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Alienware m15x Notebook Review

CPU = Intel T9300 2.5GHz GPU = NVIDIA 8800M GTX

By: Kevin (aka K.Shub, SkinnyPuppy216, TinOmen)

Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

Contents

My Background................................................................................................................................................3 Prior to the m15x ............................................................................................................................................3 Reasons to upgrade .........................................................................................................................................3 AlienExchange .................................................................................................................................................3 Research ........................................................................................................................................................3 The ordering process ........................................................................................................................................4 What I ordered ................................................................................................................................................4 The phase game ..............................................................................................................................................4 The unpacking ("Whats in the box, whats in the &$^*@!# box?", Seven) .............................................................4 What I did first ................................................................................................................................................5 First impression ...............................................................................................................................................5 Installation of applications ................................................................................................................................6 Games ...........................................................................................................................................................7 Tweeks ...........................................................................................................................................................8 Hardware review .............................................................................................................................................9 Software review ..............................................................................................................................................9 Pros ............................................................................................................................................................. 10 Cons ............................................................................................................................................................ 10 Future Plans .................................................................................................................................................. 10 Closing ......................................................................................................................................................... 10 Addendum .................................................................................................................................................... 11

Document version 1.0 Created during May 11, 2008 thru May 18, 2008 Document version 2.0 Updated May 19, 2008 Added Addendum section, grammatical errors, and updated from 8800GTX to 8800M GTX (thanks nbaumann)

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

My Background

Male, 32 years old, married, no kids. Im a registered CT Technologist who now works full time with for an Interventional Radiology software company. I work with computers and technology every day. Ive been an avid gamer since Atari 2600.

Prior to the m15x

AW AREA-51M 766 CONSPIRACY BLUE 16.1"NOTEBOOK REV 2.0 -PENTIUM 4 3.0GHZ 512K L2 CACHE 800MHZ FSB -CORSAIR 1024MB DDR PC2700 SO-DIMM -NOTEBOOK 60GB 7200RPM HD -AREA-51M ATI MOBILITY RADEON 9600 WITH 128MB ordered -10/27/2003 received-12/16/2003

Reasons to upgrade

1. Outdated video card: -WoW = low settings 1600x1200 10-15 fps -DOOM 3 = low settings 1600x1200 10-15 fps -UT2004 = pretty good settings 1600x1200 20-40 fps -unable to play newer games! 2x DVD burner 13+ pounds (6+ Kgs), with the power brick LCD would black out because of a short in the micro switch that turns the display on/off when the lid is closed and opened (too much hassle to get fixed, got quote of $140 to get replaced, luckily it didnt happen all of the time) I was quoted $469.92 for the m766 through the Alienware Exchange program (see my NBR post here)

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AlienExchange

I wanted the extra money from either selling or trading in my m766. I thought about craigslist and ebay, but I decided that Id rather just trade it in for cash. Here are the main reasons why I traded versus selling to someone: no questions, no hassle, and no follow up emails from the buyer. Opened a trade on 4/18/08, sent them the m766 on 4/22/08, they received on 4/25/08, accepted my trade in on 5/1/08, and received my payment check on 5/16/08.

Research

I started by visiting the Alienware website back in October/November 2007 and saw something about a new gaming 15" notebook. I then hit every site that Google had about the m15x. After reading about the preliminary specs, I knew that the m15x was ,,the one! My last notebook was pretty expensive and I knew that I wanted something less expensive, but still top of the line. So in preparation, every 2 weeks Id put a little money away and Id also save my extra cash from doing computer jobs (virus removal, upgrades, networking, etc...) on the side. One of the best resources for information and reviews that I found on the internets (yes, internets, find some Henry Rollins) was Notebook Review Forums, NBR for short. NBR helped me tremendously. The user community is super active and Alienware employees actually post help and responses to NBR members! However, everything wasnt perfect, there were many users who posted negative reviews and comments, but still I was pretty much sold on the fact that the best gaming hardware would be in the m15x and Alienware would stick behind their product. The biggest issue reported on the forums was the video card, specifically the 8800M GTX had severe downclocking while gaming. Time and patience paid off. A new BIOS was released to fix the downcocking and the folks at NBR were posting positive results. I then knew it was time to order! After some 3+ hour gaming sessions Im happy to say that my m15x doesnt downclock.

