Hardware review: Alienware M15X gaming notebook

After reading the title of this review, I have no doubt many of you are drooling in anticipation; it’s not every day we get a high-end Alienware laptop in South Africa. For those that aren’t drooling, this is probably because you’ve never heard of Alienware before now, so a quick history lesson is in order. A few years back, Alienware was a pre-built system, gaming-orientated company, providing high-end, overpriced and gimmicky laptops to north America an later on Europe. Since then, they’ve been bought by Dell, who now have Alienware laptops as their premium brand of gaming hardware. Following so far? Good. Since the Launch of the Alienware M17X (this review unit’s bigger brother) Alienware is now sold in over 35 countries, and luckily for us South Africa happens to be one of them.

As "gamer focused as you get."

So what really happens when you go all out to create a high end gaming laptop in every sense of the word? Read on to find out.

The most noticeable aspect of the M15X is undoubtably its styling. High performance laptops generally stay conservative in order to widen their appeal from gaming to other area such as Photoshop and CAD users. Not so with the M15X. Dressed in what can only be described as a suit of red armor, the M15X really breaks away from convention. A glowing alien head as the status light, front “exhaust” ports complete with mesh and cheesy green backlight, a multi zone keyboard whose backlight can be customized to almost any colour you’d care for (and a few you wouldn’t), and we haven’t even gone over the half of it. An extremely thick base houses the powerful heart of the machine, touch sensitive media keys sit above the keyboard, and there’s that DVD drive loader unlike any other you’ve ever seen on a laptop, there is simple too much to talk about. So rather than read my waffling, have a look at the pictures throughout the article, then take a look at them again, because you’re bound to see something new each time.

The styling is anything but conservative.

Cheesy or revolutionary, the styling of the M15X leaves little room for doubt, this device has but one use, portable gaming at only the highest of settings.

You can often tell by the size of a box how expensive something is. Bigger is always better, and after spending a small fortune on a gaming laptop, you’d want the box to be the size of a small car. The M15X’s box isn’t quite that size, but it’s not far off. Unboxing reveals the laptop and plenty of shock absorbing material, as well as a rather large box filled with the most comprehensive bundle I have ever seen. First off there is a cap to let everyone know that, yes, you are a gamer, and yes, you have more money than them. Next up, the power brick (of substantial size), power cable, DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, and a leather-bound user manual that would make for some light reading on many sleepless nights, and happens to be of far better quality than the one found in my car’s glove box. Add to this a mouse pad and a micro fiber pouch for the laptop and you have a bundle that all but screams, “You get what you pay for!”.

With the sheer size and weight of the M15X, portability isn’t quite a word that springs to mind. This isn’t so much a laptop as it is a desktop replacement unit. However, for transporting to LANs, the M15X works superbly. Bundled into its box which has ample room left for any other accessories you might need at a LAN, the M15X is far easier to transport than even the small desktop system, and is really what the M15X was built for. That being said, don’t expect to take this with you on your flight to London or for some light internet browsing at your local cafe. Battery life is surprisingly good considering the amount of hardware packed into the M15X. 4 to 5 hours is possible if all you’re using the laptop for is, say, typing out a review. When you crank up the usage, the battery seems to fade away into something close to nothingness, as it barely lasts 1 hour of looped 3D Mark 06 testing. When you come to think about it though, this isn’t a problem. You don’t buy the M15X for hours of operation on end, you buy it to game on and so sacrifices have to be made.

Stop! Before the lack of numbers and graphs confuses you, read this: The M15X had an unfortunate throttling issue where the CPU was stuck running at a far lower than standard frequency for the majority of synthetic and gaming benchmarks. Adjusting the BIOS didn’t work as the settings refused to save on reboot, so what we were left with was an underperforming laptop and no more time to tinker with it. All benchmarks reported scores far lower than expected (in some cases 10% of the expected score) and most games were unplayable at low settings at 800 x 600. To be fair to the M15X, which is no-doubt a gaming powerhouse, rather than posting the terrible scores, we’ll reserve this section for a future update when we can test the M15X running in all its glory.

With local pricing starting at around R18,000 for the entry-level unit (and closer to R25,000 for the unit on review), the M15X is really out of reach of most gamers, especially if you use it with its designed purpose of LANning in mind. However, with build quality, specifications and a bundle like this, that massive price tag is justified. The M15X from Alienware is unlike any laptop you’ve ever experienced before, it truly is a masterpiece of engineering, design and kitch factor, and we love it. The dream of every LANner is to have an Alienware laptop, and that’s exactly what the M15X is, the stuff dreams are made of.

Beauty and power, the stuff dreams are made of.


CPU: Intel Core i7 720QM (1.60Ghz, 6MB L2 cache)

RAM: 4096MB (2×2048) 1333MHz DDR3 dual channel

Storage: 320GB Serial ATA (7200RPM) HDD

Optical drive: 8X DVD RW (slot-load)

GFX: 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT260M dedicated gfx

Battery: 9-cell

Connectivity: 802.11a/g/n, Bluetooth