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Category: Expert’s Reviews (page 1 of 4)

Core i5 vs. Core i7: What’s the Difference?

Since its release in early September, 2009, the Core i5 has been branded as the mainstream version of Intel’s Core i7. So what are the real differences between Core i5 and Core i7, and how do Intel’s two product lines compare? Updated to reflect Sandy Bridge architecture.

Core i5: The New Middle Class


Intel recently re-released the Core processors in the i3, i5 and i7 processor brands. This was necessary because Intel has released a new architecture, called Sandy Bridge, which brings improved performance when compared to the previous Core i branded products.

While the hardware has changed, Intel’s branding scheme remains the same, and Core i5 remains Intel’s primary mid-range processor. It is targeted at the heart of the market, with pricing that is not at budget levels but still affordable, and performance that is extremely quick but not the fastest Intel offers.

Intel’s high-end processor line is the Core i7. Many users who are looking for a high-performance part end up considering both i5 and i7 products. The i5 is quick, but the i7 promises to be faster – is it really, and if so, does the extra performance justify the cost?

A Unified Socket and Chipset

Perhaps the best news to come out of Intel’s new line of i5 and i7 processors is introduction of a single socket for all Sandy Bridge Core i3/i5/i7 processors. This is a state of affairs that may not last forever, as it is rumored that Intel will release a new high-end socket alongside a new chipset and new processors towards the end of 2011.

For now, however, the Sandy Bridge processors all use the LGA 1155 socket. In case you’re wondering, this socket is not backwards compatible with previous LGA1156 processors – don’t try it unless you like junking your hardware. The new chipsets at P67 and H67, and they’re targeted towards performance and mainstream users respectively. The P67 offers processor overclocking support and 16 additional lanes of PCIe bandwidth – these are the primary advantages over H67.

The new, more unified approach to sockets and chipsets certainly makes constructing a system much easier than before. At the moment, you can buy any Sandy Bridge processor and any H67 and P67 motherboard and expect the two to work together.

Intel Turbo Boost

Intel has made Turbo Boost a standard feature on all Core i5 and i7 processors, from the least to most expensive. Intel has also reduced the gap between the maximum turbo boost frequency on different processors. Previously, some of the older Core i7 processors actually had a much less efficient Turbo Boost feature than some newer Core i5s.

All of Intel’s current Core i5 and i7 processors offer a boost of between 300 and 400 MHz. The least expensive i5s offer the 300 MHz boost – for example, the Core i5 2300 has a base clock speed of 2.8 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost speed of 3.1 GHz. The Intel Core i7 2600, on the other hand, offers a base clock speed of 3.4 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost of 3.8 GHz.

Besides the clock speed difference, Turbo Boost is essentially the same on the i5 and i7 processors.

Difference in Hyper-Threading

Another significant performance difference is how the Core i7 and Core i5 products will be handling hyper-threading. Hyper-threading is a technology used by Intel to simulate more cores than actually exist on the processor. While Core i7 products have all been quad-cores, they appear in Windows as having eight cores. This further improves performance when using programs that make good use of multi-threading.

All Sandy Bridge Core i5 processors have hyper-threading disabled, and all Sandy Bridge Core i7 processors have hyper-threading enabled. This is a major feature difference of Core i5 vs Core i7 processors, and it will give the Core i7 products an advantage over Core i5 processors in some heavily multi-threaded applications.

The New IGP

All of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors make use of a new integrated IGP that is part of the processor architecture. While far from a gaming-grade video solution, the integrated IGP offers reasonable performance without consuming much power. It also enables features like Quick Sync, which can transcode video extremely quickly.

There are two versions of this IGP; the 2000 and the 3000. The only difference between the two is the number of execution units. The 2000 has 6, while the 3000 has 12. This doesn’t mean the 3000 is twice as quick, but it does means the 3000 is about 50% quicker in most benchmarks.

