Alienware M17: Ninja Laptop
Posted by Dan Vanderboom on January 27, 2009
My new laptop, an Alienware M17, arrived earlier this morning. It’s almost fully loaded, sans dual video cards and dual hard drives (after changing my mind last minute). First impressions? In stunning matte black, with its ribbed Skull Cap cover design, a back-lit keyboard, and a soft fingerprint-proof and scratch-resistant surface, it’s absolutely gorgeous! With the keys glowing red, it makes me want to do my programming in the dark.
See for yourself, though I have to say, it’s even sexier in person.
The only thing that confused me was the pair of mouse buttons, which aren’t separated by any space or visual cue. When I first saw it, I thought it was some kind of touch-sensitive slider bar. Then I was afraid they’d given me some kind of Mac mouse, but once I figured out they were separate areas to press for left and right buttons, I was enormously relieved.
I’ve wanted an Alienware ever since I first saw their high-end configurations and sleek designs, and now that they’re owned by Dell, they have the same warranty options for hassle-free, next-day on-site service. As many problems as I’ve had with Dell hardware, there’s nothing like the peace of mind of knowing that it’ll be taken care of immediately.
The shopping experience was almost perfect. One minor flaw: their website shows order tracking before it gets shipped out, and after reaching a certain phase of the process (order confirmation, billing, pre-production, etc.), it kept going back to phase 1, Order Confirmation. I watched it jump several times from being almost ready to ship, back to order confirmation, and had to call to confirm that it was their tracking system and not my order that was messed up.
It was shipped through FedEx, and I missed the delivery by twenty minutes. On a Saturday. For some reason, FedEx doesn’t deliver on Sunday or Monday, at least not to my house. I called to see if I could meet the truck to pick it up, and the dispatcher promised to send the message out to the truck, but I never got a call back. Not a big deal to wait a few extra days, but you can imagine by excitement, and then my frustration. To make matters worse, FedEx’s online package tracking sucks. It’s not real time. By the time they tried delivering it, I had just seen it show up as leaving its previous stopping point (in another state). I thought these carriers knew exactly where each package was at all times! If so, this information does not make it to their website in a timely fashion.
At 3.06 GHz, with 4 GB of DDR3 1064 MHz RAM, and an ATI Mobility Radeon video card with 512 MB RAM (for a software engineer, not a gamer), this machine hit 5.6 on the Windows Vista performance index. This is even better than the 5.3 that my Bad Ass Development Rig scored, although it’s not a fair comparison (and the Vista performance index isn’t a real measurement of performance anyway).
After building my desktop, I learned that it would cost me $200 or so to publish the results of the PCMark performance tests online. So if you’re curious to know what my desktop or this laptop scored, feel free to leave a comment (and your email, which isn’t shared), and I’ll be happy to share that privately.
This machine seems to be all about the nice little touches, not unlike the subtle details of a luxury automobile: the soft black finish of the case, a plethora of ports (USB, Firewire, Coaxial, SATA, HDMI, etc.), a 2 megapixel camera built into the lid that can pivot to aim higher or lower, the touch sensitive media control bar at the top of the keyboard, the keyboard’s smooth feel, and so on.
I was expecting it to be extremely heavy, and by laptop standards I’m sure it is (with its 17 inch monitor), but as I hefted the package into the house, I was surprised by how light it felt, so it’s still extremely mobile. The power brick, on the other hand, is truly a monster, but will be stuffed lovingly anyway into my backpack wherever I go. It will have to go with me, since my expected battery life is only two hours.
So if you have $3,300 burning a hole in your pocket and need a blazing fast mobile monster of a machine, I highly recommend the Alienware M17. If not, they do have cheaper configurations starting at around $1,800.