Alienware machines are monster performers. I've reviewed several over the years, and they've rarely failed to amaze. The most impressive was last summer's M17x, which chewed up and spat out everything I threw at it, from the latest first-person shooters to resource munching real-time strategy games.
Thing is, to get that kind of performance you need to invest in some serious upgrades over and above the basic builds, which typically has the effect of boosting the total cost up to somewhere around the price of a month-long European cruise.
However, that's not the case with the latest iteration of the M15x. By my reckoning, the build I was provided should cost U.S. $2,999-much more than the highest end machines offered by most mainstream manufacturers, but a far cry less than the $5,000-plus Alienware laptops I've evaluated in the past.
And it's still got great guts. My evaluation unit had an Intel Core i7 920XM processer that runs at 2.0GHz and is boosted to 3.2GHz in turbo mode. Each of its four cores has two threads, paving the way for eight-way processing. It is currently being advertised as the world's fastest mobile processor, and, fittingly, it accounts for nearly half of the price of the unit I tested.
Other components include an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260M video card, four gigabytes of quick 1333MHz RAM (you can double the memory for an extra $350), a Blu-ray drive, and Alienware's reliably fantastic 15.6-inch 1920-by-1080 LCD, which is great not just for games but also HD movies (I gave Zombieland a spin and marveled at the screen's high contrast and the details I could make out in darker scenes).
The game I use most often for performance evaluation is World in Conflict , which includes a handy benchmark test. The dual-GPU Alienware M17x I tried last year was the first laptop that I've seen ace this test, pulling down more than 50 frames per second with all graphics settings maxed and resolution at full HD. Of course, the much smaller M15x has only one graphics card and a couple of gigs less RAM, so I didn't expect the same result. However, while its performance was indeed inferior to its big brother I was still satisfied with the 31 frames per second it achieved with all settings at their highest. It's the best result I've seen in a single graphics card notebook.
I conducted anecdotal tests with several other games, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Crysis: Warhead , and the M15x knocked them all out of the park, delivering quick load times and silky smooth frame rates with graphics settings set at their highest levels.
However, I did manage to do a bit of damage with Napoleon: Total War . I bumped all of the graphics options as high as they would go, and it broke. The menus suddenly took forever to load, and each time I tried to start a new game the screen would flash black and I'd get kicked back to the desktop. Lowering the settings back to their defaults didn't fix the problem.
I reinstalled the game, but I still had problems with the game failing to load. I ended up just giving up. I have no idea what the problem was, but I'm not going to hold it against the M15x; other games continued to run well during and after the Napoleon episode. Something tells me this is a software glitch of some sort brought on by my overzealous (and ultimately inadvisable) desire to push the game to its limits. Sometimes you just have to leave those boxes beside 16x antisotripc filtering and 8x anti-aliasing unchecked, you know?
Napoleon misadventure aside, the M15x is a great gaming machine. The question is whether it's worth $3,000. I've tried plenty of other high-end rigs that cost much less over the last several months-including Sony's new F-Series, Asus' G51Vx, and Toshiba's Qosmio X500. They're not quite as powerful, but they still do a pretty great job with games.
I suppose one should also add into the equation all of Alienware's little extras, such as the customizable FX lighting system, SenseMe facial recognition security for logging into Windows, and the company's inimitable style, which ensures that PC gamers the world over will recognize you as one of their own. Such perks certainly have value.
Still, if I was shopping for a gaming notebook right now I'd go with something less expensive (perhaps even a lesser M15x with a much cheaper-but still very respectable-Intel Core i7 720 QM processor) and put the thousand bucks I save towards games or a couple of years worth of snacks to eat while playing.
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