The type of IGP receives isn’t tied to the processor brand. Instead, Intel has tied it to the “K” series. Intel offers a Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K, and these are the only processors with the 3000 series IGP (for now). The K series processors also have unlocked multipliers for easy overclocking.

i5 vs. i7: What it Means to Consumers and Power Users

The type of IGP receives isn’t tied to the processor brand. Instead, Intel has tied it to the “K” series. Intel offers a Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K, and these are the only processors with the 3000 series IGP (for now). The K series processors also have unlocked multipliers for easy overclocking.

i5 vs. i7: What it Means to Consumers and Power Users

Currently, the Core i5 processor brand makes up most of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor line. The prices of these processors range from $177 to $216 with base clock speeds between 2.8 GHz and 3.3 GHz. Intel only offers two Core i7 products, the Core i7-2600 and Core i7-2600K, both of which have a 3.4 GHz base clock speed. The i7-2600 has a price tag of $294.

As you may have guessed, paying about $80 more for the 100 MHz clock speed increase between the fastest i5 and the i7 isn’t a great deal. The main reason to pay this additional cash for a i7 is hyper-threading, but this advantage will only be evident if you frequently use programs that can actually make use of 8 threads.

For most users, the i5 is clearly the better deal. The i5-2500 makes the most sense in my opinion, as it offers an extremely quick base clock speed of 3.3 GHz for about $200. Of course, the value of this is subject to change in the future as Intel fleshes out its product line with new models.

Currently, the Core i5 processor brand makes up most of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor line. The prices of these processors range from $177 to $216 with base clock speeds between 2.8 GHz and 3.3 GHz. Intel only offers two Core i7 products, the Core i7-2600 and Core i7-2600K, both of which have a 3.4 GHz base clock speed. The i7-2600 has a price tag of $294.

As you may have guessed, paying about $80 more for the 100 MHz clock speed increase between the fastest i5 and the i7 isn’t a great deal. The main reason to pay this additional cash for a i7 is hyper-threading, but this advantage will only be evident if you frequently use programs that can actually make use of 8 threads.

For most users, the i5 is clearly the better deal. The i5-2500 makes the most sense in my opinion, as it offers an extremely quick base clock speed of 3.3 GHz for about $200. Of course, the value of this is subject to change in the future as Intel fleshes out its product line with new models.

 

Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX – Read Expert’s review

Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX review

£420 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Samsung

Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10

The Samsung NP300E5A is the company’s cheapest 15in laptop, yet still packs some impressive application performance thanks to a speedy Intel Core i3 processor.

The Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX isn’t a brand new model, and it’s worth bearing in mind that the £500 NP300E5A-S01UK is currently available in greater numbers, and includes a faster Intel Core i5-2450M processor and half as much memory again for an extra £89.

The Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX doesn’t look to be built as cheap as some lower-priced models we’ve seen, and the silver and black casing (complete with a corrugated feel) creates a businesslike impression.

Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX: Build quality

It both looks and feels like a lightweight model – although that’s not necessarily a plus point. The lid is extremely thin, and felt brittle to us. We were slightly nervous that it might snap at any moment. And it doesn’t click shut, which is disconcerting at first. It is very effective at switching itself on and off as you close or open the lid, though, which is nice to see, particularly in such a cheap model.

The keyboard has nicely spaced keys that help accuracy, although the stiff feel doesn’t make for a totally satisfying typing experience.

The touchpad on the Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX is undoubtedly large by Windows laptop standards, but this also means there’s little space in front of the touchpad to rest your wrist, so it’s not very easy to use without accidentally touching it, sending the mouse pointer skittering off when you’re least expecting it.

If you don’t mind resting your wrists to the sides of the touchpad, you may find its size a boon.

Ports and connectors are somewhat limited. Gigabit ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth are included, as is HDMI and an SD card slot. But the three USB 2.0 ports don’t allow for decent transfer speeds like USB .3.0. Nor is there anything like eSATA.

The Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX’s 15.6in screen is a good size, although the resolution of 1366 x 768 is miserly for a modern 15-incher. It also lacks somewhat in the way of colour. It’s a matt screen, which means you aren’t distracted by annoying reflections. On the downside, neither do you get the infusion of colour that a glossy panel can bring.

The Samsung NP300E5A’s palette is rather murky and overcast and lacks any sort of warmth. Viewing angles are barely adequate; the image is prone to considerable deterioration if you move around more than a little.

Onboard speakers are typical for low-budget laptops. They’ll jsut do the job for email notifications, but the tinny sound and lack of punch will make them an unlikely choice for any musical enjoyment.

Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX: Performance

The Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX comes with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i3-2330M, one of last year’s second-generation (Sandy Bridge) Core i-series dual-core chips.

The Core i3 remains a popular choice at the budget level, and the Samsung NP300E5A-A01DX is actually reasonably fast for the price tag, securing a score of 101 in WorldBench 6.

This is one of the highest scores of any of the models in the budget chart, and beats the Lenovo IdeaPad G570, despite that model coming with 6GB of DDR3 RAM against the Samsung’s 4GB. And 4GB is still more than you should expect for a £400 model. The hard drive is a 500GB Western Digital unit.

Graphics are catered for by the Intel HD 3000 processor built into the CPU. This lacks the firepower of discrete solutions, and the game frame rates were fairly desultory. FEAR produced a figure of just 12fps at Maximum detail settings, although we were able to push it up to 40fps and 67fps when we dropped back to the High and Medium settings respectively.

If you’ll be happy with low graphics detail settings and resolutions, you may be able to get away with using this model for games. We certainly wouldn’t recommend it though.

Battery life is very solid, and in our tests, the Samsung kept going for almost 5.5 hours (321 mins MobileMark 2007 Productivity test).

Latest News – Apple to release cheaper iPhone 4 ‘within weeks’

Just have read the following article from guardian.co.uk, it is a good news for Apple Lover!

and agencies guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 August 2011 08.47 BST

Apple to release cheaper iPhone 4 ‘within weeks’

New iPhone is expected to have a bigger touchscreen, better antenna and an 8MP camera


Apple is expected to release a cheaper iPhone 4 within weeks, cutting profit margins to win lower-end customers from rivals such as Nokia in China and other emerging markets.

In addition to the launch of the smaller iPhone 4, Apple is targeting an end-September launch for the next-generation iPhone 5, one source told Reuters, confirming earlier reports on blogs and industry websites.

The new iPhone – which some have dubbed the iPhone 4S because of its largely identical appearance to the existing iPhone 4 – will have a bigger touchscreen, better antenna and an 8MP camera, one source told Reuters.

Its two manufacturers have been told to prepare production capacity for up to 45m units altogether, the source said. The phone will be made by Hon Hai Precision Industries and Pegatron Corp, the person added.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the Sprint network will begin selling a new version of the iPhone in the US from mid-October, which would make it the third distributor for Apple’s products in the US after AT&T and Verizon.

Reuters said Asian suppliers have begun making a lower-cost version of the hot-selling smartphone with just 8GB of flash storage, to arrive around the same time Apple unveils its iPhone 5.

The move would mean Apple, which has stuck to the higher end of the booming mobile and smartphone market since unveiling the iPhone in January 2007, would be seeking out new markets at new price points to sustain the rapid growth that has seen its stock value rise to make it the world’s most valuable company by market capitalisation.

Apple sold 20.34m iPhones in the second quarter versus an expected 17m to 18m, and is increasingly looking to Asia to boost future results. It is in talks with leading Chinese carriers China Mobile and China Telecom Corp, both are eager to begin selling the iPhone officially. China represents the largest untapped market for smartphones, a sector that is roughly doubling in size annually –although some analysts think that 2011 will mark its fastest growth.

“A lower-priced version of iPhone 4 seems to be a necessary evil at this point in the iPhone adoption cycle, especially in emerging markets where the average income of individuals is much lower,” said Channing Smith, co-manager of the Capital Advisors Growth Fund, which owns Apple shares.

Pat Becker, portfolio manager at Becker Capital Management, said Apple is looking to take a chunk of the market that is currently dominated by Nokia, which is widely expected to release a new phone running on Microsoft’s Windows Phone software by the end of the year.

Nokia dominates the lower end, while Apple has so far focused only on the premium market. But the Finnish company’s decision announced in January to discontinue its Symbian platform, and the rapid sales growth in the far east of handsets using Google’s free Android mobile operating system, has eroded Nokia’s market share substantially in China, formerly one of its strongholds.

Apple’s move would also echo its approach to the music-player market, which it dominated by introducing a number of lower-cost devices such as the iPod mini, shuffle and nano once it had established its top-end dominance with the original player.

