Critical Development

Language design, framework development, UI design, robotics and more.

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.

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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.


6 Responses to “Alienware M17: Ninja Laptop”

  1. I’m jealous. As you know, I’ve also had tons of issues with Dell, and even though Alienware is owned by Dell, this seems to be the best alternative. You failed to mention of it was dual core or quad core?

    When my clients start paying me and they have the Intel i7 in there…

    • Dan Vanderboom said

      It’s a dual core processor, although they do have some quad core options (though at a slightly slower clock speed, I think it was 2.8 GHz maximum). Very responsive!

  2. From the first time the Alienware M17 facial recognition program on your laptop met eyes with me, I knew I was in love. The sleek design and raw power all packed into a monster laptop…. Awesome.

    …But there is only one problem – and I quote (from my blog article about Building the Bad Ass Development Rig):

    “First to argue (and where my BIT tangent begins), new development notebooks are 2 year-old desktop computer severely limited by space and heat. Anyone that thinks a development notebook is suitable for development needs to be brought out of their isolated by mobility minds. The word development notebook ranks in with other great oxymoron like ‘deliberate mistake’ (which it is) and ‘timeless moment’ (which you will lose many of with those systems).”

    As for the Index Score – the only reason why you hit 5.3 and not 5.9 (the highest score available right now) is because you have fully-buffered RAM in your Bad Ass Development Rig. EVERY other benchmark on the Bad Ass Development Rig was at 5.9 except for the memory…

    So the question is; glamour vs. performance. The read write performance in the Bad Ass Development Rig with the RAID and write cache would smoke the times of the Alienware (Not to mentioned the I/O speeds of the quad core CPU, the size of the L2 cache, and the FSB speeds)

    I know your need for mobility (and your desire to have all the fun gadgets) but comparing these systems is like comparing a Land Rover (glamour) to a Ferrari (raw performance); they don’t even compare.

    Oh did I mention I am thinking of buying a Alienware M17? 😉

  3. Kwax said

    What an incredible laptop from Alienware. I also found interesting article about Alienware M17 in

  4. I think Alienware laptops, especially the ultraport one like the Alienware M11x R3 Gaming laptop, but there are also lesser know brands coming out with far cheaper alternatives like the Samsung RV Laptop.

  5. compact camera backpack…

    […]Alienware M17: Ninja Laptop « Critical Development[…]…

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