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

The ordering process

I ordered everything online. I didnt speak to a single person. I also waited until I could get my 5% student discount off of the total price. I ordered on April 16, 2008, when I had enough cash saved and a quote from the Alien Exchange program. My estimated ship date was May 2, 2008.

What I ordered

Area-51® m15x Student & Faculty Offer; 5% Instant Savings -Display: 15.4" WideXGA+ 1440 x 900 LCD (720p) with Clearview Technology -System Lighting: Alienware® AlienFX® System Lighting - Blue -Video/Graphics Card: 512MB NVIDIA® GeForce® 8800M GTX -Processor: Intel® CoreTM 2 Duo T9300 2.5GHz (6MB Cache 800MHz FSB) -Operating System (Office software not included): Windows Vista® Home Premium -Notebook Tuners and Remotes: Without Media Center Remote Control or TV Tuner -Memory: 1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz ­ 2 x 512MB -System Drive: 160GB 7,200RPM (8MB Cache) w/ Free Fall Protection -Optical Drives : 8x Dual Layer Burner (DVD±RW, CD-RW) -Wireless: Internal Intel® Wireless 4965 a/b/g/Draft-N Mini-Card -Sound Card : Internal High-Definition Audio with surround sound -Keyboard Options: AlienFX® Illuminated Keyboard ­ Exclusive Design -Warranty: 1-Year AlienCare Toll-Free 24/7 Phone Support w/ Onsite Service I also simultaneously ordered 4GB of RAM from Newegg for $70 and free shipping versus the $350 pricetag from the Alienware website. Here is the RAM that I received 4 days later: G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 200-Pin DDR2 SO-DIMM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Dual Channel Kit Laptop Memory

The phase game

Ordered: 4/16/08 Phase 4: 4/18/08 Phase 5: 4/22/08 Phase 9: 4/25/08 Received: 5/1/08

The unpacking ("What's in the box, what's in the &$^*@!# box?", Seven)

Worry and fright hit me kind of hard when I saw this on the FedEx tracking site: Apr 30, 2008 3:03 PM Shipment exception: Barcode label unreadable and replaced I instantly thought that the FedEx guys were fooling around and ruined my box: 'If you can dodge an Alienware, you can dodge a ball', so I phoned FedEx and they said not to worry, the sticker probably just came off. I received everything just fine, not a scratch on the box. I was really impressed on how small the entire shipping package was. My previous m766s box was huge, probably about 3 times bigger than the m15x box. The contents: -Alienware® m15x Notebook -Alienware® Mesh Cap -Alienware® Mousepad -Alienware® Mobile Binder -Alienware® Personalized Nameplate -Owner Identification Card -Area-51® m15x Protective Cloth Sleeve -Area-51® m15x Keyboard Diagram Overlay -Area-51® m15x Smooth Mylar Touchpad Overlay -lots of foam for padding, very nice

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

What I did first

I unpacked and visually inspected everything! Im happy to report, I received everything as promised and in perfect condition. The very first time I pressed the power button I inserted Hirens Boot CD 9.3 and used the disk cloning tool, aka: Ghost, to make a complete disk image backup. The 160GB hard drive fit on 1.5 DVDs and the whole process took about 2 hours. I now have a complete image of the hard drive before the first Vista login. Next, I powered down and swapped the stock 2x512MB RAM chips for the 2x2056MB. Finally, I fired up Vista.

First impression

This thing is freaking nuts, especially seeing that it cost me over $1000 less than my previous Alienware! This notebook is so fast and beautiful. No exterior blemishes, cracks, or flaws. The keyboard lighting is phenomenal! However, I did note that I had the x30 BIOS, not the latest x32. Also, Vista wasnt at Service Pack 1! My plan: download the x32 BIOS and Vista SP1. So I did just that on my desktop and had to wait a few days before I could apply the downloaded files because of my schedule. While poking around Vista, I learned that I really like this OS. Vista seems to be super fast, maybe because of the hardware that Im using. I like the speed and response.