A cheaper phone risks cannibalising Apple’s premium iPhone model and pressuring margins, but the California company needs to expand its emerging market share, analysts say. “Your best defence is sometimes your offence,” Becker said.

The Wall Street Journal said Sprint plans to sell the iPhone 5 with an unlimited data plan for contract phones, a policy abandoned by other carriers but which is still seen as an effective method to attract new customers.

“Combined with the company’s marketing focus on its unlimited plan, iPhone would drive a rebound in subscriber growth,” said Mizuho analyst Michael Nelson who said it could help Sprint exceed his expectation for fourth-quarter net subscriber additions of about 190,000.

Since Verizon and Sprint use the same CDMA network technology, which differs from the GSM system used by AT&T and European carriers, analysts have long speculated that it made sense for Apple to widen its distribution to Sprint, having added Verizon in January. While Sprint executives have previously said they would like to sell the iPhone, they have never confirmed they were in talks with Apple to do so.

Apple, which demands high levels of secrecy and security from suppliers and employees, would not comment.

The iPhone 4 was launched June 2010 in black 16GB and 32GB versions, with white versions added to the lineup in April 2011. The 8GB version is expected within weeks, two separate sources have told Reuters.

“Apple may want to push into the emerging market segment, where customers want to switch to low- to mid-end smartphones from high-end feature phones, which usually cost $150 [£91] to $200,” said Yuanta Securities analyst Bonnie Chang. “But I think for an 8GB iPhone 4, the price is hard to go below $200, so Apple will still need a completely new phone with low specifications for the emerging markets.”

An iPhone 4 without contract commitments now costs more than $600, and the largest untapped market for buyers lies among those who buy mobile phones on a “pay as you go” basis.

Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, said in July the company is optimistic about greater China, in which Apple includes mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“I firmly believe that we are just scratching the surface right now,” Cook said about China. “I think there is an incredible opportunity for China there.”

Asia Pacific – accounting for about one-fifth of Apple’s total revenue – and greater China in particular helped Apple’s revenue surge 82% to $28.6bn in April to June. Overall, Asia Pacific revenue more than tripled to $6.3bn in the quarter.

 

Laptop Processors Buying Guide

Recommended:

  • Editors Choice: Intel Core i7
  • Runners Up: Intel Core i5, AMD Phenom II
Minimum: 

  • Intel Core i3
  • Intel Core 2 Duo
  • AMD Turion II


What is the current buzz on processors?

Today’s laptop processors are more powerful than ever thanks to multi-processor designs, advancements in computer manufacturing technologies, shifts in processor industry trends, software demands for faster processing, and well the list goes on.

The main highlight and performance enhancement in laptop processors today is multiple processing cores. In simple terms, any multi-core processor is basically one that has at least two or more processors in one. Today a dual-core processor is most common, but 3-core, 4-core, and processors with yet more cores do exist.

One of the main benefits to having a multi-core processor is the increased overall system responsiveness when you work with multiple applications simultaneously. Generally more cores equal better performance. For example you can be performing a virus scan while working on your favorite application at the same time with a minimal performance hit.

Energy Efficient Laptop Computers

Besides more responsive multitasking, many individual applications can take advantage of each core at the same time.

These specially coded applications can theoretically run twice as fast.
Currently most programs do not fully take advantage of a multi-core processor even today, but expect more and more applications to do so in the future.

Besides being extremely powerful, laptop processors today are also very efficient when it comes to energy usage.

This is especially true for current Intel based processors, and the Intel Core i line of processors are simply amazing in our opinion because the performance to power consumption ratio is astonishing.

Laptop processors today have what’s called a lower Thermal Design Power, or TDP. We are not going to get too technical, but in layman’s terms having a lower TDP means laptops can be thinner and lighter thanks to smaller cooling solution requirements. Older processors in comparison required bulkier cooling solutions because they generated more heat.

So besides bringing thinner and lighter laptops to the table, a lower TDP also contributes to longer overall battery run times. In fact, it’s not uncommon today to see laptops rated up to 5 hours on a single charge, with some laptops even topping 10+ hours.

