Does the Alienware M14x offer a good portable gaming solution?

The term ‘portable gaming' conjures up an image of someone mashing away on a Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, or in 2011, an iPhone or iPad. Sure, those platforms have their share of ‘serious' games, but what about the serious PC gamer? Alienware recognised the need for high-end gaming machines a while ago and have produced some fine hardware over the years. Alienware's laptop arsenal in the country currently includes the ultra-portable M11x, the desktop-replacing M17x, and the M14x — a portable gaming platform that strives to strike a balance between portability and processing power. Does it succeed? Read on to find out.

A large part of the Alienware experience is un-boxing the machine, and the M14x does not disappoint on this front. While not the best packaging in terms of aesthetics or utility, the relatively-large-for-a-14-inch-laptop box, while being opened, does manage to deliver a sense of anxious anticipation and a feeling of unleashing the beast within. Fire it up for the first time and you will be greeted by the backlit keyboard coming to life in all its colourful glory and that ‘gorgeous' alien head on the glossy 14” display.

At the heart of the M14x is an Intel Core i7 CPU (upgradeable to the latest variant) supported by 4GB of RAM (expand up to a maximum of 8GB) and backed up by a 500GB 7200rpm hard drive (expandable to 750GB). Pumping out the juice is an Nvidia GeForce GT 555M graphics card with 1.5GB of RAM (there's a 3GB option, but frankly, that's overkill). The laptop also sports your basic features such as on-board wi-fi, webcam, HDMI output, dual layer DVD burner and bluetooth, but it's the display and backlit keyboard that stand out. The M14x features a 14” WLED HD+ display that supports a resolution of up to 1600x900 and a fully customisable backlit keyboard. It is also the first Alienware 14” laptop to be housed in a 14” chassis. Bored? All right, let's just jump into the best kind of tests to answer questions such as “Can I use Facebook on it for six hours straight?” and “Will it run Deus Ex: Human Revolution?”

The gaming performance, in short, is solid, but not always at the display's native resolution. It will take a keen eye to spot the difference between a 1600x900 and a 1280x720 image on a 14” screen, and the GT 555M is more than capable of running any game at the latter resolution with all bells and whistles switched on. Games such as Bulletstorm and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit registered superb frame rates at 720p, while the graphically demanding Dirt 3 performed well also. Eidos Montreal's Deus Ex: Human Revolution looked absolutely stunning and ran smoothly with literally everything max-ed out at 1280x720. If you're tempted to hook up the M14x to a larger computer display or HDTV, remember the limitations of the graphics card. Older games and games that are not graphically demanding (such as League of Legends or Torchlight), on the other hand, ran just fine at very high resolutions. The display is glossy, and while great for playing in pitch dark conditions, it tends to be very reflective with the lights on. In terms of battery life, it should give you about three-and-a-half hours with an external mouse plugged for heavy Internet use. With discrete graphics turned on, it will give you just under two hours when gaming. Combine that with its weight of just under 3 kg, and it's not a bad portable machine. M14x's dual headphone outputs are a nice addition as well, but the positioning of the directional keys on the backlit keyboard is questionable to say the least. Overall, it's great for BYOC gatherings and LAN parties — if you can look past its price point of INR 86,900 for the base model (an EMI option is available on the Dell site).