Truth be told a small part of me sighs when confronted by a gaming notebook. Not because I don't believe in them, but because despite being some of the most powerful notebooks you're likely to find, there's nothing particularly sophisticated about them. They're all large and powerful and many will play games at decent settings, but it's a brute force affair at the best of times and with a propensity for gaudy gamer centric design there are few that catch the eye in a positive manner.
In fact, one of the few that has was the Alienware Area-51 m9750, the last Alienware notebook we looked at. Like most gaming notebooks it was a 17in machine and it was both large and expensive, but its rubberised Batman-esque finish (circa Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney and Bale, not Adam West) and curvaceous lines provided a compelling example of what a modern gaming notebook ought to look like.
On the flip side, the Dell XPS M1730 was the perfect example of the worst excesses of the sector, with its nasty faux carbon-fibre patterns, unsubtle lighting effects and bastardised Inspiron chassis doing little to inspire. Meanwhile, the Clevo manufactured chassis offered by the likes of Rock (see: Rock X770 T7800-8800) have sat somewhere in the middle, offering a well put together but restrained take on the concept.
Today, however, I'm looking at something a little bit more interesting, in fact something genuinely exciting in the shape the Alienware Area-51 m15x. As the name suggests it's based on a 15.4in form factor and, unlike the plethora of other so called "gaming notebooks" of this size, this is the real deal since it features the very best components available; in this instance a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 and nVidia's GeForce 8800M GTX 512MB mobile graphics card. These are both firsts for a notebook of this size and given the requirements of heat dissipation, it's no mean feat.
It's worth remembering, though, that being smaller than the typical gaming notebook still doesn't make the m15x some kind of malnourished waif. It's still pretty hefty. Our sample weighed in at 3.6kg, while Alienware quotes a starting weight of 3.18kg in its most basic configuration. It's also fairly thick, measuring a consistent 33mm. But, importantly, its overall footprint is nothing so remarkable, measuring a manageable 369.5mm across and 272.5mm deep. This makes it only marginally wider and deeper than, say, the Dell Inspiron 1525 (357mm wide x 256 deep), which is a far more basic machine.
It's an achievement that hasn't come without its problems, too. Some early adopters in the US, where the m15x has been available for a while now, complained of problems caused by overheating, including instability and small cracks appearing on the chassis. In this instance we can perhaps be thankful that Europe and the UK have received it later, since Alienware promises it has sorted out these problems. It doesn't make it right that early adopters should essentially Q/A these issues, but in our time with the m15x we experienced no issues related to overheating.