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We weren't too impressed with the last Alienware product we looked at, its Area-51 Gaming PC, but the company's last notebook that passed through our test-beds, the Alienware Area-51 m15x, won a glowing review and a Recommended Award. Today we're looking at a new member of the Area-51 notebook range, the 17in M17, which Andy was generally impressed by in our Hands-On Preview. But can it really hold up to the standard set by its little brother?
Of course, this isn't the first 17in notebook Alienware has done; the Area-51 m17x has been available for quite a while. So what does dropping the 'x' give you? Ironically, CrossFireX for a start. Yes, this portable monster comes with dual ATI Mobility Radeon HD3870s powering a 1,920 x 1,200 display and it's also Alienware's first mobile product to offer a Quad Core Intel processor. Nor does the fun end there, but before we enter into the rest of the specifications let's take a look at the outside; for though we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, it's a different story when it comes to notebooks.
As it turns out, the M17 comes with a lovely cover. Rather like a very expensive black inside-out pillow-case with its fold-over flap, the cover is felt on the outside and stretchy satiny material on the inside. It's perfect to protect your laptop from dust, dirt and scratches, and light and thin enough to fit in a pocket folded up. There's a high-quality black mesh Alienware baseball cap, with the inevitable alien head stitched on in white and a thick plastic alien head sticker with blue eyes.
You'll also find a leather folder, which contains the manual and CDs, including Vista Home Premium, Nero 7 Essentials and the M17 support disc. The included mouse mat is far better than what we're used to from bundled ones, with a rubber under-side and textured hard top along which any mouse will glide smoothly. Last of all are four spare screws of the same type that hold the notebook's bays in. Overall it's a fairly comprehensive bundle and does make you feel you're getting that little bit extra.
The machine itself immediately catches the eye for all the right reasons. Alienware's PCs have always been distinct thanks to the unique alien head with glowing eyes that adorns them. However, the M17 stands out more than most thanks not only to the silver alien head with blue-lit eyes, which incidentally works nicely with the black lid, but also the shape of that lid. For all of you that know the signature 'ribbed' case front found on the company's desktop models, it presents a familiar aspect, and for those who've read our m9750 review, not much has changed. Some might lament the lack of stylistic progress here, but if it ain't broke, why fix it?
And the M17's design certainly isn't broken. The entire notebook, with the exception of the screen bezel, is finished in soft-touch rubberized plastic. This not only looks fantastic, doing a far better job of avoiding fingerprints, grime and scratches than a glossy chassis might, but it also lends the M17 that touch of exclusivity. Basically, thanks to the soft-touch finish you feel like you're getting a premium chassis for your high-end machine, and aside from Lenovo's award-winning Thinkpads there aren't many laptops out there that offer it.