In our opinion modern day laptop processors are simply amazing, and we’ve honestly barely touched base on their overall feature set. But now that you know a bit more regarding current laptop processors, let’s move on to the recommendations, shall we?

What laptop processors are recommended?

Intel Laptop Processors:

For new laptops we currently recommend an Intel Core i7, Core i5, or Core i3 processor. The higher the i processor designation, the better the performance.

In our opinion the Intel Core i7 processor currently offers the best performance and features in a laptop processor hands down.

For the ultimate in mobile computing performance, look no further than an Intel Core i7 processor.

Many fairly cheap laptops however come with Intel Core i5 processors which offer performance very close to an i7.

Finally the Intel Core i3 is Intel’s budget line processor, perfect for those looking for a low cost laptop.  The i3 is no slouch though for it still offers plenty of performance that should satisfy all but the most demanding computing users.

AMD Laptop Processors:

AMD also offers a solid lineup of processors from high-end to budget. In today’s computing world AMD is Intel’s only real competitor, so you don’t have to look much further than AMD or Intel when selecting a laptop processor.

AMDs Phenom II is AMDs high-end processor.  The Phenom II offers comparable performance to the i7 and i5, so if the price for an AMD Phenom II based laptop is noticeably less than a similarly equipped Intel i7 or Intel i5, go for it. If a similarly equipped Phenom II system is more expensive, we’d personally stick with the Intel i7 or i5 platform.

AMDs budget-line processor is the Turion II.  We personally recommend a Turion II based system if you need only a basic laptop or you are on a budget, and the laptop containing one is being sold at an unbeatable price.

Overall an AMD Phenom II processor is ideal for power users who run demanding applications such as design or gaming, and a Turion II is a great processor for basic users who perform tasks such as word processing, email, and web browsing.

AMD or Intel Laptop Processors On A Budget:

If you are on a budget and looking to purchase a new laptop, one containing an AMD Turion II or an Intel Core i3 is a solid bet. Despite being AMD and Intel’s so called budget line, these processors offer outstanding performance perfect basic computing chores.

If you are on a tighter budget and in the market for a used or slightly older laptop, we wouldn’t go for anything less than a laptop containing an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, unless maybe you happen to be on a super tight budget. An older Intel Core 2 Duo is admirable for they are still solid performing processors and an older laptop containing one can be picked up for fairly cheap.

Because there are plenty of older Intel Core 2 Duo laptops out there for great prices,  going for anything less in our opinion isn’t worth it.  An outdated single core processor based laptop doesn’t make much sense in our opinion for the benefits of a dual core processor such as the Core 2 Duo is definitely worth it in the long run, especially if you want to future proof your investment.

What Else Should I Pay Attention To When Selecting a Processor?

Other things to consider in laptop processors include their internal clock speed, external bus speed, and cache size among other things. As a general rule of thumb, bigger is usually better when comparing modern day processors.

Clock speed is the actual speed at which the processor runs inside and it is measured in (MHz) megahertz or (GHz) gigahertz.

Bus speed is the speed at which the processor communicates with the rest of the computer system, and is is also measured in megahertz or gigahertz.

Finally cache is basically a small chuck of memory located near the processing core that stores instructions or data and then feeds the internal processing unit these instructions to keep the laptop processors computational unit running efficiently by having a constant stream of data.

Do keep in mind that comparing AMD to Intel is like comparing apples to oranges. Because their internal logic is constructed differently the aforementioned features aren’t an accurate gauge of performance in this situation.

On the other hand if you are comparing laptop processors from the same processor family like an Intel Core 2 to say another Intel Core 2, remembering that bigger is better is honestly a good way to determine the faster of the two.

Remember that speed isn’t everything though, for balance is the key because while a small bump in clock speed is in fact faster, the price premium for this tiny performance increase may not be worth the extra cash.

For the basic or even average user we feel paying attention to technical details isn’t as important as it was in the past when processors used to be more focused on raw clock speed, but regardless it still doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about these features. And if you didn’t know before, you at least do now.

To clarify things a little further, we don’t really stress the technical details for the average user because we personally feel modern day Intel Core i7, i5, i3, or AMD Phenom II or Turion II laptop processors will likely handle their demands and then some.

