Lacking Optimus is obviously a disappointment and it’s not the only compromise to consider. As you may already have gleaned from the pictures there’s no optical drive on the M11x, while the battery isn’t hot-swappable. In the latter case the battery is hidden inside the machine and is screwed in. It’s still replaceable should it need to be, but it’s not as instantly accessible as on most laptops.
In the greater scheme of things, however, these are two things we can easily live with. Optical drives, while still useful, are far from essential these days – most games can be bought and downloaded online, as can a lot of video content. Should you desperately need a DVD drive, Dell still offers an external one as an option. With regards to the battery, you shouldn’t have much need for a second one anyway, as we’ll discover later.
Such compromises are made even more palatable because they make possible the wonderfully conceived chassis. We’ll concede that Alienware’s design language, its angular lines and chunkiness, won’t be to everyone’s taste but we rather like it. To us it has the right amount of unique, eye-catching design flair without alienating more conservative users. This is particularly true of the black version we have, though a silver option is available.
What really sets the M11x apart is the awesome AlienFX lighting system. Like the original Alienware m15x, you can customise each single element of the M11x’s backlighting system. This includes the keyboard, Alienware lettering below the screen, the alien heads above the keyboard and on the lid, and the two slots on the front edge of the machine. These can be set to a single solid colour, to morph between different colours or to ‘pulse’, though the latter two are no more than gimmicky distractions really. You can also turn off all lighting via a keyboard shortcut button.
If there’s one thing that we dislike about the design it’s simply the thickness (32.7mm) of the chassis. This is somewhat unavoidable, though, considering the cooling required for the graphics card and the space needed for that battery. Moreover, while thinness generally looks good, not having it doesn’t really impact on the portability of the M11x. Here weight is far more important and though 1.98kg is quite heavy for an 11.6in laptop, it’s not too hefty for regular mobile use.
Another more significant bugbear (partly related to the design) is the reflectiveness of the screen. Like many modern laptops the M11x has a clear plastic sheet across the screen. This may look good, but even by modern standards the reflections it creates are exceedingly irksome. This isn’t too great a problem in shade or when indoors, but you can forget about using the M11x in bright sunlight. Anyone particularly intolerant of reflections will find it a difficult machine to live with.