MSRP: $3,814.00 (as configured – starts at: $1,699.00)
MyGamer Hardware Score: 7.2/10
Alienware's latest gaming notebook, the m9750, is quite reminiscent of other, similar units we've looked at in many respects. It uses the same sculpted case, this time clad all-over in sexy matte black rubberized material (good for gripping), and features the trademark glowing alien head logo on the lid. It also sports a 1900X1200 native resolution 17" LCD screen, with Clearview, which is equal to even the best portable displays we've seen.
Features-wise, Alienware certainly didn't skimp: main processing power comes from a set of Intel Core2 Duo Processors with a 4MB Cache and a FSB rated at 667MHz. Video is provided by a pair of tasty 512MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7950 GTX cards in a SLI configuration, which, as we will show, makes gaming with even newly released, top-end PC games possible at the m9750's native resolution. The unit also came with 400GB of hard disk storage from a Raid-0 array of paired hard disks, wired and wireless networking connectivity, built-in Bluetooth, built-in web cam and a DVD-RW drive.
The m9750 shares some of its predecessors' faults as well though, mainly the very large overall size of the case (we still have challenges fitting the PC into a large Swiss Army-brand laptop case) and excessive weight – we cannot lift the notebook with a single hand with anything approaching precision. We'd think that this would simply be a result of the large 17" LCD, but we've seen other similar units from manufactures like Dell that manage the trick of a large display and reasonable weight.
Be advised: if you plan to use the m9750 as a portable unit for travel or in college then you'd be well served to invest in a quality backpack-style case with a large main carry area and thickly padded straps. Oh, and remember to leave room for the positively huge power brick because you're not going to get much battery life – we averaged less then an hour with standard Windows computing like Office and didn't even attempt to game on batteries due to Alienware's built-in power management system, which throttles back crucial CPU and video card power when running off wall current.
Just as with other Alienware units, we loved using it for everyday computing tasks. It routinely got a ton of jealous stares at coffee places and in airports – the glowing blue Alienware logo and matte black case positively scream "geek sexy". We did notice occasional and inexplicable issues with the wireless networking card refusing to connect with routers that our cheap-o Dell had no problems reaching, but the problem was occasional and frustratingly hard to pin down.
Yes, the m-9750 is certainly slim enough, but it's also unfortunately heavy… be sure to invest in a good PC case.
We'd also like to make special mention of the m9750's wacky touch-pad mouse, built into the case just below the keyboard. Due to some weird control configuration, we often found ourselves uncontrollably scrolling through web pages and Word documents and had trouble stopping it. It has something to do with the add-on Scroll Pad at the side of the mousing pad, but for the life of us we couldn't figure out what we were doing wrong. We've certainly not had that same issue with any of the dozens of other PCs we've owned or tested, and it was more than a little frustrating. Also, when trying to adjust the PC speaker volume using the side-mounted knob, we would often invoke the in-game menus instead, and once we even locked the entire machine up. Again, we have no idea why this happened.
Last, the unit had some odd and troublesome power management issues, specifically when using Windows' Sleep Mode. Often, the PC would power itself up all by itself, even with the lid firmly closed and latched, thereby killing the battery. As a user that prefers to let a portable PC Sleep during travel, rather than wait for a full Boot-up, this was monumentally frustrating. Alienware told us that it had something to do with having a USB mouse plugged in, but the spontaneous power-up happened even with no mouse or any other USB peripheral plugged in.
As a gaming unit, the m9750 certainly didn't disappoint, but we did have some frustrations (more on this in a bit). Breaking from our usual testing methodology, we decided to test all games at the PC's native 1900X1200 wide-screen resolution, as opposed to our usual 1600X1200 setting. All games were tested with 2X anti-aliasing and 4X anisotropic filtering (where possible) and with all particle effects, shadows and other goodies switched on. We also decided to play all online and MMO-type titles using only the PC's wireless networking setup (we usually hook direct to the wall for maximum packet flow), just to see how well it handled the load.
The always visually-demanding F.E.A.R. showed up at a satisfying 49.6 FPS overall, even with its bevy of advanced graphics options switched on. MMO City of Heroes, however, did not fare as well, clocking a meager, but still playable, 29.3 FPS. Staff favorite Guild Wars: Eye of the North did better, coming in at over 89 FPS overall, even in the midst of particle-heavy magic battles. RTS titles did fantastic on the m9750: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War cranked out an astounding 91.1 FPS even with the special anti-aliasing .INI file tweak enabled and with high-rez textures loaded (an office record for this title). We also tested the m9750 with recently-released FPS Bioshock and were surprised to find that when Advanced Post-Processing effects were enabled, we got quite a bit of blocky, flashing artifacts and on-screen visual noise, even using the latest NVIDIA drivers. Disabling Post Processing totally eliminated the problem (and gave us back about 3 FPS), without noticeably degrading the game's visual presentation, but we found it odd that we even had that problem in the first place. In the end, we netted about 27 FPS with Bioshock at 1900X1200, which was fairly impressive.
While every game we tested ran fine (Bioshock's Post Processing issues aside), it must be stated that with two processors and two video cards, the m9750 pumps out a lot of heat when faced with demanding apps. What this means to you is that when the fans come on (and they will… sooner rather than later), expect to turn heads your way for not-so-good reasons. The PC, quite frankly, is loud, certainly noisy enough to be heard across a crowded Starbucks (as we found to our chagrin). In tight spaces like airplanes (assuming you can get an exit row, ‘cause this beast simply won't fit on a regular tray table, no way no how) the fans are really distracting, and leech away much of the enjoyment we'd otherwise have in whipping out such a sexy piece of hardware in public. Bring dark glasses and can-style headphones if you can.
Stability-wise, we did have some problems, mainly crashes to the Blue Screen of Death while in Bioshock and, surprisingly City of Heroes. While not a huge issue (I think we only crashed in-game a total of 4 or 5 times in all the weeks we tested the PC), we've become accustomed to having none of these issues with high-end machines like Alienwares. What's worse, we often crashed when plugging in USB devices like external hard drives and mice, causing us to lose at least one document we were working on. Such instability in an expensive, cream-of-the-crop notebook is disturbing to say the least.
These issues aside, however, we'll certainly miss the m9750 when we have to crate it up and ship it back. If and when Alienware tweaks these few issues (and they may have by the time you read this – I know that they take criticisms like these to heart which is a good thing), then the m9750 will take its place in the ranks of the very best gaming notebooks. As it is, the PC would make a great addition to any Road Warrior's gaming or portable computing arsenal – just be extra careful to save your documents often if plugging and unplugging USB devices.
The m-9750 certainly has plenty of hook-up options, including VGA and DVI-D outputs, as well as S-video in…
Pros: Like all Alienware units we've tested, the m-9750 is very sexy, and performs very well, even when running just-released games at the notebook's native 1900X1200 resolution. The built-in web cam, DVD burner and other touches make an overall well-rounded package.
Cons: Also like all Alienwares, the m9750 is somewhat pricey for what you get (although full tech support is included) and is amazingly heavy – heavier than other, similar units we've tested. We don't know if this is because of the batteries that Alienware uses, or some other hardening or beefing-up of the notebook, but this is one massive beast. Battery life is just so-so as well: we had to use the PC on the power brick (which is also quite large) in almost every instance. If you decide on the m9750, do yourself a favor and get a good notebook backpack as well as a good USB mouse. Some frustrating stability and power management issues were experienced, as well.