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

Installation of applications

Here is the list of software that I installed, sorry that they are not in exact chronological order, but I did try... 1234Bios fix Windows Vista Update (pre-SP1) CCleaner -> http://www.ccleaner.com/ Auslogics Disk Defrag -> http://www.auslogics.com/en/software/disk-defrag a. Im kind of bummed out about the disk defrag comparison results in the latest Maximum PC magazine. MPC did a review of 4 Vista disk defragmentation tools and found that the internal Vista app had the best results. (see the June 08 issue) b. Im still using Auslogics because it is free, fast, and it works AnyDVD -> http://www.slysoft.com/en/anydvd.html Daemon Tools -> http://www.daemon-tools.cc a. Also added the May 3, 2008 release of isomaker.dll -> http://www.disktools.com/download/isomaker (sweet!) Cute PDF -> http://www.cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp Nero 8 Ultra Edition -> http://www.nero.com/enu/nero8-introduction.html I uninstalled the weak Nero 7 that came preloaded and installed my purchased version of Nero 8 a. I use Nero to encode my DVDs to iPod format and Nero 8 is the best for this. It has the gen 5.5 encoding resolution and it utilizes dual core processors. Exact Audio Copy -> http://www.exactaudiocopy.de/ a. Free mp3 ripper that does bit by bit comparison against an online database b. I also use the mp3 ripping guide standard published by Chris Myden -> http://www.chrismyden.com/bestmp3guide.php Ive been using this standard for years and the quality is hands down the best DVDShrink -> http://www.afterdawn.com/software/video_software/dvd_rippers/dvd_shrink.cfm a. For creating an iso image of my legally purchased movies for when I travel b. FYI -> ISO images are mountable within Daemon Tools WinRAR -> http://www.rarsoft.com/download.htm Office 2007 -> got this from work IT department (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher) for when I travel with my notebook. WHS connector client -> This is the Windows Home Server client application, which performs nightly backups and allows remote management of my home network. I have the HP MediaSmart Server EX470, which I absolutely love! avast! Antivirus -> http://www.avast.com/eng/download-windows-home-server-edition.html a. One of the best and reasonably priced antivirus applications that also supports Windows Home Server. Includes 10 PC and 1 WHS licenses for $60 a year!! b. For 3rd party antivirus comparison visit this: http://www.av-comparatives.org/ and check out the comparative link on the left! Colorvision Spyder Express -> http://spyder.datacolor.com/product-mc-s2e.php a. Display calibration, you know what Im talking about if you are into digital photography and printing. b. Actually, this adds pleasant warmth to gaming too!! Logmein -> https://secure.logmein.com/ a. Remote access software, which allows me to connect to my home and work computers Polar WebLink -> https://www.polarpersonaltrainer.com a. Software that allows my heart rate monitor (HRM) to upload my workout stats Adobe Lightroom ->http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/ a. For my digital photo editing and file management b. I love this software! CPU Multi Meter (D) -> http://thehobbylounge.com/forum/index.php?topic=2138.msg17890#msg17890 a. A Vista sidebar gadget, better than the default Vista CPU monitor

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

Games

So this is in fact an ultra gaming machine, from what Ive been told... 13DMark 06 -> http://www.futuremark.com/download/3dmark06/ a. Free version, everything default = 10,000

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3DMark Vantage -> http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/ a. I was very disappointed that I couldnt finish the benchmark, so I cant tell you what the m15x can do b. Reason for the benchmark not finishing: Q: After the graphics tests, or first CPU test I get a black

screen and nothing happens. I have also read that some users get an error after the first CPU test which says "IDXGISwapChain::ResizeBuffers failed:". What could be wrong? A: Please check that your monitor supports the required 1280x1024 resolution. We are looking into this issue.

