Month: June 2011

Alienware M11x (Dell) Ultra Compact Laptop Review

Posted by – June 7, 2011

It’s a tiny laptop with an 11.6 inch screen, ultra low power CPU, and a monster Nvidia graphics card. It has 4gb of ram (DDR3), a 500gb hard drive (7200rpm, Seagate), and no optical drive. It’s got cool colours too, like a light up alien on the back of the monitor, a glowing alienware logo, an alien head power button, a glowing keyboard and bright glowing speaker holes at the front of the laptop.

The keyboard is almost exactly the same size as a full size laptop but touch typing is a little more difficult at the keys are flatter than normal and the gap in-between the keys doesn’t seem as large.

Dell Alienware M11x

Alienware M11x - Reflective Screen

It’s got one of those gloss reflective screens – and it’s MASSIVELY reflective. If you are running on the battery then the default brightness is so low you only see yourself staring back at you, and you have to turn the brightness up. It seems much more reflective (read: worse) than the gloss screen on the Samsung Q430 that I recently had. The blacks aren’t very black, there seems to be a lot of “backlight bleed” with the whole screen looking mostly grey. The default black wallpaper doesn’t give a good first impression of the screen – as all you can see is yourself in the reflection. (If I wanted to see myself I would have bought a mirror!)

Also it’s LOUD – after running the Windows Experience index two times, the fan in the laptop stayed on for a long time … and has not yet shut up, despite CPU usage hovering around 10% while I’m typing this. You can overclock the processor in the Dell BIOS – the options are Overclock : Enable, and Disable (which is the default).

Alienware Lights

Alienware Lights

The speakers built into the laptop seem very good. 50% volume is too loud for close use. The volume of iPlayer for example can easily be set to be louder than the volume of the fan, however it’s not very silent – and doesn’t tend to stay silent when watching.

The default speed is 1.3ghz, you can overclock the laptop in the BIOS, see here, for the scores and much more information about the laptop. Boosts CPU / RAM score from 4.1 / 4.8 to 4.6 / 5.4. GFX for both desktop and 3D is 6.5 and disk score 5.9. I think you can even turn down the performance of the GFX – perhaps this would make the laptop quieter?

Windows Experience Scores: M11x: CPU: 4.1 RAM: 4.8 GFX: 6.4 3D GFX: 6.4  HDD: 5.9 (Nvidia, CPU 1.3ghz)
Windows Experience Scores: Q430: CPU: 6.3 RAM: 5.9 GFX:4.9 3D GFX: 5.9 HDD: 5.9
Windows Experience Scores: 1510:  CPU: 4.8 RAM: 4.8 GFX: 3.5 3D GFX: 3.5  HDD: 5.1
Windows Experience Scores: R500:  CPU: 2.8 RAM: 4.2 GFX: 2.2 3D GFX: 3.0 HDD: 5.1

Yes – you can switch between graphics cards the NVidia GeForce graphics, or the “discrete” built in graphics – using FN + F6 – the built in graphics being “Mobile Intel 4 Series Express Chipset” / “Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD” with 64mb dedicated memory.

GeForce GT 335M – dedicated video memory 1024mb – switching between the modes is quite quick although if the graphics processor is in use, it asks you to close the program before it will switch. There is a slight degradation of image quality when switching to the Intel graphics – and it’s noticeable on the external display more than the internal laptop screen (Seiko / Epson Laptop Display) – for example on an external 22inch screen. The text isn’t as crisp, but the display is quite stable.

Using the Intel graphics seems to keep the laptop quiet(er). Watching iplayer even – (the laptop CPU usage averages around 29%) – the laptop settles down to a nice quiet purr. There is still a fan running, but it’s nice to see that there’s a quiet mode as well.

More on the screen – it’s very fingerprint prone – so not only is it super reflective, you also need to make sure you don’t touch it. It also has a large border and dare I say it, it looks kind of 90s – like Star Trek The Next Generation – trying to be futuristic but in reality looking kind of dated. (More to be added…)

Pros:
+ Good value for money now that Dell are offering it for £498
+ Switchable between Intel gfx (quiet, low power), or Nvidia (loud, good for games)
+ Overclock friendly – need more speed, switch it on in the BIOS
+ Built in SIM card slot! (Firewire, PATA)
+ Metal bottom to laptop, alienware fabric sleeve
+ Excellent battery life

Cons:
– Can be really loud when using Nvidia graphics
– Not entirely convinced by the keyboard (yet)
– Reflective gloss screen (although it’s less reflective with a brighter wallpaper)
– SD / Memory cards stick out when in the reader
– Keyboard marks the screen when the laptop is closed