Friday, March 16, 2007

The Alienware m9700: You can't be a Fabulouse techie without a Fabulous Laptop

This from
At first sight, this Alienware notebook is a thing of beauty. The unit I reviewed was clad in an eerie metallic smooth green finish with rubber detailing. The Alienware icon and its xeno blue eyes light up when the computer is on, eliciting an “oooh!” from onlookers. It’s love at first sight.

Here are the stats at a glance:

- AMD Turion64 ML-44 processor (2.4GHz)

- Two SODIMM sockets - 2x1GB DDR 400 Unbuffered Non-ECC memory
- Dual NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS 256MB (MXM) SLI Enabled
- 2 x SATA/66 - Dual 100GB Hitachi 7200rpm SATA HDD RAID 0 1.5 GB/s 8MB Cache - 8x Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW
- 10/1000 Mbps Ethernet - Realtek 802.11b/g Wireless LAN - 56K v.90 Fax/modem - Integrated Bluetooth device
- 17" TFT LCD
- Stereo speakers with integrated subwoofer - Intel High-Definition Audio
I/O Connectors
- 1 x Power port - 1 x Lock jack - 1 x Ethernet port - 1 x Modem port - 1 x Headphone jack - 1 x Microphone jack - 1 x SPDIF jack - 1 x PCMCIA slot - 1 x TV-out port (S-Video) - 1 x TV-in port (S-Video) - 3 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports - 1 x VGA-out port - 1 x DVI-out port - 1 x 4-pin mini IEEE1394 port - 1 x Multimedia (MMC/SD/MS/MS Pro) Card Reader

- Microsoft Media Center XP OS

I commonly use an Acer 5672. Its stats are inferior to the Alienware machine, but not drastically short of the mark, so it’s apt to compare them. I became familiar with the Acer’s quirks—it’s tendencies to jam up or crash. I knew where these weak points were: using video—multiple sources of video, heavy use of the drive (lots of searching, large file access, deleting swaths of files), pushing gaming capabilities (3D rendering, online play, etc.). In short, the Alienware machine worked perfectly. This speaks to how the peripherals play with one another. We’re dealing with open architecture—all of these pieces farmed together to give you the stats you desire. Too often does a spotty OS try to coordinate video card, audio card, network traffic and memory with less than successful results. It feels like Alienware worked to find a combination of components that played well together then backed that combo up with the right drivers. The result is a stable experience—great performance that stands up to the pounding of real usage. Manufacturers are so prone push computers out the door “Now! Now! Now!” that I almost assume that a laptop or desktop will have great stats yet buggy in the execution of those components. The m9700 handles great.

The video performance out of the m9700 is phenomenal. I took its resolution up to 1920 across then I cried ‘uncle’ as the “Start” button became a miniscule icon in the far corner and I brought it back down into a compromise of resolutions. I tried pushing the capabilities by playing video along with other apps and a copy of Civ IV running in the background. I saw no signs of stuttering or impeded performance and the Romans continued their march of the Greeks without interruption.

This machine came Media Center ready and that was a real treat. It fluidly pulled in TV feeds, stored them on its spacious hard drive and burned them onto DVD in speedy fashion. My one complaint is that the coax connection is different from the TV/AV standard. In my small town, I had to scour all of the TV/video and computer shops to find a compliant plug. Had this shipped with the laptop, it would have been nice. The laptop bristles with ports and connectors, brimming with capacity for expansion. If your goal were to make this laptop a desktop replacement, it would be a fine candidate.

The software I used to put the m9700 included the games of Civilization IV and Rome; video editor Adobe Premiere; MS Office 2003; Macromedia DreamWeaver and Fireworks. Civilization IV can be a demanding mistress, but running on the m9700 it handled fine with full-fledged animations and handling complex battles with ease. Rome never looked so good coming through this laptop. The real strengths of the m9700 were exposed with Adobe Premiere: it sucked down clips via firewire and handled them easily. I was able to throw whole strings of editing commands and filters at my video project and it didn’t choke. While my Acer will take hours to process a video for DVD burning, the m9700 screamed through the compositing process and was burning my video within 30 minutes.

The terrific performance of this machine comes at a price. This machine kicks out more heat than an EZ-bake oven. Over the long term, this heat has to go somewhere—either into tabletop beneath your machine, or back into the components. This is common for high performance laptops but I wish the makers had paid more attention to this issue. This heat is a display of energy: running off of batteries, the best I could get out of this machine while gaming was 80 minutes. There are plenty of ways to tune down the energy drain, but then your performance takes a hit: dimmer screen, lower graphics quality, clipped off peripherals (like Bluetooth or WLAN). Taking these steps to extend your battery life doesn’t extend the lifespan by much, which means you’re tethered to the wall for the most part.

This is a terrific piece of hardware. It performs the best of any laptop I have tinkered with. If cost were no object (this unit going for -gulp- $3,348), I would leap at this Alienware laptop. Unfortunately, Alienware doesn’t cheat the curve: you pay a premium for the stability and performance. But the result is out of this world.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home