Smooth Like Silk - Fast Like Cheetah
Written: May 30, 2012 (Updated Jun 25, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
- User Rating: Excellent
Ease of Use:
Pros:Great aesthetics and build, touchpad, backlit keyboard, performance, excellent sound, connectivity, unique finish
Cons:Cooling could be better, no dedicated media controls, finish prone to hand oils
The Bottom Line: This is an outstanding piece of portable gaming hardware, offering features that many other brands simply don't with their laptops.
Let me begin by saying that I'm no stranger to Alienware. In addition to this M14x R2, I also own a M18x and a M15x. Alienware laptops have a few good things going for them, to say the least: backlit keyboards with multiple colors, relatively good residual value, good build quality, good components and arguably good looks. Those are just a few of the reasons I purchased this...
Just to clarify some of the important specs on my rig before further review:
1 GB nVidia 650M
6 GB RAM
500 GB HDD
My previous Alienwares (M15x + M18x) came in massive boxes with a hat, mousepad and an absolutely insane manual. This M14x came in a much more economical package, with just a small little folder containing recovery/driver CDs and manual. Power supply included, of course. Also a very nice thing to have is the soft cover that comes with the laptop. This has a nice smooth inside with a plush outside and says, "Alienware". It may not have the ridiclous presentation of its larger brothers, but the M14x packaging certainly suffices.
Aesthetics and Build
I wasn't really expecting a whole lot out of this little guy, what with the magnesium and aluminum builds of my other laptops. Plastic?! Surely, it'll feel cheap, or so I thought. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the soft touch black finish of this laptop lends a premium feel over any glossy plastic counterpart, and the lack of metal construction is really unnoticed with this finish. Nearly the entire laptop is covered in this finish, including the sides, the palm rest and the lid itself. The downside to this: hand oils accumulate quickly and must be smudged away.
Two grilles at the front are lit and seem to be placed there purely for aesthetics. The smaller, undivided aperture looks great next to the larger M18x, and it certainly fits the overall look of the laptop. A glossy plastic surface surrounds the grilles, and the bottom is composed of a smooth matte textured plastic. The speakers on this are located adjacent to the power button, near the center-top of the keyboard. The grille covering the speakers has a very fitting perforated look.
Pretty much everything on this laptop is backlit. The power button, the Alienware branding below the screen, the keyboard (four zones), trackpad, grilles and the alien head on the lid. Oddly enough, the ability to change the color of the alien head on the lid has been removed, vs. some previous Alienwares. The Alien Command Center allows you to change the colors of something like nine different zones, to give your laptop a nice custom look. With that note, the latest Alien Command Center works far better than the previous buggy version in the M15x. I've had absolutely no issues with this version.
Good build quality? Check.
Aesthetics? Well, you can decide that. I really like how this looks, as the matte black soft touch finish can actually pass in a more professional environment, if need be.
Frankly, there's so much connectivity with this, I'm not sure I'll even manage to hit everything. So, for starters, this is what you'll find on the sides of the laptop:
(2) USB 3.0 ports
Headphone with mic jack
9-in-1 MMC slot
HDMI (video + sound)
(1) USB 2.0 port with Power Share tech
Intel Advanced-N WiFi Link
WiDi wireless display tech (optional)
Slot loading DVD drive (Blu-Ray optional)
In short: connectivity is great and amazing for a 14" laptop. I would've liked to have seen an e-SATA connection, but USB 3.0 is good.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Alienware uses a more traditional style of keyboard vis chiclet keyboards commonly seen in other laptops. This is supposedly better for gaming. Whatever the case, this keyboard provides adequate tactile feedback and allows me to type at desktop-like speeds. Function keys are included up top, and the keys are generously sized enough to allow for few errors in typing. The function keys also allow computer functions, such as ejecting CDs, changing volumes, tracks, etc. I'm not a huge fan of this, versus the more intuitive dedicated key configuration seen in the M15x and M18x.
The touchpad is very smooth and functions very well compared to many others I've used. It allows for pinch-to-zoom and other multitouch functions. The keys are easily depressed, and I found the overall touchpad experience to be a delight compared to many other laptops, where I dread using a touchpad.
This comes standard with Klipsch speakers and a Sound Blaster Recon3Di sound card. The built in speakers are good. Much better than most speakers found on laptops, granted they won't rock your socks off like any aftermarket sound system. The highs are quite clear and the volume is good, but the bass is somewhat lacking as you might expect. The Creative Sound Card does wonders when paired with a quality pair of headphones. The internal amplifier is far more powerful than any phone, tablet or even my previous M15x was. It's exceptionally loud at mere half volume - even to these deaf ears.
The sound really makes a huge difference, especially when gaming. I'm thoroughly impressed that Alienware managed to throw this "game-changing" little sound card in here...the results are highly evident.
Ahhh, yes. The meat and potatoes of this review. My particular unit came equipped with the 3rd gen i7-3610QM, 6 GB of RAM and a 1 GB 650M GPU (with Intel 4000 switchable graphics), with a 900P glossy display. Additionally, I opted for the standard 500 GB HDD - note: this can accept an mSATA drive without the WiDi adapter!
I haven't run any benchmarks or anything of that nature, but if you wanted that info, I'm sure you could find it online; so, I'm just going to be elementary in how I describe things here.
Using my M15x powered by an i7-720QM, 260M GPU and 6 GB of RAM as reference, I can honestly say this thing flies. Graphics performance are excellent, without any type of overclocking. Thus far, I've only run FEAR 3, but it seems to run easily enough with settings on maximum. This GPU will run DX11 games without issue, making it a big step up from the older 260M in my M15x. This processor runs at 2.3 GHz / core with much better energy efficiency than the 1st generation of i-series processors.
The 900P display is quite good for a 14" display. Viewing angles are decent from the sides, but I do wish vertical viewing angles were a little better. This is a very glossy display, so it does not work in the sun...at all. On the plus side, it's very easy to clean off. Contrast and colors are both pretty good, and I've no complaints about brightness.
Battery life? Somewhere between 6-8 hours, depending on use. This is a massive improvement versus my old M15x. I get the feeling this could improve with more firmware updates and swapping the HDD for a SSD. This truly is portable, and I really appreciate it.
In a nutshell, performance is very good. My only gripe is that this seems to heat up a little more than I'd really like, and the ventilation is certainly not even close to that on the M18x. I run a laptop cooler, but I still wouldn't try to do any overclocking with this chassis.
This is a fantastic computer. Great build, great performance and a plethora of available options. Unusually good sound and backlit keyboard are just a couple more things that make this a great computer. It's hard to ignore the unusually good battery life as convenient form factor as well. This is truly a portable gaming rig - one not confined to a wall socket like most gaming laptops.
I purchased this at a crazy discount, but even at full price I'd consider it a good buy. There are plenty of Alienware-haters out there, but this offers things that most other laptops simply can't.
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Amount Paid (US$): 611
Operating System: Windows and Macintosh
Processor speed: over 1000
Screen Size: 14 inches
RAM: More than 256
Internal Storage: CD-RW and DVD
Hard Drive (GB): Over 50