Design & Layout
With its red lighting enabled, the M14x looks a bit like a mini Batmobile. Though for our nostalgic taste, that's a good thing. The M14x system we tested came built with a flat "Stealth Black Soft Touch" finish as Dell calls it, though a Nebula Red option is also available. Regardless, both options provide a very rugged rubberized finish that is fingerprint and scratch resistant. And it feels great and looks great too...
Batmobile, Knight Rider, whatever works for you but this is one eye-catching machine. The front grill area of the M14x, however, serves no functional purpose and is just there for show. Other larger versions of the M series by Alienware sport speakers behind those grills but the M14x places its Klipsch speaker drivers above the keyboard area, on either side of the Alien head power button and there is a third speaker port on the bottom side of the system, underneath the touchpad area. We should note that the Klipsch speaker system build into our unit is also one of the best sounding audio solutions we've ever heard in a 14-inch machine.The spatial effects of the M14x's 2.1 system provide a very full sound, especially considering the size of the hardware that is reproducing it.
In terms of expansion and IO ports, the M14x has just about anything you could possibly look for in a notebook, save perhaps for eSATA, though frankly we're not going to miss that too much. There are a pair of USB 3.0 ports here, as well as HDMI 1.4 output, VGA, Mini DisplayPort, a microphone input, a pair of headphone ports, a 9-in-1 Flash card reader, Gigabit Ethernet and an 8X slot-load SuperMulti DVD/RW drive. There's an obligatory Kensington lock port on board as well but have you ever used one? Neither have we.
The keyboard area of the M14x is a fully backlit affair that can be enabled or disabled at the toggle of a button. There are also dozens of lighting colors to choose from via software, in four separate zones across the keyboard itself. There are 5 more lighting zones on the machine, including the touchpad, front grills, the Alienware logo and other locations, all of which can have colors customized in software. More on this later. The M14x's keyboard itself is a very high quality setup with great tactile response and comfortable shaped key caps that provide an extremely comfortable typing experience. We literally could fly on this thing and no matter how hard we mashed those keys, there was zero give in the keyboard area.
Underneath the M14x, the rugged and functional design quality continues, with large vents underneath that do get a bit warm under heavy workloads and while gaming. The M14X isn't a lap toaster though; thankfully the midrange components inside are relatively power-efficient. We will note that the turbine intake fan you can see in the shot above here does emit a rather loud audible whine when the system kicks into a 3D game engine. This wasn't too much of a buzzkill for us but if you're the type that is looking for quiet acoustics in a gaming notebook, the M14x isn't going to be the answer. One other small shortcoming of the M14x, that is becoming more commonplace lately with smaller form-factor notebooks, is that its battery is not user-accessible. The 8-cell battery in the M14x is self-contained and cannot be removed or replaced.
Beyond that, style and substance would pretty much describe the M14x. This is a well-built machine with great styling and a fit and finish that competes with any of the best of breed notebooks on the market currently.