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Alienware M14x Gaming Notebook Review

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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1600 x 900 Gaming Performance

1600 x 900 Gaming Performance


For gaming notebooks which support higher resolutions we use the same settings and methodology as seen in the previous section.
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Once the resolution is increased to the M14x’s native setting, the graphics subsystem starts struggling a bit but it was still able to return good framerates in every game we tested. However, we doubt the difference between 1.5 and 3GB would be significant in these situations so we’d recommend forgoing this $100 option and instead spending the money on some other upgrade.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Battery Life

Battery Life


Battery longevity is one of (if not THE) most important aspect of any mobile device which is why we are breaking this section down into three distinct tests. The “Standard Workload” represents relatively light usage with a Flash-enabled web page being refreshed every 30 seconds. Our “Heavy Workload” runs a looped 10 minute automatic script that reflects a professional usage pattern of photo manipulation (Photoshop CS5), word processing (Microsoft Word), drafting (AutoCAD 2011) and file compression (WinRAR). Finally, the “Gaming” test runs a timedemo loop of Far Cry 2 DX9.

All tests are run until the battery reaches 5% with the Balanced battery mode enabled and the screen at 75% brightness. Wireless is also turned on but any backlit keyboard functionality is turned off.


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Battery life for the M14x was actually quite good for a small notebook that focuses upon gaming. If you are browsing the internet or working on a Word document, expect just over three hours of battery life. As we saw in a previous section, Optimus helps a lot in this respect since it allows the graphics processor to enter a dormant state.

The heavy workload test which engages the GPU from time to time causes a significant decrease in usage time away from a charger. We didn’t even hit the two hour mark and the final gaming test netted us about 1.5 hours of life.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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12,840
Location
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Temperatures / Acoustical Testing

Temperatures


Temperature testing is quite straightforward: we load the system with a loop of Far Cry 2 in order to stress the dedicated GPU (if there is one) while the CPU load is handled by a loop of WPrime 32M. Battery power is used during these tests. Temperatures are recorded with HWInfo and GPU-Z. Remember that this is a worst case scenario test so typical usage patterns will result in slightly lower temperatures.

Meanwhile, exterior temperatures are taken with a calibrated Fluke infrared thermometer at various locations on the notebook chassis. For comparison’s sake, we consider exterior readings of under 85°F to be perfectly suitable for on-lap usage while temperatures between 85°F and 95°F will be felt through a pair of jeans. Anything above 95°F is uncomfortable and care should be given before placing it on your lap.


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The component temperatures displayed by the M14x were nothing short of incredible for a sub-15” notebook with impressive specifications. Usually, when high end components are crammed into a small space, the increase in temperature proves to be debilitating in some circumstances. Alienware was able to accomplish this by instituting a large heatsink system within the M14x but also by (as you will see below) running the system fan at high speeds.

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Much like the interior temperatures, the keyboard and palm rest area of the M14x don’t get all that hot for a gaming notebook. The underside however does start to get hot after a few minutes of intense use and you can pretty much guess where the CPU and GPU are hiding based on where the high temperatures are clustered. We wouldn't suggest you keep this notebook on your lap for extended periods of time.


Acoustical Testing


No one likes a loud laptop so in order to objectively determine acoustical properties, we use a calibrated decibel meter which is placed 16” away from the keyboard. A loop of WPrime is used to load the system and replicate a high usage scenario.

Any result under 35dB can be considered no louder than general background noise and usually won’t be noticed. Between 35dB and 45dB is still perfectly acceptable for notebooks yet will be much more noticeable than lower frequencies and likely won’t be heard over the noise of typing. Finally, we consider any result above 45dB to be unacceptable for a mobile device.


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This is unfortunately one area in which the M14x falls flat onto its face. This is one loud notebook when doing any system-intensive task. Aleinware indicated that we should download the latest BIOS version (our unit came with A02 and their site had A05 posted) which did help things a bit but even after it was installed, readings still topped out just above 50 decibels. We understand that most gamers will use headphones when using a notebook but with such a large amount of noise, the incredible speakers on the M14x will go completely to waste.

The high noise output of the M14x dulled what was an otherwise flawless experience.
 
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SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Before Alienware waded onto the scene, many believed gaming notebooks needed to be big, overweight bricks that were anything but portable. To this day most high performance notebooks come with oversized screens and laughable battery life so at face value Alienware’s small form factor gambit was ambitious to say the least. Nonetheless, gamers flocked to the diminutive M11x for its size, portability and relatively good performance while its competitors have so far failed to deliver anything comparable. The M14x meanwhile is an attempt to ride the M11x’s wave of popularity into a more upscale market. But did Alienware succeed where others have failed? Definitely.

The M14x is one of those products we never thought would be useful but it ended up fitting perfectly into almost every conceivable situation. Application and in-game performance placed it among the best we’ve tested while a relatively small footprint allows for a perfect fit into most laptop bags. Just remember that portable doesn’t mean a svelte frame and lightweight construction; this thing is built like a tank and weighs in at a size-defying 6.5 lbs so be prepared for a workout if you’re looking for on-the-go gaming potential.

From an everyday usage perspective, the M14x is as mild mannered as they come. It features a stellar keyboard design, an excellent display, plenty of connectivity options and for a notebook that sports such high end specs, battery life is quite decent. Alienware has made design choices which are in tune with the mobile gaming market’s expectations but the M14x also feels right at home performing more mundane tasks as well. Speaking of gaming, we should mention that the GT 555M gets a bit overwhelmed by the 1600 x 900 resolution but dialing back a few settings resulted in very reasonable framerates in every game we threw at it.

This is an Alienware laptop so we all knew that price was going to factor into this equation somewhere and let’s be honest: the M14x is far from inexpensive. However, one of Alienware’s strengths is their capability to offer an almost infinite number of customization options for every one of their products. The M14x’s starting price is just north of $1000 (even less during one of Dell’s frequent sales) which is a fairly good deal considering its high quality construction and class leading software package. Our test unit hit the $2000 mark but by forgoing the mostly unnecessary 3GB graphics card, Wireless HD, 8GB of memory and other frills it came with, you can still have a potent mobile gaming rig without spending an arm and a leg. But on the flip side of that coin, if money isn’t an issue then Alienware certainly has you covered as well.

We think the M14x’s speakers deserve special mention since they are bar none THE best we’ve ever heard on a notebook and boast audio quality that comes close to many inexpensive standalone 2.1 systems. Unfortunately, this is also where we encountered the only real issue with Alienware’s 14” wunderkind; when the system is pushed, the fan noise becomes extreme. Even though a BIOS update to A05 (which also netted significant performance increases) did tone things down a bit, using the M14x’s gaming abilities in public just isn’t an option.

Other than the relatively small fan speed hiccup, the M14x should serve as a case study in engineering excellence and forward thinking design. Alienware has crammed nearly all of the features power users could want into a portable, high quality notebook that can be customized to fit your heart’s (and wallet’s) content. We really couldn’t have asked for more.


 
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