Digging into the internals, as you’d expect for a notebook costing nearly £2,500, they’re generally pretty darn impressive. Heading the cast is of course that Intel Core 2 Q9100 quad core processor, which is still relatively rare for a notebook. This particular beast runs at 2.26GHz and comes with 12MB of cache. Obviously it tears through anything you’d care to throw at it. However, at £672 onto the base price for a similarly-clocked 2.26GHz P8400 Core 2 Duo, some may find the cheaper dual-core alternative better value.
More importantly for gamers with the cash to spend, the quad-core Q9100 is the same price as the dual-core Core 2 Extreme X9100, which runs at a blistering 3.06GHz. At the moment, games that can take advantage of more than two cores are still few and far between, with Crysis and Supreme Commander being the two best-known examples. Still, if you also do the occasional bit of encoding or heavy multitasking, you will see the benefits of four cores, and hopefully more and more games will begin to take advantage. So which processor you opt for really depends on what you want, but if you need the fastest gaming performance now available for this money, the Extreme Edition is the best option.
Either way, the CPU is backed by the fastest notebook memory available; 4GB of dual channel DDR3 running at 1,066MHz. This is fully utilised by the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Premium.
You also benefit from a suitably speedy hard drive. Though it’s not a solid state model (SSD), you do get a 7,200RPM 320GB disk. Plenty of storage to be getting on with then, and though you can upgrade to 500GB, this is a slower 5,400RPM option and therefore not recommended. Alternatively, if your heart’s really set on SSD, 128GBs of it can be yours for an additional £169, but frankly, we’d recommend sticking with the 320GB drive.
Wireless is the one surprisingly underpowered aspect of the M17, since the internal Realtek wireless card only offers up to ‘g’. Of course, this being Alienware, you can upgrade to wireless Draft-N for £20. The last upgrade worth mentioning is an internal Digital/Analogue TV tuner with an ExpressCard media remote for another £99. As far as audio goes, meanwhile, there’s the usual integrated Realtek high definition chip.
Now it’s time to delve into (arguably) the most anticipated aspect of the M17: its video cards. Dual ATI Mobility Radeon HD3870s in CrossFireX should, one would think, make light work out of most games, and finally make for a laptop that can run Crysis at high settings. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. The mobile graphics space is the one area where ATI(AMD) has been consistently weaker than arch-rival nVidia, and this CrossFireX configuration doesn’t look to change things.
Full of naïve enthusiasm, I tried running Crysis in DX10 at the screen’s native 1,920 x 1,200 with high detail and ended up with a stuttering average frame rate of 18 frames per second (FPS), which dipped as low as five on some occasions. To make Crysis playable, I had to drop the resolution down to 1,280 x 720 at medium detail, with no Anti-Aliasing (AA) or Anisotropic Filtering (AF). Even then things weren’t perfectly smooth, with an average of 27FPS. This is far worse than even a single 9800M GTS, which with a roughly similar specification backing it up manages an average of 45FPS at similar settings.