For you power users on the other hand our opinion is different. Because you guys will need ultimate performance, we advise you to pay close attention to the technical jargon. A 2MB cache increase and 200MHz bump in clock speed may just shave a few minutes or more off your video encode. For your line of work we like to go with the bigger is better approach to be honest. Time is money after all.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief laptop processors buying guide.  Now you should be armed with the right information to make a well informed laptop purchase.

But as a final thought we wanted to clarify a few things about Intel vs AMD. We realize we are a bit partial to Intel based notebooks and feel it is only fair to AMD to elaborate a bit since AMD does make fantastic processors.

We are slightly partial to Intel only because Advance Micro Devices (AMD) is slightly trailing in the CPU performance department.  So at the moment we don’t necessarily recommend AMD over Intel unless you find a bargain on an AMD based laptop compared to an equivalent Intel based laptop.

If you do go with AMD over Intel and are looking for a rock solid performer, we’d personally go no less than an AMD Phenom II for a high-end configuration, and for a low-end model we’d stick with at least an AMD Turion II.

Soo while maybe AMDs Phenom II is not the absolute top performing laptop processor when compared to Intel’s flagship i7, we are still very impressed with Phenom II notebooks so don’t think you will be selling yourself short by going with AMD. We just feel Intel right now is the better option, that’s if an AMD based system isn’t the better bang for your buck of course!

Alienware M11X Review

Alienware M11X Review

The good: Solid gaming performance in a very compact form; switchable graphics for longer battery life; great keyboard.

The bad: ULV processor isn’t as fast as most gaming laptops; no optical drive.

The bottom line: With its fusion of a low-voltage processor and high-end graphics, the 11.6-inch Alienware M11x is a unique and extremely compact hybrid gaming laptop with a few compromises for its size.

Gaming laptops are a conundrum for many: with costs and sizes that are higher and larger than most mainstream users are willing to accept, they exist in a specialized upper echelon of the computer universe, a niche usually avoided by most. An affordable, small laptop that also plays games well is a rarity, and most people looking for a travel-friendly notebook simply leave off such hopes in exchange for a few more bucks in their pocket, and buy a gaming console or desktop gaming PC instead.

At this year’s CES, we were surprised and excited to see an Alienware laptop that not only cost less than $1,000, but was compact enough to slide into a messenger bag. Dubbed by many as a “gaming Netbook,” the M11x is actually a hybrid 11.6-inch ultraportable that has an ultralow-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo processor married with a Nvidia graphics card that can be switched on or off to save battery life. The end result is a dense but very portable laptop that has the ability to play any mainstream game. For a student or a PC gamer looking for a truly portable system, the M11x could be a perfect product. Arguably, at a starting cost of $799, the M11x could be justified as the cost of a game console plus the cost of a Netbook/small laptop, while providing the benefits of both (but upgrading the configurable system can quickly drive up the price past the $1K mark).

It should be noted, however, that the gaming capabilities of the M11x are good, but not great. It’s a far cry from the blazing speed of its full-fledged and more expensive big brother, the Alienware M15x, and the main processor’s general ability to multitask is considerably slower than even the lowest-end versions of Intel’s affordable new Core i3/i5 laptop processors. That’s not to say there isn’t something impressive about a gaming-capable laptop as small as the Alienware M11x, but we want to at least let you know that compromises were made to get to the price tag offered. There’s nothing on the market right now that’s quite like it in terms of its size/graphics/price combination. Though it’s a hybrid that might not be for everyone, it has moments where it shines.

Price as reviewed / starting price $1,149/$799
Processor 1.3 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 ULV
Memory 4GB; 1,066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel GM45 Express
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GT 335M + Intel GMA 4500MHD
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 11.3 inches x 9.2 inches
Height 1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 4.5 / 5.3 pounds
Category Ultraportable

The compactness, especially in terms of width and depth, struck us upon removing the M11x from its box. The Alienware M11x is still a relatively thick ultraportable, especially considering that it lacks an optical drive, but its look is a lot cleaner and more streamlined than the M15x. Our silvery-gray unit (the M11x also comes in black) really only gives away its Alienware pedigree via a subtle black alien head logo on the back lid and its trademark angled-front profile with somewhat silly LED “headlights.” To some degree, the squared-off bottom-heavy look of the M11x resembles an old-school portable DVD player. Its all-around smooth and clean lines make it an easy laptop to slide into a bag.

