Design & Layout
The first and most eye-catching is the lighting scheme, which gives the otherwise fairly mundane big black box a fetching look. The backlit keyboard is a strong start, and the touchpad rimmed in a thin blue LED both looks snazzy and also serves to help users easily locate the touchpad and mouse buttons in any light. The media buttons above the keyboard area, silver alien head power button (which is itself a cool feature), “Alienware” text below the display, and big front intakes are all lit by LED lights, as well. There’s also an Alienware logo on the back of the display that glows white.
If blue isn’t your thing, there are 9 total color zones (4 of which are on the keyboard itself) that you can switch to 20 different colors, including a dark mode with no lights at all, and you can save any schemes you create.
The keyboard area is spacious and includes a full-size QWERTY layout with a numpad, although Dell did do a bit of creative juggling by sliding the directional keys under the right Shift key and moving the PrtScr, Pause/Break, Page Up/Down, Home, End, and Insert keys to the left of the function keys and above the numpad. Thus, the layout is a little off of you’re a typist or an accountant, but otherwise it’s a smart use of space. One slight complaint we have is that we’d prefer that the palm (well, forearm and palm) rest area was angled downward slightly. The typing experience isn’t quite as comfortable with the edges of the chassis digging into our wrists, although if you’re gaming with just your left hand on the keys and your right on a gaming mouse, the beveled edge just below the touchpad and mouse buttons makes for a more comfortable session; the rubberized finish on that area of the chassis helps, as well.
Above the keyboard area and off to the right is a row of unique buttons that includes the usual volume up/down, mute, and play/FF/rewind/skip media controls as well as an eject button, WiFi toggle button, and a dedicated button that launches the Alienware Command Center. Although they look like touch keys, they’re all actually physical buttons; it’s a neat trick, because the buttons keep a low, glowing profile, but they offer tactile feedback when you press them or need to find them with your fingertips without taking your eyes off the screen.
The most striking feature of the M17x is the front grills. The twin glowing eyes house the speakers and also suck in air to cool the notebook’s burly components; the design looks to be identical to that of the M18x we reviewed last year, and at the time we thought they reminded us of the Batmobile or a muscle car hood’s intake. We’ll stand by that description.
Although the low end leaves something to be desired, the M17x’s speakers exceed what we normally expect from a notebook. Mids and highs are rather crisp and clean even at a high volume, but the lack of meaningful bass response is obvious--in other words, your machine gun fire will sound great, but explosions will be lackluster.
On the I/O side of things, Dell has not disappointed; there are four total USB 3.0 ports (2 per side) as well as a USB 2.0/eSATA 3Gbps combo port, 9-in-1 media reader, LAN port, two line out audio jacks, a S/PDIF and headphone jack, and mic in. Video ports include HDMI in and out ports, VGA, and mini-DisplayPort. We particularly like the slot-loading ODD design, which houses a dual-layer Blu-ray reader/DVD+/-RW/CD-RW drive.
Although the battery is just a 9-cell Lithium Ion (90whr), it keeps the machine running for well over an hour under a moderate load--which is to say, it’s not terrible for a gaming notebook containing components of this magnitude. It’s also worth noting that the power adapter is slimmer than what we saw on previous Alienware models, and doesn’t get as hot as you might expect after long periods of time.
As we’ve noted with past Alienware notebook displays, there’s a bit more glare than we’d like on the M17x’s 17.3-inch WLED screen, and we’d almost prefer a plastic bezel to the shiny glass that frames the screen, but otherwise it’s gorgeous. The color depth and richness are good, black levels are striking, and text is crisp but warm (read: easy on the eyes); we admit, when we put the machine through some graphically intense paces, we sometimes found ourselves marveling at the rendered details instead of playing the game at hand.