Gauging the performance of the Alienware M11x was always going to be an interesting process. In the end we chose to compare against itself, running all our tests in both dedicated (orange) and integrated graphics (dark grey) modes where possible, and against the Samsung R780. In the case of the latter, its similar pricing provided an interesting comparison even though it's nothing like as portable due to its 17.3in screen
In PCMark Vantage, the M11x performs well. This is boosted by the extremely fast SSD, though, which generated a massive score in hard drive intensive tests - as can be seen in the full results page at the end of the review. There's a small difference in the overall performance with and without dedicated graphics, but the Samsung's full-power CPU gives it an obvious advantage. Subjectively, and outside of purely CPU intensive tasks, the M11x's general performance and responsiveness is very good and it should still be with a standard hard drive.
However, it's gaming performance we're really interested in here, and results were sufficiently impressive. Predictably Trackmania Nations didn't pose a meaningful challenge, with a silky smooth 52.8fps when using the dedicated graphics compared to a slovenly 15.7fps on the integrated graphics. Our more demanding STALKER test, however, was particularly interesting. Not only did the M11x produce a decent 35.6fps, its result matched that of the R780.
To give us some further insight, we tried a few more games, including Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 and Just Cause 2. Running both at 1,366 x 768, we found MW2 ran very well indeed. Even on Extra Detail and with 2x anti-aliasing we got a smooth 45fps, leaving enough headroom for moments when the action got really hectic. Just Cause was more challenging, though, averaging around 25fps at medium settings and with no AA. It was still playable, however, which is impressive given that the massive draw distances and explosions make this a particularly challenging game.
Overall, while compromise is still necessary, provided you don’t exceed the native resolution (e.g. through connecting an external monitor) you can get playable frame-rates and still enjoy great looking games. For this machine's purposes that's just right.
This performance in games is made to look all the more impressive when you glance at the battery life on offer. Even on the dedicated graphics the M11x lasted a healthy 237 minutes (3hrs, 57mins), but switching to the integrated graphics extended this to a whopping 404 minutes (6hrs, 44mins). In recent memory only the Acer Aspire Timeline 1810TZ, which lasted 523 minutes (8hrs, 43mins), can better this.
We were also particularly impressed with the thermal performance of the system. Naturally, the fan spun up during games, but never did it get uncomfortably hot or outrageously noisy. Given the size of the machine and performance it offers this is an impressive feat.
Arguably the Alienware M11x is the first true gaming laptop. Not only can it play games well, it can be used on the move just like any normal laptop - more so than most, in fact, as its battery life is among the best in the market. We'd probably wait for it to be updated with Nvidia's improved Optimus graphics switching tech, but nonetheless this is an outstanding (and unique) machine.