Application and Futuremark Performance

At this point the Intel Core i7-2630QM at the center of the Alienware M14x is largely a known quantity, but in the 14" notebook class things are different, with quad-core processors being more rarefied. Most of our 14" notebook reviews are from the Arrandale era, but we do have a couple of Sandy Bridge notebooks thrown into the mix to give you an idea of how performance has changed, and we've also got the sample AMD Llano A8 system.

Where possible the SSD-equipped Compal PBL21 and Sandy Bridge quad-core reference system get a comfortable lead, proving that PCMark still skews heavily towards SSDs even in its most recent version. The storage benchmark is particularly brutal, suggesting the Samsung hard drive the M14x ships with may not be as fast as its counterparts from Seagate and Western Digital. Overall, though, the M14x hangs out in the middle of the pack, about where it ought to be.

For some reason, PCMark Vantage doesn't favor the SSD-equipped Compal PBL21 as heavily in our lineup, while Sandy Bridge continues to be a monster, both as a processor and as a reference platform.

The beauty of Cinebench is how repeatable and consistent its test results are, and the Alienware M14x falls in exactly where it ought to be. Our x264 encoding test tells much the same story, one you already knew: the i7-2630QM is mighty fast. Where things get interesting is when you look at how much of a performance boost the i7-2630QM brings for the M14x against competing 14" notebooks that are only able to leverage dual-core processors. While Arrandale and Clarksfield would often compete directly against each other, Sandy Bridge quad-cores produce a clear and consistent performance advantage over their dual-core counterparts.

Finally in 3DMark, the 144-shader NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M offers a substantial performance improvement over the 96-shader GT 540M and its kin, bested only by the more powerful GTX 460M. Keep in mind the form factor that the GT 555M is residing in, because this is pretty much the fastest chip you can conceivably fit in a 14" laptop.

Great Looks, But Some Things Shouldn't Be Universal The M14x Came to Play
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  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Its surprising that they would design a machine that is targeted at gamers, yet has such poor cooling.

    I didn't go look at the site, but do they offer the i7-2620? I have one in my new Precision M4600 and I have been quite happy with it overall. Great balance of power and battery life/temps. Its actually the first machine that stays quite cool on my lap even when under load. Great dual fan cooling design as well.
  • pandemonium - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Well done, very thorough!

    "When I say the Alienware M14x is too much by half, I'm not talking about the pricetag. Truth be told the price is actually remarkably reasonable given the excellent build quality, bling, and extra features. I'm talking about the configuration and cooling design, and these are things that significantly limit what you can do with the M14x."

    I agree with this. I'm very surprised at the price for what's inside, but seeing the lack of cooling and capabilities of the display knocks the overall value down too much.
  • runbmp - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    The m14x can expedite heat rapidly, however this comes at the cost of noise. This isn't really an issue for me as I wanted a performance laptop and not a google notebook.

    My only gripe has been with the onboard intel chipset, its kind of a joke really without any options to disable it and its drivers really muck around with games.

    Also to note. drivers will not install on their own, atm the only option is to either get a custom .inf or use the older drivers from Dell.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    Personally I'd rather see how good the Dell XPS line is in comparison Namely, the XPS 15/17.

    How many drive bay slots, etc, and all that.

    These things are butt ugly, but i can see how *maybe* the cooling system on them would work out good though. Will read the article later to see how well it stacks up, but honestly right now I am not even considering these( and I am in the market for a new gamer like laptop)
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    "These things are butt ugly, but i can see how *maybe* the cooling system on them would work out good though"

    Replace would with could, and you have what i meant. However after reading through the 3 worthwhile comments. Never mind. Seems that having fancy ugly ports for cooling is not everything.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    If you're looking to game, the XPS line isn't really an option. Dell has eliminated the graphics options so that there isn't any overlap between XPS and Alienware.
  • Rookierookie - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Not on the high end no, but the GT525M/540M on the XPS 15/17 series can handle older games quite easily.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - link

    I respectfully disagree. Even a high-end laptop like this struggles on current gen games. The 525 (17" is far too large to be comparable) struggles even on older games.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I agree with you completely; same company after all. Personally I've always liked industrial style design over gaudy Alienware style design. I do have to admit though, when I was like 10 I thought their computers looked the "coolest"; lol.

    I'm a PC Tech and everytime I work with a Lenevo business class notebook I am entirely impressed. Soft rubber touch coating everywhere. No glare anywhere. Solid well built, well thought out chassis and keyboard. Impressively light and thin. Seriously, THAT is what I want from my laptop; just with consumer parts in it.

    To be clear I care less about thickness than the other stuff, I understand it has to get thicker to cool down a 2620QM with a GTX560M and 8GB of RAM in a 15.6" chassis. Make it thicker all you want, I don't even care what it weighs (6'4" 235lb man) I just want the design of the thing to be that...neat.
  • Nathelion - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I bought one of these shortly after launch (a few months ago now) and I've been happy with it. Is it loud? yes. Is it hot? yes. Do I like the aesthetic? not particularly. But it has two killer features:

    1) It is fast enough to do medium gaming in a 14" form factor
    2) It has a high-enough-to-be-useful resolution screen in a 14" form factor

    When it comes to complaints about heat and noise, those are a bit misguided. There are plenty of thin & light notebooks out there, but they also won't do anything above very low end gaming. There is simply no way to cram a decent amount of horsepower into 14" without making it hot and loud. In my experience, the notebook generally does a decent job of staying quiet (although it still gets rather hot to the touch) when it's being used for surfing or document editing, that is, in the roles where you would normally have it on your lap. When you fire up games, you would most likely put it on a table anyway (it does get loud when you use it for gaming, but... well, duh).

    The screen, however, is what sealed the deal for me. It's pretty normal (aka mediocre) quality in terms of color and gamut (you can however crank it up to be ridiculously bright if you want, I typically run it at 30% brightness even when plugged in), but the big feature is the resolution. The ONLY other modern 14" laptop with a resolution above 1366x768 is the ThinkPad T420s. While that is an excellent option, the gaming performance just isn't there - the highest you can spec one of those is a dual core sandy bridge and an NVS 4200M with 48 CUDA cores and pretty miserable clocks. I should also add that when I specced out two systems for comparison back before I bought the alienware, the thinkpad ended up a good $700 more expensive.

    To put it succinctly: If you want performance and a decent screen resolution in a 14" form factor, this is the only option.

    The only real contender is a ThinkPad that costs ~30% more for vastly inferior performance. Granted, it's also much lighter and not as much of a heat and noise monster, but that comes with the territory. For the "portable gaming while still being feasible to move around and with a high-enough res screen to not be outright painful" segment, this thing really is the only viable option.

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