REVIEW: Alienware M11x R3

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Alienware M11x R3

Alienware is a premium brand that’s spent years redefining mobile gaming, even so under Dell’s 5-year ownership. Offering a range of laptops with screen sizes of 11-, 14-, 17- and 18-inches, the M11x R3 (from £649) is the third revision of the company’s most compact of machines.

Laying claim to the title of “most powerful 11-inch laptop in the universe” the M11x R3 does indeed deliver unprecedented performance and portability. Seriously, compare its specifications to an Apple MacBook Air or a soon-to-launch Ultrabook and you’ll see what we mean! And don’t let the fact that it’s designed for gamers put you off―sure its design is outrageously loud, but its features are so well rounded that it’ll suit anyone with demanding needs.

Design delights

Available in a choice of two magnesium alloy and plastic chassis―Stealth Black and Nebula Red―the M11x R3 is unlike any other laptop. As far removed from the svelte styling of Intel Ultrabooks as you can get, you’ll either love or hate the styling of the M11x R3. Power it on, however, and you can’t help but be amazed at the dizzying array of lighting effects that can be configured using the awesome AlienFX software.

Partner the machine with the amazing Alienware TactX Mouse (£70) and Alienware TactX Keyboard (£74.99) and you’ll be tinkering with colour effects for the rest of your life! And keeping in line with Alienware’s policy of allowing owners to customise their laptops, the M11x R3 comes with a nameplate located at the base that can be engraved with your name, clan and other such ‘gamer’ details.

Power to the people

New improvements to the popular M11x R2 include second-generation Intel Core i processors with Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, updated graphics featuring the nVidia GeForce GT 540M, and like the larger M14x, optional Intel WiMAX technology. The latest M11x also features a soft touch finish with a new Nebula Red option.

The M11x R3 features a choice of second-generation Intel Core i dual-core processors which you can specify to suit your needs and budget. As standard it ships with an Intel Core i3 2357M (1.3GHz, 3MB cache), which can be upgraded to an Intel Core i5 2467M (1.6GHz, 3MB cache)  for an additional £80 or even an Intel Core i7 2637M (1.7GHz/2.8GHz w/Turbo Boost, 4MB cache) for a princely £335. Opting for the first two processors partners a 1GB nVidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card, which gets bumped to a 2GB nVidia GeForce GT 540M with the Intel Core i7. All option also include an Intel HD 3000 GPU, which can be toggled using software.

Thankfully Alienware doesn’t leave the processors out in the cold to fend for themselves. The M11x R3 ships as standard with 2GB (1333MHz) dual-channel DDR3 SDRAM, though you’d be best advised to upgrade to 3GB (extra £30), 4GB (extra £70), 6GB (extra £130) or 8GB (extra £200). 16GB memory is supported, but the extra cost of £430 will be just too rich for most people.

There’s only two storage options available―a 750GB (7,200rpm) Serial ATA hard drive comes as standard, but the highly desirable 256GB Solid State Drive (SSD) should be snapped up for £185 extra. The SSD improves boot time and performance compared to the SATA drive, and should be more reliable over time.

Other niceties include the choice of wireless network card and operating system flavour―Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) is pre-installed as standard and you’ll have to pay an extra £60 for Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) or £120 for Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit). Fully loaded the M11x R3 costs a cool £1,749―and that’s resisting the beautifully-matched accessories, online backup and extended warranty options!

Unlike the M18x, the M11x R3 doesn’t offer dual-graphics technology or quad-core processors. Nor does it include an optical disk drive found on the M14x and M18x. Nevertheless, all three laptops offer HDMI 1.4/DisplayPort for connection to HDTVs and two USB 3.0 ports for up to 10x the speed of USB 2.0 connections.

There’s also FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, a multi-card reader, two headphone jacks, microphone jack, and a front-facing 2.0-Megapixel Web camera. The Klipsch onboard speakers sound just great, and the textured touchpad and mouse buttons are also very responsive. The power connector is comfortably placed at the rear of the laptop, so the power adapter wire won’t come in the way of you playing any games.

The Alienware M11x R3 looks great and it packs a lot of power into a compact chassis. But it’s not without its faults. The 11.6-inch WLED glossy display has a native resolution of just 1366×768 (WXGA) and its highly reflective viewing angles are just terrible, requiring you to sit directly in front of the laptop. Due to size constraints there’s no optical drive, and the keyboard is a little too cramped for touch typists.

Dell even has the audacity to charge £31.71 for backup software―AlienRespawn is preinstalled, but as a cut-down version that only allows for a full factory restore and not regular system backups. The machine is also in desperate need of a BIOS update (A04 reviewed here) to stop the incessant on-off fan noise.

Summary

Alienware is not a company you’d expect to find featuring on BCW because it specialises in computers for gamers. However, the Alienware M11x R3 is an exception because it’s a great machine for any high-end user wanting the most amount of power for computing on the go―but in a compact form factor. And best of all, battery life hasn’t been compromised. The Alienware M11x R3 manages an amazing 6 or so hours between charges―even more if you get aggressive with its power saving options. So, if you’re looking for a robust sub-2kg machine that will allow you to run demanding applications (think RAW photo files and HD video), the M11x R3 should definitely be considered. If you’re a gamer, it goes without saying you’ll love this machine. I did, and I’ve now been running this site on it for two months.

  • this is very beautiful. features likes never before.

  • Alex

    I have one and haven’t regretted the purchase for a second. I’m not a gamer but the design aesthetics, build quality, size and battery life are what sold it for me. I get around 7.5 hours when just reading E-Books or around 6 when surfing. I do use it when mobile quite a lot and have to say that the lack of a matte screen offering is a huge oversight on Dell’s part, considering the stated usage prescribed for the machine.  The screen coating is extremely shiny and reflections abound in any room with a degree of lighting. 

    Regarding the upgrades on the Alienware/Dell website, it’s ludicrous to charge £200 to upgrade to 8gb (bog standard) ddr3 CL9 1333mhz ram. I just ordered with the minimum ram.  Interestingly if you purchase the dimms separately from Dell’s own store they will charge you a heck of a lot less for the 8gb (2x4gb dimms). Funny that.

    I just ordered 2x4gb sodimms of crucial. Total cost £30. No brainer really. You also won’t void your warranty if installing your own ram.  One good touch when doing this is that the 8 or so screws you have to remove won’t have a chance of being lost when removing the back plate as they have washers attached to them so they don’t fall out. Little things you see.

    The keyboard is an absolute joy to use. I have rather fat fingers and large hands and though I did struggle at first when typing I soon got used to the limited real-estate that it offers. The keys have a smooth, quick motion to them but the backpanel to the keyboard is absolutely solid, so there’s no flex whatsoever.

    The only other niggles I have is that some of the gaps in panels could be smaller and the weight, whilst not huge, is still just a tad over 2kg (spec dependent) on mine. But considering it’s holding an 8 cell battery and a dedicated gpu and associated cooling I really can’t complain to much.  And really 2kg is not that much at all, it’s just a lot for a laptop of this size. But then no other laptop of this size can do what this one does.  

    • Excellent feedback, thanks Alex. Glad you’re enjoying the machine as much as me!