Great Looks, But Some Things Shouldn't Be Universal

Undoubtedly some of you may disagree as you did with my assessment of the M17x R3, but I'm still a big fan of Alienware's styling. It's the kind of thing that really has to be seen and felt in person to be appreciated. If you read that review, you're going to find the design of the M14x extremely familiar.

Alienware eschews glossy plastic everywhere except two places: the speaker trim and the screen frame. Everything else is a smooth rubberized plastic texture that's very pleasant to the touch. Where that glossy plastic is employed at least makes some sense: the speaker trim isn't liable to see a lot of action, and the screen is a single glossy surface from edge to edge with no bezel. Undoubtedly some will complain about the glossy screen itself, but gloss on consumer grade products is here to stay and next to impossible to avoid, and unlike dismally low screen resolutions it can at least make a case for itself.

The keyboard and touchpad have a very similar texture to the rest of the notebook, although there's a little too much flex in the keyboard for my liking. Those of you who aren't happy with the modern trend towards chiclet-style keyboards will be right at home here, as the M14x's keyboard is a more traditional style. The layout itself is a good one, too, bog standard for 14" notebooks. Some things don't need innovation.

Unfortunately, some of the design decisions that worked well for the M17x R3 make much less sense in a more portable notebook. Having the fan intakes on the bottom of the M17x was fine; that notebook is enormous and should be spending its life on flat surfaces. But the M14x is small enough to be used as a laptop proper, and putting the fan intake on the bottom of a notebook like this is unwise.

By the same token, while Alienware is undoubtedly proud of the personalized metal plate on the bottom of each notebook, that metal plate is a heat factory, and a lot of the heat the notebook generates is going to get absorbed into it. As a result, it gets incredibly hot to the touch when the M14x is running full bore.

Finally, the powerful hardware inside takes its toll in one other area: sheer uncompromising bulk. The M14x may be one of the fastest 14-inch notebooks ever made, but it's also one of the heaviest, tipping the scales at 6.45 pounds. This comes with the territory and you can't entirely fault Alienware for it, but it's worth mentioning.

The M14x is, at least in this reviewer's opinion, a very attractive notebook, but the powerful hardware comes at some cost in the design and the bottom intake potentially curtails the kind of laptop gaming something like this should be well suited for.

Alienware's Medium-Sized Monster Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I agree with you on high-DPI being a problem for those of us with less than perfect eyesight (welcome to the world of 35+ year olds!), but the 1366x768 resolution itself is still an eyesore in the sense of being a pain to use. Windows is really targeted at higher resolution displays, and 16:9 widescreen didn't help the situation. I'd much rather have 1440x900 or 1680x1050 (or 1920x1280 or even 1280x800) than all the 16:9 stuff. 768 vertical pixels just doesn't cut it for me; just like 1024x768 went out of fashion about six years back, a wider version of 1024x768 isn't any better. Your 1280x1024 desktop display is a relief in more way than one I'm sure!

    Incidentally, I use a 30" desktop LCD at 2560x1600, and I have to set the DPI to 120 in Windows and deal with the various programs that don't work right with font scaling in order to use the LCD without eyestrain. And yet, given the choice, I still wouldn't go back to a lower resolution, lower DPI panel. It's the proverbial Catch-22: I need the higher resolution, but the higher DPI is difficult to see, but you can't get high resolution and low DPI unless you're running a 40+ inch HDTV. (And running a 30" LCD at 1920x1200 results in scaling blurriness, so I prefer to deal with the Windows DPI crud.)
  • FH123 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I can't really argue with that. We're basically on the same page - and I'm 46 - although I do tilt the other way and use my 8-year old XGA laptop screen most often. I like working with the machine on my lap.

    Age makes you cynical about progress. I recently evaluated a Thinkpad X220 with a great IPS screen, but quite high DPI at 12.5" and with 1366x768 16:9 resolution. The perfect example of the schizophrenic nature of progress, it also took 90 seconds to fully boot Windows 7 from a conventional disk. My 8-year old Northwood P4 (Thinkpad T30) boots XP in less than 1 minute including a virus scanner and full-disk encryption (also no SSD). Would I feel the benefit of SandyBridge if I moved on to it? Probably, but my old machine is surprisingly easy to live with. There are too many things, like boot / load times, that are not improved even with SSDs, for example Thinkpad applets and the Intel display driver UI that I suspect are written in .NET. There are others, like ever shallower keyboards and less-tall, low contrast screens, that are in fact regressing. Among screens today a 14" 1280x800 screen would possibly be ideal for me ... if it still existed.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    At CES 2011, Lenovo was demoing a ThinkPad Edge that could boot in under 10 seconds. Now *that* is a laptop I'd like to fool around with -- I was very curious what sort of tweaks they had made to get it to boot that quickly. Obviously there was no bloatware, but even so my desktop with an overclocked i7-965 and Vertex 2 SSD takes about 12 seconds to boot Win7, and that's not including the 15 seconds it takes to POST.
  • FH123 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Yeah, this is why the X220 being so slow surprised me. I'm sure it had the "Lenovo Enhanced Experience" sticker, which I thought is partly about quick boot time. An SSD would have made a huge difference of course, but even so. Then, once you start using some of the Lenovo apps to, say, adjust your power management settings (on a Thinkpad T410s WITH AN SSD that I have), they can take ages to come up, i.e. several seconds. In my view applets like that should open up instantly. Lenovo Enhanced Experience is a mixture of the good and the awful. It possibly comes down to some manager not seeing that they can't write this stuff completely in .NET, Flash, Java or whatever they're using.

    There's a video on YouTube somewhere where Lenovo explain how they worked quite deeply with device driver manfuacturers to cut down the boot time. Of course they don't say exactly what they did and you can supposedly only reap the benefit from their preload. Based on my extremely limited experience I have to wonder whether that only works well on select demo machines. It must be hard rolling out the performance tweaks across every driver and BIOS revision.
  • sir_laser - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Shoutouts to Faulkner and Shakespeare!

    FH123: So what you are saying, in part, is that it is very difficult to find high quality low DPI laptop screens in the consumer market?
  • FH123 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I must confess I haven't looked at the consumer market. I buy business laptops, usually Thinkpads for their keyboards. I have the impression that complaints about poor screens are universal though and have more to do with the manufacture and availability of those screens. There seem to be some markets where high quality screens are more common, e.g. tablets, workstation and large high-end laptops - as well as anything made by Apple. However try to find a decent screen in a mainstream 14" Windows laptop and the situation is dire.
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    ...but refuse to buy it with an Intel CPU. Alienware told me they do not know if or when they will be using Llano APUs but this would seem like a smart move for good gaming performance with low power consumption and low heat/fan noise.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Ah, yes, the anti-Intel sentiment. Unfortunately, as an enthusiast company, there's really no place for Llano in Alienware's current lineup. The ULV processors used in the M11x are generally equal to Llano in terms of power use for idle/low use, equal in multi-threaded performance, and much faster in single-threaded performance.

    Llano A8-3800M vs. M11x R3:

    Llano A8-3800M+6630M vs. M11x R3:
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    So Alienware loses another sale. In this economy it's gotta hurt to not be selling what consumers want.
  • cjl - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    You know, I believe the evidence is that consumers want performance and battery life, and by and large, they don't really care what brand of processor the computer has. Those that do mainly prefer intel (thanks to their advertising). So, I would say that Alienware is selling exactly what consumers want.

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