3World of Warcraft -> This was a copy and paste of the installation from my desktop. Deleted all settings files and started my UI from scratch a. Getting 50-100 FPS with an average of around 60 FPS, regardless of location and event (raid vs. instance vs. world group vs. solo) This is with every setting maxed and vertical synch disabled. Unreal Tournament 2004 -> Everything set to max: 200-400 FPS, vertical synch off a. This has got to be one of the most insane differences between my old m766 and the new m15x b. The m766 struggled to keep at 40 FPS Doom 3 -> Ultra settings and max AA: 60+ FPS. Ive never seen this game look this good as well. My desktop has an NVIDIA 7800GTX OC and it struggles on Ultra setting. GTA-San Andreas -> Everything maxed, unknown FPS, super smooth, 8x AA enabled via the NVIDIA control panel Crysis -> TBD (I plan on picking this up the week of 5/18/08 because its on sale at Circuit City for $19) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare -> TBD (I plan on buying this after I beat Crysis) Unreal Tournament 3 -> I have the demo, I love it, but I have other games that I want to go through first before I buy this

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

Tweeks

This is a list of tweeks that I have applied to my notebook thus far: 1Disabled the Vista HDD pagefile (PF) a. I have 4gb of RAM, I figure RAM is faster than the HDD and my desktop has been working this way for years b. I did a few tests and have discovered that World of Warcraft does in fact load faster on initial startup by 10 seconds or so with the PF disabled I used Vistas disk management tool to create a partition for my games. You can see the disk sizes below:

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

Hardware review

CPU-> Very nimble and handles Vista and whatever else I have thrown at it so far. Also, I havent experienced any heat issues that Im aware of. My max temp = 80c from 2hours of Orthos. For more information visit my posts on the Notebook Review Forums:http://forum.notebookreview.com/showthread.php?t=248848&page=11 GPU-> Crazy, insane, I really cant believe that this is a notebook. Max temps so far hover in the high 60s to 72c (highest that Ive seen), while playing WoW and after a 4 hour session ;-) The Intel graphics function as expected. Keyboard-> One of the best keyboards that Ive used regarding overall feeling, plus it lights up! I have a Zboard for my desktop, which is really cool too, but it doesnt LIGHT UP! I do have a minor key lag every once and a while, but it doesnt bother me enough yet. It also seems that when the temps rise it occurs more often. Once again this hasnt affected me enough to start disabling drivers or playing around with Vista settings. I do have a little flex with my arrows. Body style-> I am a huge fan of the look of this notebook. The smooth feeling and the style and shape just rocks! Body construction-> This is one of the m15x components that Im not super happy about. The chassis feels like it is made of a simple plastic. The LCD does have some wobble and it creaks. I dont think the framework will impede the notebooks life, because I feel that it is enough to protect the goodies within. My reasoning, I baby my possessions. I take care and treat them like they are new, everyday. My m766 was almost 5 years old and if you inspected it, you would probably guess that it was only a few months old! In comparison, I prefer the plastic vs. the "heavy metal" frame of the m766 because of the weight difference. However, I could imagine how folks would be worried about the plastic, especially if they abuse their stuff. So while Im not thrilled about the construction, I do like it (less weight) and dislike it (creaks and wobble) at the same time. Display-> Beautiful, bright, and once calibrated, it is probably the best laptop display Ive ever seen. However, prior to the Spyder2 calibration it was too bright and cool compared to what Im used to. AlienFX-> The lighting is probably the coolest feature of this laptop, other than the hardware within. Ive played around with the software quite a bit and Ive found that one of the gems of the color setup is that you can configure schemes based on the application you are using. The association of specific colors based on the .exe running is pretty cool. DVD drive-> Ive burned several single layer DVD+Rs so far. No complaints. Its not as fast as my dual 16xs on my desktop, but its rated for 8x and it gets the job done. Im still getting used to not having a button to open the drive, on the drive. To open the DVD tray I have to press the FN (function) + F8, simultaneously. Im thinking the key combination is BIOS controlled, because it works even while the notebook is booting up. Speakers-> My m766 speakers were much better than the m15x and I dont have another laptop to compare to. The m15x speakers have no lows or mids and are pretty much scratchy his. They are not good quality in my opinion. When the volume is close to max, not even max, there is noticeable distortion and there is also vibration heard from the silver plastic strips on top of the black grills. They get the job done on low volume, but if more volume is needed I will use my external speakers or headphones. Touch controls -> The controls are an awesome idea, but the touch volume controller is flakey at best. Sometimes it works, other times it doesnt. Im simply using the Vista volume controller instead. Other controls are fine. I love the touchpad!!

