When one thinks of 17-inch "portable" gaming machines, the words laptop and notebook are a pretty big stretch to make. Often weighing over 8 pounds and barely contained in a backpack or briefcase, these desktop replacements pack the power to run today’s graphically demanding games and even the most resource-hungry software.
For over a decade, Alienware has brought high-end gaming machines to the public, and for the last half decade, many of those computers have been "laptops". Now, after years of using Nvidia and SLI graphics almost exclusively in its portable line, the Miami-based boutique manufacturer has introduced a new ATI Crossfire-based desktop replacement. The Alienware m17, very similar to the powerhouse m17x, has two 512MB ATI 3870 GPUs in a Crossfire configuration, allowing for up to an 80% performance boost in some areas (says Alienware), compared to one 3870.
For its $1400 starting price, the options are typical. The bottom-end configuration lands you a Core 2 Duo P8400, running at 2.26GHz with 3MB of L2 cache. This combined with one 512MB ATI 3870, 2GB of DDR3-1066 memory, 160GB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm, a 1440x900 17-inch screen, and the usual assortment of wireless and ports leads to a notebook that is more expensive than the Gateway 7811-FX, but with less horsepower.
However, if you have the greenbacks to drop on a completely tricked-out portable gaming platform, then the "recommended" upgrades will suit you well. For a total of just under $4,000, you can add an additional 3870 for Crossfire, illuminated keyboard, Core 2 Extreme QX9300, a total of 4GB of DDR3 memory, 1920x1200 screen, BD-ROM drive and 500GB of storage (2x 250GB @ 7,200rpm.
As per the norm, Windows Vista Ultimate is recommended, and is available in 32 and 64-bit flavors. If you are too lazy to make your own, don’t forget to purchase the $49 Vista recovery DVD. As for the warranty, the m17 comes with one year of onsite service standard, and an extra two years on top of that will run you an additional $300 (no word on if that includes accidental damage).
While the $4,000+ number represents the top shelf version of the m17, some tweaking will get you a solid notebook for around $2,500 (Vista Home Premium, Core 2 Duo T9600, no BD-ROM and one 250GB HDD). Again, if you plan on sticking with the low-end configuration, there may be better options, but if the best of the best is what you seek, Alienware may have a winner on its hands.