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Thread: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

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    Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    A Core i5 CPU, a GeForce GPU and the promise of long battery life. Is this the ultimate 11in notebook ?
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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Introduction.

    My life with an Alienware M11X r2. I have been in the market for a new laptop for a while wanting a replacement for my venerable Toshiba Libretto U100, which has three problems, the keyboard really is to small to type comfortably on, the screen is difficult to see and is far to slow these days. First I looked at netbooks the slightly larger form factor addressed my keyboard issue however the use of 1024x768 displays made them a non starter for me as that is lower than the 1280x768 of the U100. Also I wanted a processor that was able to do virtualisation so an atom was a non starter. I had been waiting for the acer 1630TX to come to market (which was one among many), however there are 3 times a year when I like to use a laptop and 2 of them were rapidly approaching. I had looked at the Alienware M11Xr2 but had held off as I thought the styling was quite "Ugly", the sloping front with lights on it being my particular hate, it was the only game in town so I thought I would give it a try. So was I right to get over my pathological hatred of Dell?

    The order process.

    I found a 10% off coupon for Dell computers that was expiring that very day so I placed my order. There were some bewildering options like light colours, avatar (your user's logon picture) and wallpaper, don't worry about them, they can all be changed later and do not affect the hardware build of the machine. Having been a fan of Thinkpads I went for the black soft touch case. "Dell's recommended" memory configuration was 3GB of memory (1+2GB).. WHAT! The processor uses dual channel memory, so using uneven modules would ruin this and make it operate in a single channel mode so I upgraded to the 4GB (2+2gb) as 4GB dimms are still silly money. A core i7 option was also available so upgraded from the standard i5 processor chip, seeing as I was getting a discount. I also went paided for the windows ultimate upgrade as I (thought) I wanted features like the backup one. Sometimes I HATE being in the backwater they call the UK, this machine was assembled to my spec in China with many other machines for other countries including the US. Two options available elsewhere in the world are "Custom name tag" and WWAN. First less address the custom name tag, this is a small metal plate attached to the bottom of the laptop. There is no particular reason for this, apart from it making the machine feel more personal, so why in the UK market is it not customisable like the US one, as they machines are assembled in the same place. More importantly why is there no WWAN option? People buying an 11 inch laptop are likely to want that kind of feature, a mini pci-e the slot is available in the bottom and labled WWAN, I would have payed for an over priced dell adapter to get it, but no only do offer it in the UK they also do not install the antenas into the display so it can be added later (if you do not select the WWAN option (that is not available) on build), this for me was one of the points were it felt like it really was a dell and not "Alienware". I also selected the (Dell) DVD drive option as the laptop is so small it does not have space for one (I think they probably should provide one as Alienware is for "gaming") however they do try to bundle steam so I guess we are meant to use that instead. Ok I press the GO button! Damn Only after I have placed the order does dell tell me when they will deliver it Over 2 weeks! The day before I go on holiday... Great some 10 days before I go on holiday it is dispatched and dell take my money. However unlike any other Delivery where you might expect to receive the goods in the next few days this is not the case, as Dell user the courier to assemble the order and as I had order a drive my order seemed to be delayed due to a "pick" storage however, however it did arrive on the on the scheduled date so I guess I have nothing to complain about.

    Unboxing

    Inside a robust shipping carton was another equally good shipping box, my M11X had arrived in some very nice looking packing. Opening it up the accessories where in a nice box, in which there was a book of words that appeared to be well written, the worlds flattest PSU and shock horror an install DVD! Things are looking up now moving on to the next layer there is the laptop and included is a rather nice felt bag to keep it in to avoid scratches. The black soft touch looks good and feels good. Opening it up its not as ugly as I had thought from some pictures.

    Firing her up.

    Putting together the PSU took some effort, as the plug cable has a 180 degree bend on it, so that the cable runs back under the PSU. Not sure about this, I assume its so the cable if pull can never come out, however it effect how flat the whole thing can sit on the floor. After all laptops have batteries what does it matter if the cable comes out once in a while? My first reactions on firing it up were very favourable, I was not sure about the lights at the front of the computer, however as the review suggests you can change the colours or turn them off. The colours can also all be different. I did however think why if they have so much space for an Alienware logo on the display could they not have put a display with a higher Y resolution in it like 1024 rather than 768, there is plenty of space around the bezel for a larger display. Ok everything looks great time to take it apart (software wise) so embark on making all the disks I can, before messing with the software build (Dell recovery "Alienware Respawn" and Windows 7 Backup). Just in case the disk provided does do everything I had hoped. I like to do this with any machine this way I know if there are problems in the future I have everything I need to rebuild the machine. What was a surprise was the default install have virtually no C**Pware 15 trial software installed. Sadly the plastic in front of the keyboard does not have the nice feel to it that the black soft outer case does and frankly feels rather cheap, the buttons on the track pad also do not have a great feel (a bit soft and flexing) and like many trackpads as problems with click and drag as it gets confused by the heat sources of 2 hands. It would have also been nice if the there was some kind of hardware scroller for the middle mouse button rather than doing it at the edge of the pad in software. Finally it would be nice if the trackpad was lit up. as its hard to see in the dark.