Software review

Vista-> Ive been using Vista Business for over a year now at work. The only complaint that I have with my work PC is that I have trouble installing older programs. One program is the application that I now work full time with. The reason, I think, is that we use an old, circa year 2000, version of the WinZIP install wizard. As far as home usage of Vista, I have no complaints and the OS seems to be running super fast and slick on my m15x. AlienFusion-> AF is Alienwares way of taking all of the Vista power options for general OS and notebook specific settings and wrapping them all up into one nice, user friendly interface. Very cool. YouCam-> This software utilizes a built in camera with a little microphone on either side that is on the top-center of the display frame. The software is OK, but the video quality of the camera is not good. The software gives you the ability to add overlay images like balloons and a guns crosshair (my favorite) to the video. The video contains a lot of color noise and is very grainy. The camera is something that I probably wont be using, while its nice to have, its not a necessity. AlienCaret-> This isnt software per se, but rather its the official Alienware font installed on my m15x. Check out your fonts folder! Kevin is my name, 216 is my game!

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

Pros

-Crazy awesome gaming in a small 15" notebook form factor versus the 17"+ desktop replacements -Lightweight, weighs less than my old Alienware m766 -Large hard drive space -User customizable lighted zones and keyboard -Customized user settings directly through Alienware, such as time zone, sidebar gadgets, desktop, and color scheme -I like Vista, it now feels funny using XP on my desktop -Overall system speed = fast -Beautiful LCD display -Quiet system, even while gaming and using the speakers with low volume -Some people complain about the price, but I think that I received an excellent product for the price -USB connectors on both sides -No connectors on the back of the laptop, I hate those! -Its really neat that I can switch from the NVIDIA 8800M GTX dedicated video to the more power conservative onboard Intel video to save juice while on the move

Cons

-I had to manually install Vista SP1 -I had to manually install the 32x BIOS -Volume touch control is flakey -Takes a while to analyze and encode a DVD from the DVD drive while using DVDShrink -Creaky and squeaky plastic body frame (I honestly dont think this effects system life, but it is present) -Alienware needs to update video drivers for the 8800M GTX -The right palm rest gets warm to the touch because of the placement of the dedicated video card - I found that while gaming I cant seem to use the touchpad and keyboard at the same time. I dont use the touchpad often, but I did try a few times and I did notice this issue... (Update: visit the Addendum section for the fix)

Future Plans

1) Install VMwares Virtual Workstation -> http://www.vmware.com/products/ws/ a. Install XP Pro as a VM b. Once XP VM has been setup, install Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 c. Install Ubuntu as a VM-> http://www.ubuntu.com/products/WhatIsUbuntu/desktopedition i. For my Linux experimentation Once I go thru the games that I already own, now with all the graphics to the max, Id like to purchase Cyrsis and CoD4. Get a new NVIDIA 8800M GTX video driver! I might play around with Steam-> http://www.steampowered.com/v/index.php a. I have the Audio Surf demo on my desktop, I like it, but Im not sure if I want to install an unnecessary application on the m15x I thought about dual boot Vista/Linux or Vista/XP, but I really dont want to mess with driver stuff, thats why I went with VMware a few years ago, with only a 160GB HDD and 141GB available to Vista, Id rather not limit myself with more partitions and the like, but who knows maybe Ill try dual boot I havent tested my battery power just yet. I figured others have already done so and have documented on the NBR forums...so Ill trust those guys! Seriously, this is something I plan on doing soon and Ill update this document.

2) 3) 4) 5) 6)

Closing

Thanks for reading! If you have any requests or feedback, please share by PMing me on the NBR forums, user id= KShub. As you might already know based on my review, I absolutely love my m15x!! Cheers!! ...and no, Alienware didnt pay me for this review...

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Kevins Alienware m15x Notebook Review

Addendum

1) May19, 2008: I was able to address the issue concerning using the touchpad and keyboard at same time by moving the Synaptics ,,PalmCheck to Minimum. Thanks GRB!

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What did I use to monitor temperatures? I used the pre-installed ThermoFan application that came with the notebook. There is a reported issue of notebook locks not working with the m15x. I tested my Targus Defcon CL and it works fine. Here is the link from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Targus-PA410U-DEFCON-NotebookComputer/dp/B000031XCM I plan on doing some movie watching this upcoming weekend. Ill test the battery life, video, and sound quality.

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