performance of the Radeon HD 7970M is truly impressive.

What we would like to see

A matte, anti-reflective display

What surprises us

AMD still seems incapable of finishing a decent GPU switching software.

The competition

Massive desktop replacements like the Asus G75V, the MSI GT70, the One M73-2N or the Schenker XMG P702 PRO.

Rating

Alienware M17x R4
05/18/2012 v2
Florian Glaser

Chassis
90%
Keyboard
86%
Pointing Device
88%
Connectivity
86%
Weight
52%
Battery
75%
Display
84%
Games Performance
100%
Application Performance
99%
Temperature
80%
Noise
77%
Add Points
90%
Average
84%
88%
Gaming *
Weighted Average

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Alienware M17x R4 Notebook Review
Author: Florian Glaser, 2012-05-27 (Update: 2013-06- 6)