Alienware computers are known for shipping with little to no extra software installed to fill up your system tray and bog down performance, but one very useful utility is included: the Alienware Command Center. This slick interface lets you set up and configure the Windows power profiles, adjust the options for the touchpad, set up the Webcam-powered facial-recognition software (dubbed AlienSense), and tweak the AlienFX lighting. The last bit is really quite cool: You can independently adjust the backlighting for five different zones (the keyboard, the front lights, the Alienware logo beneath the display, the alien-head power button, and the activity lights to the upper right of the keyboard). You have 20 colors to choose from, you can make the lights pulse or cycle between colors, or just turn them off. The tool has two brightness settings for all lights, too.
I'm especially pleased with the port selection and location on this laptop. The left side has three video plugs (VGA, HDMI, and DisplayPort), along with a powered USB port, gigabit ethernet, memory card readers, and FireWire. The right side is relatively clean, with two USB ports and three audio jacks (a microphone input and two headphone jacks, to make it easier to share a movie with someone in private).
Note that the machine has no optical drive, so if you buy your games on disc, you'll need an external USB drive to load them onto the system; with so many games and other PC apps sold through digital distribution these days, this limitation is less of a problem than it used to be. Both 802.11a/b/g/n networking and Bluetooth 2.1 are standard.
At 4.6 pounds, the Alienware M11x is certainly heavy for an ultraportable laptop. It's thicker than many of its contemporaries, too. As a gaming laptop, it's downright svelte. Even 13- or 15-inch models that offer this kind of performance typically weigh a pound or two more, and are physically larger.
If you've been torn between a bulky laptop that's powerful enough to handle games but gets mediocre battery life, or a more easily portable laptop with great battery life that doesn't perform well, worry no longer. In the M11x, Alienware delivers a product that offers the best of both worlds and answers the prayers of gamers who are sick of sore shoulders and dead batteries. I'd love to see a future version with Optimus switchable graphics and a better display, but what Alienware is offering right now is an excellent, much-needed product that fills a unique niche.