Hinges on the M17X are smooth and solid – the lid can also be easily opened with one hand, due to the sheer weight of the unit keeping it firmly in place.
Flipping it open, you’ll notice that the entire screen area is one big, glossy, bezel-less surface, extending from edge to edge. While glossy screens seem unavoidable these days, the M17X R3’s seems particular reflective, quickly becoming mirror-like when viewing dark images. On a positive note, the screen itself is vibrant and sharp, and boasts wide viewing angles of up to almost 180 degrees from any angle. Fortunately, the only other piece of gloss found on the notebook is a relatively unobtrusive black plastic around the speaker grilles at the front.
Like many ‘gaming’ products, the M17X R3 is replete with glowing lights. The Alienware Command Centre software shows no less than nine regions of customizable lighting, including three sections of the keyboard, the trackpad, the logo and the vents.
Thanks to its generous size, the M17X R3 sports a full-sized, non-chiclet keyboard and number pad. Each key is laser etched, with a smooth, slightly concave profile. One minor annoyance though, there is a fair bit of flex under the keyboard. The trackpad is off-center, situated on the left side of the notebook, but is well-sized and smooth, with just the right amount of friction.
Media controls can be found laser-cut into a strip of machined aluminum above the keyboard. The controls look a bit like alien symbols, which is a nice touch.
On the bottom of the unit, you’ll find two cooling fans at the rear left and right corners. You’ll also find an aluminum nameplate that can be personalized in a laser-engraved Alien font when you place your order.
We like ports. Apparently so does Dell; they’ve jam-packed as many into the M17X R3 as possible! On the left you’ll find an RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port, VGA port, HDMI-1.4 port with audio, Mini DisplayPort, dual USB 3.0 ports, two headphone jacks, one S/PDIF/headphone jack and a microphone input jack.
On the right are two USB 2.0 ports, a SATA/USB2.0 combo port, an HDMI input port, and an 8-in-1 media card reader. The power input jack is found at the back of the notebook.
While we do appreciate the plethora of port options available, considering the amount of space available, the spacing of the ports isn’t ideal, as they’re all quite cramped, resulting in a fair bit of cable pile up.
One of the new features found only on the R3 model of the M17X are the exclusive Klipsch audio speakers. Klipsch makes great desktop speakers (the ProMedia 2.1 set is still one of our favorites) so securing them for the R3 was a bit of a coup for Dell. Unfortunately, the Klipsch notebook speakers weren't as good as their desktop counterparts. While the sound was crisp and clear, it was sorely lacking in bass. This might be because the unit is lacking a subwoofer and we hope future models will include one. After all, the Alienware notebook is thick enough to accommodate one.
The other big update for the R3 is the inclusion of NVIDIA’s 3D Vision technology. The IR emitter to sync with the active shutter glasses is embedded within the notebook, so there's no USB-based IR emitter as seen on desktop solutions. We tried out Call of Duty: Black Ops with the stereoscopic 3D depth set to 15%. Even at this level, the 3D effect was pronounced, and we felt the gaming experience was greatly enhanced. We also noted that the screen didn't seem as reflective when we had the dark 3D glasses on.
We should note that, with 3D games, the quality of the experience often comes down to the optimization of the game. When we tried The Force Unleashed II on the M17X R3 we were dismayed by the amount of ghosting displayed, but we also tried this on other machines with similar results, so we'll blame that one on LucasArts and NVIDIA for not working out good 3D game profiles.