    Booting the install

    The M11X r2 does not come with a DVD I think frankly this is a mistake for a computer aimed at gamers, to try to make up for this fact Dell have tried to bundle steam with the computer (which I asked to have removed). So first thing I do is to boot up a linux install disk, so I can have a close look at the partition layout. Select DVD (usb) from the boot menu and drive starts up and then windows boots, try again same again, finally DVD boots. Something strange going on here. Try DVD (usb) drive with another computer boots first time. This is odd and frustrating. I try updating the BIOS on the computer and that makes no difference, it probably took my 30 tries to get a successful boot. However skipping forward I did find a way to make it boot within 5 tries. Set the boot order to DVD -> Network -> HD. Reboot it, if DVD boot fails and the NIC starts to try to boot Ctrl-Alt-Del it as soon as possible then Ctrl-Alt-Del as soon as possible during the bios initialisation, then your get a clean boot from the DVD. Partition Layout, 3 partitions are already taken by Dell making it hard to keep all the features if you want another OS, fortunately Linux with grub on the MBR can work with just extended partitions, so annoying but not show stopping. The partitions are hardware/Dell Recovery (system)/Windows 7. The Dell recovery partition takes 15GB of valuable space, must of it is free to give space for backups if you buy the upgrade for the Alien Respawn utility. I have to admit I rather object to this blatant upselling, either way I figure this can go, so boot the computer with the included DVD. Remove partitions 2 and 3, then create a smaller Windows 7 partition. WTF the installer created a small 386 MB "system" partition on partition two! By some fiddling managed to get the install create just one partition and get it to restore. (Can't remember if it did not boot here or after the next stage of using the Alienware restore). Either way it seem Windows 7 likes to have this tiny partition which dell also uses for system restore, deleting it will not get you another usable partition so you need to question if really need to liberate the space or keep the restore partition "just in case".

    Installing Linux (Centos 5.5)

    As I don't have access to my network based install server being on holiday I boot the DVD (after a while). Oh dear will not do a graphical install, command line based on will not let me create LVM partitions. Dang! Boot rescue mode, partition the disk at the command line, boot the install again, tell it to overwrite the partitons no problem, not a dell problem but the command line install also seems top be limited in how you can select packages. Seems to install fine, reboot the computer Linux boots, udev setup, filesystem mounts, kernel panics! Agh! Ok boot rescue mode again mount root delete /lib/modules/.../kernel/drivers/acpi/video.ko computer linux is alive! X even starts shame its only 1024x768. Try some updates which is very hard in North Wales via a WWAN dongle as their is almost no receiption and no g3! New kernel does not fix things, vesa driver does not like 1366x768 and the intel driver makes the screen turn off never to come back (unless you reboot), Except copying my data over using a cross over cable from my old laptop I guess I will leave the finer points of linux X setup until I get home. (BTW this still is not fix so if anyone has any advice, tried both Intel and nvidia modes). Only driver I can get to do anything is the limited vesa one.

    Visit to Portmeirion

    The family took a nice trip to Portmeirion, wondering what it would be like on the move I pulled out the Alien to have a quick play, oh dear while this laptop is great at night, daylight is a problem the screen is bright enough to be seen well however due to it having a a glossy protective cover rather than a matt screen it reflects light very badly making it at times very difficult to see, and interesting no signal at all there from T-Mobile so I quickly put it away. As we were walking though the grounds I end up carrying it for 2 hours in my backpack, and in that time it did not start to feel "heavy" however I was aware I was carrying it unlike my Libretto which felt like there was nothing there.

    WWAN sucks in Porth Dinllaen



    Its a lovely place however it has to have the worse possible receiption! Even doing the download install of AVG proved to be impossible, while this is not a problem with the computer, it does show that nice locations often don't allow you do work on the net as you had hoped. This was one of the good things about the Alien ware, the i7 processor upgrade had a lot of grunt so I had no problems running my web server and database on the computer to road test what it would be like to work on for real. Something was making the Libretto a real problem. So its getting close to the end of my holiday and I have managed to get most things I need working so decide to wait till I get home to do network tasks.

