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Alienware M17 - Hands-On Preview

You can specify up to 4GBs of 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM, the fastest currently available. Storage options comprise of 7,200rpm drives up to 320GB and a 5,400rpm 500GB drive and you can even specify high performance RAID 0 in 500GB or 1TB (Terabyte) configurations or RAID 1 in 250GB or 500GB arrangements for data security. You can also specify a TV tuner and a Blu-ray drive, though like the m15x we do wonder whether the machine will be quiet enough to make it suitable for TV and film viewing.

Connectivity should be a strong point of a machine like this and for the most part the M17 shouldn't disappoint. Starting on the right there are regular headphone and microphone jacks, a mini-FireWire port, two USB ports and an optical audio out.

Then on the back are connections for the TV Tuner, should you specify it, a combined USB and e-SATA port, VGA, HDMI, another USB port and the Ethernet port. We were surprised, though, to find HDMI instead of DVI or even DisplayPort on the M17. Unless the HDMI port is a 1.3 spec port, which seems unlikely, it won't be able to output to a 30in 2,560 x 1,600 monitor, something surely plenty of people might like to do.

An interesting addition on the left of the machine is a small recessed reset button, something you don't see too often. This is joined by a memory card reader and a 54mm ExpressCard slot, below which sit the two hard drives bays.

On the front, meanwhile, you'll find the optical drive with two speakers either side of it. A third speaker in the shape of a sub-woofer, is housed on the underside of the machine. Having the optical drive at the front of the machine is particularly useful, since it makes the machine easier to use as a desktop replacement either connected to a monitor or a TV. That most of the primary connections are housed on the back also enhances this.

Like any desktop replacement the M17 features a full keyboard, including a numeric keypad. On the production sample we saw there was a smaller US style Return key, but you can be fairly certain this won't be the case on retail units. Aside from this the keyboard layout and basic feel was pretty good. Unfortunately, the sample we had wasn't backlit either, but this is something that you can specify and without it the M17 undoubtedly looks rather more ordinary.

It's a shame, though, that the M17 doesn't feature the AlienFX lighting system that proved so effective in the m15x. It featured lighting around the edges of the lid, the keyboard and the touchpad that could be customised to more or less any colour you liked, to the point where different segments could be different colours. It was these kinds of touches that made the m15x such a cool and unusual machine and when you're spending a lot of money on a gaming notebook, they can make all the difference.

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