Overall, it is hard to be anything but impressed by Alienware's latest gaming notebook. The Aurora m9700 is the world's first 17" SLI capable notebook and offers an unprecedented level of performance. Until Intel's Conroe comes out, AMD is the gaming platform of choice and Alienware has done well to select the components it did for this gaming notebook. The Turion64 ML-44 processor is a potent CPU which runs cool and has some excellent power management features. Pairing this CPU to the proven NVIDIA nForce4 SLI chipset results in a stable and powerful foundation. Adding two GeForce Go 7900 GPU's to the mix is the critical ingredient to have an exceptional gaming notebook.
As you can obviously infer by having read the review thus far, we are certainly pleased with the Aurora m9700. However, like all good things in life there are ways in which it could be better. One aspect of the system which grew to be annoying was the finish on the touchpad and the use of a single hard button. Often times, notebook users have their hands on the keyboard and blindly feel for the touchpad when they need to scroll. On other systems, there is a distinct change in texture and feel to help users find the touchpad. However, the Aurora m9700 uses the same finish and texture on the touchpad as it features on the chassis itself making finding the touchpad an endeavor to say the least. In terms of the single button, we prefer the tactile feel of two discrete buttons rather than the vague feel of a single button with two switches underneath. In addition, we would prefer to forego the glossy finish on the LCD panel entirely. Although aesthetically it is gorgeous and enhances contrast, the mirror-like finish causes far more problems and distractions than it is worth. Lastly, we would have liked to have seen a 512MB variant of the GeForce Go 7900 GS as new titles and high resolutions will increasingly demand more memory. Hopefully, we will see this as an option sometime down the road.
With production systems not slated to ship until the end of June currently, there are still a number of logistic issues up in the air which remain to be decided. For consumers who choose a single GeForce Go 7900 GS, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to purchase a second GPU from Alienware's Gear Shop sometime down the road. In addition, there is no firm decision on whether a 512MB GeForce Go 7900 GTX will be made an option for the system. What we have heard thus far is that the GeForce Go 7900 GTX would be offered only as a single card if at all and not offered in pairs for SLI. With each of the flagship GPU's consuming 45W versus the 20W of the GeForce Go 7900 GS GPU's, we are likely looking at issues of available power and thermal dissipation. The last remaining question regarding the system is whether the new AMD Turion64 X2 would be made available as an option. In our opinion, this is a critical option that must be made available as we are now beginning to see some legitimate and substantial benefits to dual-core CPU's in various applications and games. Hopefully, the support of this new CPU could be added through a BIOS revision though no firm details are known at this time. We will keep you posted regarding the status of these issues and notify you of any final decisions made by Alienware.
Another "issue" which remains to be seen is how much more potential the mobile SLI platform has in store. Working with early drivers and Engineering Sample hardware, we were somewhat surprised to see a lack of any obscene performance increases. Don't get us wrong, the performance we witnessed with this system was phenomenal in every respect. However, based off of the gains we witness on the desktop platform, we expect performance to see healthy gains over the next few months as both the platform and drivers mature. Unfortunately, we only had 48hrs to test the system and post this review so there was not much room to investigate this issue further.Time will certainly tell in this case as we wait for new drivers, though you can be assured of excellent performance in the meantime regardless.
In its most basic form, the Alienware Aurora m9700 can be pre-ordered for $1999. For a configuration similar to what we tested in this review though, you would be looking at roughly $3600. Although this seems a bit expensive, this is one of the first occasions where the high price of a flagship notebook seems almost justified. For that price, you get flagship level components in every respect along with the unique ability to run two GPU's in SLI on a notebook. If you are serious about gaming, are a LAN enthusiast, or just want the ability to say you own one of the fastest notebooks on the planet, you would be wise to spend your money on the Alienware Aurora m9700.
In the end, Alienware has once again raised the bar for gaming notebooks with the launch of the Aurora m9700. If the system we tested had 512MB GPU's and a dual-core CPU, we would have rated the Aurora m9700 higher on the Heat Meter. Until we are able to confirm whether these options will be made available, we will give the Aurora m9700 a score of 8.5 on Hot Hardware's Heat Meter.
._Gaming Performance With SLI
._Unique Alienware aesthetics
._Surprisingly good battery life
._MXM upgrade path for discrete GPU
._Potent AMD Turion64 processor
._17" WUXGA 1920x1200 Display
._No dual-core CPU options currently
._No 512MB GPU options currently
._Glossy LCD acts as mirror
._Potentially no way to purchase 2nd GPU if not bought with system up front