    Installing Networking

    I plugged it my wired network at home and completed the AVG install in 5 minutes something that had taken 10 hours to download 25% in wales and did the microsoft updates, authenicated it onto my wireless access point and everything work very nicely. Wire connect felt a bit slow? So now on to linux, need a driver for download one for centos and install it (via usb key). That is strange dmesg only says its 100BT connection, do some investigate and find out the M11X only has a 10/100BT network card. How many pence did that save you dell! On a machine aimed at gamers and performance you put at terrible NIC, and unlike Wi-Fi wish is on a card there is no hope of replacing it as the computer does not have a pcmcia card slot.

    Size comparision

    Here are a couple of pictures of the Libretto u100 and Alienware m11x side by side, the alienware is MASSIVE by comparison but a lot more usable machine.

    Lids down


    Lids Up and running


    Noticed the bad flash reflection, I did take another one without flash however the picture was blurry to use, I will try again, to see if I can get a better "action" picture. However its interesting to see how badly the m11x is affected compared to the u100, both the screen are at the same angle. It should be noted the virtical resolution of both displays is the same (768) however the horizonal is 1366 on the M11X and 1280 on the u100.


    Conclusions

    Many things are very good about this machine, it is a shame Dell "Cheapness" has got into it at a few points.

    The good

    Not that "Ugly"
    The most powerful laptop you can get in its class.
    A usable keyboard (Lights are a bonus)
    A screen that has a resolution that is not to low or two high making it good to read.
    Little C**pware in default install.
    Real install disks.
    Nice to use in the dark.

    The Bad

    Glossy screen
    10/100BT NIC
    No WWAN option in the UK
    No custom name tag in the UK (Why bother having this thing at all if you cannot have it costumed like the states do?)
    Plastic in front of the keyboard looks cheap and feels bad.
    Trackpad a bit naff.
    No driver disks

    I rate it 6/10 I can't understand how HeXus could rate it 4.5 stars. For me its a keeper however that has more to do with its the only thing on the market that meets my needs now. If your in a position to wait, I would and see if someone else can do better. It is a real shame to say this as this could have been a 9 out of 10 machine with little effort from Dell. You can see where they have pushed out Alienware. Do I still hate Dell? Probably.
    Last edited by oolon; 03-09-2010 at 10:28 AM. Reason: Content
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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by oolon View Post
    Putting together the PSU took some effort, as the plug cable has a 180 degree bend on it, so that the cable runs back under the PSU. Not sure about this, I assume its so the cable if pull can never come out, however it effect how flat the whole thing can sit on the floor. After all laptops have batteries what does it matter if the cable comes out once in a while?
    This is standard Dell, they have used these for years. I think the rational behind them is so you can wrap all the cable round the power brick without damaging the cable at the connector with too tight a bend radius. There should also be a rubber strap on there to tie all the cables together to sto them unfurling in your bag. I've seen my Dad destroy power cables by being this on non-Dell power bricks.

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by Funkstar View Post
    This is standard Dell, they have used these for years. I think the rational behind them is so you can wrap all the cable round the power brick without damaging the cable at the connector with too tight a bend radius. There should also be a rubber strap on there to tie all the cables together to sto them unfurling in your bag. I've seen my Dad destroy power cables by being this on non-Dell power bricks.
    Yeah, thats exactly it. I buy Dell laptops for the office monkeys, and the PSU is probably the only thing one of them hasn't destroyed yet...

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Thanks for the detailed review.

    Curiously enough I also have a Libretto U100, how does it feel in comparison, size and weight wise... do you really notice the extra bulk of the M11x to carry or does it feel portable (I also have been looking at the Asus U35Jc, a 13.3", wider but thinner and 1.7-1.8Kg)?

    Another problem I had with the Libretto (aside from resorting to a DS stylus to type with) was that to use it on my lap I have to sit like a girl in a short skirt (i.e. legs very tight together) otherwise it falls down the gap... this is obviously less than comfy! How is the M11x on a lap?