Opening up smoothly on a plastic hinge that protrudes from an otherwise flush backside, the M11x interior is all black with a very familiar Alienware LED-backlit multicolor keyboard and an edge-to-edge glossy 11.6-inch screen. The sturdy-feeling chassis and slightly compressed but otherwise Alienware-quality keyboard are much better than average, as is the comfortable, large touch pad. Much like other Alienware laptops, the bold colored keyboard, grille, and Alienware logo lights can be customized in any of a rainbow of colors, or even set to strobe if you prefer. These effects are set using a set of Alienware apps.

The M11x’s 11.6-inch, 1,366×768 screen looked good behind its edge-to-edge glossy veneer, but there was quite a bit of glare, too, and colors weren’t as bright or rich as we expected under bright lights. With its screen size, the M11x seems made to be plugged into an external monitor. The audio, however, is astounding for the M11x’s size; built-in 5.1 speakers are crisp, loud, and good enough to enhance the gaming experience on their own. At maximum volume, the M11x can rock a room.

We have to note that the M11x lacks an optical drive, an obvious decision made to enable this laptop to be so small, but we couldn’t help notice the M11x’s conspicuously port-free stretch on its right side that looks about the same size as, well, an optical drive. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions. The ability to install games off disc without having to plug in a USB-connected external optical drive would be nice, but most modern gamers using Steam (preinstalled on the Alienware) or other downloadable software probably never touch discs most of the time anyway.

 

Alienware M11x Average for category [Thin-and-light]
Video VGA-out, HDMI, DisplayPort VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, dual headphone jacks, microphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, dual SD/Memory Stick card reader, mini-Firewire 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive None DVD burner

The most impressive feature on this tiny laptop is its triumvirate of video-out ports: HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort. Though we don’t often use DisplayPort, it can’t hurt to have it. No ExpressCard slot is provided, but at least the M11x includes Bluetooth (though you can optionally save $20 and leave it out when ordering on Dell’s Web site). The 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive we had in our configuration is an add-on that costs an extra $150; the base hard drive is only 160GB and 5,400rpm. If you really wanted to blow out the M11x, a 256GB SSD upgrade costs $570. The 4GB of included RAM can be upgraded up to 8GB.

The 1.3GHz SU7300 Core 2 ULV is a processor we’ve seen on thin-and-lights and ultraportables. It offers a close-to-Core-2-Duo experience, but in the wake of faster Core i3 and i5 processors, it’s a little less impressive. In our benchmark tests, the M11x falls far behind a Core i7 M15x at multimedia multitasking, but stays close to similar laptops such as the Asus UL50VT. On the M11x the SU7300 processor is overclockable to 1.73GHz in the BIOS menu, which isn’t intuitive for the uninitiated, but that’s still nowhere near what even a Core i3 processor provides.

 

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Smaller numbers indicate better performance)

Alienware M15x  427

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S 675

Asus UL50VT 1,270

Alienware M11x 1,497

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Smaller numbers indicate better performance)

Alienware M15x 81

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S 109

Asus UL50VT 176
Alienware M11x 196

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

(Smaller numbers indicate better performance)

Alienware M15x 129

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S 140
Alienware M11x 253

Asus UL50VT 379

A powerful but not top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce GT 335M graphics card with 1GB of RAM is the M11x’s real secret weapon, giving it enough gaming power to handle most mainstream titles. The M11x also has “hybrid graphics,” meaning that with the press of a Function key the laptop will switch between its GT 335M GPU and less powerful but more battery-friendly integrated graphics, letting the M11x either be battery-conservative or a gaming workhorse. The switch causes the screen to black out for a few seconds, but otherwise is painless and doesn’t require logging out or quitting programs. Still, you have to remember to switch, and the hybrid-graphics indictor icon isn’t exactly prominent. Sadly, the M11x lacks newer on-the-fly Optimus graphics-switching technology recently announced by Nvidia, which would have been perfect on the M11x, but we have to admit that once you know how to do it, graphics-switching is easy.  Buy Alienware M11X
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