Alienware is all about getting some serious power under those shiny, luminescent exteriors (as long as you're willing to pay for the privilege), and the M14x is no exception. Our sample sports a quad-core Intel 'Sandy Bridge' Core i7-2630QM, which runs at 2GHz by default and clocks up to 2.9GHz. This chip offers more power than many games will know what to do with, and opting for a dual core Core i5-2410M will save you £140 while still providing enough muscle for the majority of games.
It's backed by 4GB of RAM, which you can upgrade to 8GB for 'only' £160! The hard drive on our review sample is the top-end option. Rather than one of the 7,200rpm hard drives which come in up to 750GB sizes, our machine rocks a 256GB SSD. It adds a whopping £430 to the price, and that's the cheapest SSD experience available – Alienware doesn't offer smaller capacities. To be honest this takes ridiculous to a whole new level, and we rather prefer MSI's combo SSD and hard drive setup, as found in the £1,450 configuration of its GT680.
Anyway, as long as you have the cash, so far this 14in gaming laptop offers all the power you could want. But how do its graphics hold up? This crucial area is where we most often find compromises, and unfortunately that holds true for this little beast. Because no matter how fat your wallet is, the only option is an Nvidia GeForce GT 555M. Whether you pay the extra £130 to double its RAM to 3GB, as on our review sample, will really make very little difference in most games. It's the card's GPU power rather than its memory that limits it.
Just consider, you're getting a card that's two families below the mobile top-end, with Nvidia's 560M and 580M series above it. Alienware was probably constrained by the physical dimensions on offer here, but it's still disappointing. Mind you, with less demanding fare the M14x still holds up well. Even with details turned up to maximum, it managed a 41.4 frames per second (fps) average in Stalker: Call of Pripyat at the screen's native 1,600 x 900 resolution.
However, the four year-old Crysis can still bring the GT 555M to its knees without trying, even on 720p (1,280 x 720). At high detail it maintained a just-about-playable 27fps average, but knocking the detail up to full had it limping along at 17.4fps. So basically, this £1830 gaming laptop can't run intensive titles at the settings they were meant to be played at, and it won't regardless of the amount of money you're willing to throw at it.