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Compared to the libretto is feels HUGE! Have no idea why people want 14" + laptops! With my Libretto used to hold it in the palm of my hand and type with the other hand, there is alot in the Alienware laptop and it feels quite heavy, not something you would want to hold in your arm for too long. The Libretto however the display was to detailed to see well and I found the keys too small to type on for more than the shortest amount of time. The Alienware addresses both of those, the screen is a dream to read (unless you have reflections) and the keyboard works well (could be slightly better) if you type badly and are hit the keys of centre they aren't great, however I would not have any reservations about using the M11X for hours. However it is not the Ultraportable the Libretto is, I will do you a side by side picture of the two of them later. No problems sitting it on my lap with my legs comfortably Seperated.

    One important fact I have not got to yet if my review is networking.... ONLY 10/100 BT ADAPTER... something I didn't know before I bought the alien.... Not a show stopper but very unhappy about it.

    The Alienware is light enough to be carried around most of the time, however the libretto was light and small enough to be carried around ALL the time.
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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by oolon View Post
    One important fact I have not got to yet if my review is networking.... ONLY 10/100 BT ADAPTER... something I didn't know before I bought the alien.... Not a show stopper but very unhappy about it.
    .
    A strange choice I thought, on a £1000+ machine 10/100 sounds very odd.

    I don't plug laptops in to wires very often, but when I do I do it for speed of transfer... it definitely puts me off as well.

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    I think the argument or 10/100 adapters is the extra power the gigabit chips draw, even when not plugged into a network. Not an issue for high power systems, but if one is being built for low power and long battery life, every little helps.

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by Funkstar View Post
    I think the argument or 10/100 adapters is the extra power the gigabit chips draw, even when not plugged into a network. Not an issue for high power systems, but if one is being built for low power and long battery life, every little helps.
    Well the new TimelineX acers have gigabit and have 8 hours life. I think you will find it does not take full power when unplugged as the circuit powers down to a detection level. Yes when it is idle and plugged in on gigabit it would take near power, however you could set the nic so it down speeds to 10/100T when on battery which would also save the power.

    While you are right about gigabit taking a lot of power, I still don't think its a good reason not to include one, and give the user the option of power saving down speed, after all this is a high power gamer machine, not some ultraportable day working machine if ti was it would have a removable battery and a large battery option.
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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by Funkstar View Post
    I think the argument or 10/100 adapters is the extra power the gigabit chips draw, even when not plugged into a network. Not an issue for high power systems, but if one is being built for low power and long battery life, every little helps.
    The Asus U35Jc has gigabit, and a very long battery life... I don't think that holds up to scrutiny anymore with modern chips.

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    oolon... that is a class review
    class

    ty for taking the time to do it

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by kingpotnoodle View Post
    The Asus U35Jc has gigabit, and a very long battery life... I don't think that holds up to scrutiny anymore with modern chips.
    Well the other argument is cost, and i know there is very little in it these days as well.

    But I presumably in a lot of cases, like with netbooks or other small laptops, a little cost saving combined with a little power reduction can make a difference. Most people just look at the wireless and never touch the ethernet socket these days.

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    4.5 stars for this seems very generous tbh.

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by Funkstar View Post
    Well the other argument is cost, and i know there is very little in it these days as well.

    But I presumably in a lot of cases, like with netbooks or other small laptops, a little cost saving combined with a little power reduction can make a difference. Most people just look at the wireless and never touch the ethernet socket these days.
    In a netbook I would expect 10/100 for cost/power reasons (mostly cost), most netbook owners probably wouldn't know what gigabit was anyway and the use-case for netbooks is almost exclusively wireless... but a premium product like the M11x should have gigabit, they probably spent 10x more on the light show than the gigabit chip would cost!

    Edit: Perhaps wired is seen as more a business feature, a lot of offices (mine included) don't use wireless for their staff network - for a start because it's too slow for network file services etc. (Our office building is too congested, I have a guest wireless in the meeting room, but you're lucky to pick it up at all 20ft away from the room).

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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Quote Originally Posted by Funkstar View Post
    Well the other argument is cost, and i know there is very little in it these days as well.
    That is the point really this is meant to be a premium laptop for hardcore gamers/users not some cheap netbook, my machine config cost over 1k, I was very surprised to find it out had a 10/100 network card in it, I notice Dell have been very careful not to mention it in the web site. Its one of the few things that lets down a very good machine.
    (\__/) All I wanted in the end was world domination and a whole lot of money to spend. - NMA
    (='.*=)
    (")_(*)

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    • Marvin-HHGTTG's system
      • Motherboard:
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    Re: Reviews - Dell Alienware M11x R2 notebook review

    Dell (and all manufacturers to an extent) are known to cut corners where most customers won't notice to increase profit margins, or keep prices competitive.

    I'm pretty sure most people forget to check the NIC when with a laptop there are so many other boxes to tick...

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