A desktop in laptop clothing

Alienware's latest notebook is fully loaded, but it's not exactly mobile unless you've been working out

Alienware MJ-12 7700a

Performance: A+

Features: A

Battery life: C

Value: B

Price: $4,086, as tested

Reviewer's comments: The m7700a is one of the most powerful notebooks we've tested, thanks in part to its desktop CPU. But it's also one of the biggest. Think of it as a portable workstation that can't stray far from a power outlet.

Contact: Alienware Corp., Miami, (800) 254-3692, www.alienware.com

Alienware MJ-12 7700a

The Alienware MJ-12 m7700a is the latest and greatest power notebook from a company better known for creating gaming rigs. (So well known, in fact, that Dell Inc. bought them.)

Recently Alienware made significant inroads into the government market and the MJ-12 series is among its best sellers. The first thing you notice about the catchy blue m7700a (they call it 'conspiracy blue') is that it's no lightweight. Tipping the scales at 12.8-pounds, you wouldn't want to lug it through airports if you didn't need it. And that doesn't take into account the transformer and power cables, which add another two pounds to the mix. The transformer is a huge brick that is about three times as large as a standard notebook model.

The notebook is also pretty big: 15.6-inches wide, 11.7-inches long and 2.1-inches thick.

But its girth supports a 17-inch LCD, an impressive array of internal components and a huge 12-cell battery. There are four USB 2.0 ports on the side, plus DVI and S-video connections. The Type II PC Card slot in our test unit held an 802.11a/b/g wireless card, and a handy memory card reader supports all the important formats.

The unit we tested had an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ dual-core desktop processor and 2GB of double-data-rate memory. It also had a 160GB, 7,200-rpm serial ATA hard drive and
an Nvidia Ge-Force G0 7800 GTX graphics accelerator.

So it was no surprise that the m7700a performed well on our GCN/Alterion benchmarks, achieving a score of 8,992, which puts it at the high end of all notebooks we have tested. That score also reflects the system running two instances of the application benchmark at the same time, which forced it to use both cores. Impressive. There are few, if any, multitasking environments this notebook won't be able to handle.

Aside from raw power, the m7700a makes a perfect presentation notebook. The 17-inch screen is easily readable even from extreme angles and the PCI express graphics chipset means everything is rendered fast and accurately.

The sound it produces is breathtaking. When we initially set it up to run some video tests, we were blown away not only by the sound quality but also the volume. And the sound is bereft of any bias toward treble that we normally hear in small speakers. You could set up the m7700a at one end of a long conference table and know that people on the far end won't have trouble hearing.

Costs of power

All this power comes at a cost'make that several costs. The unit we tested was priced at $4,086 as configured, which is pricey compared to most notebooks. And we already discussed the cost to your shoulder from lugging such a huge unit around.

But the final cost is in battery life. Normally a 12-cell battery would have us salivating. But with all the components in the m7700a, particularly the desktop CPU, we weren't expecting much more than an hour of unplugged power. We got a little more, but it still wasn't a lot of time.

We do our battery tests under near-worst-case circumstances. We play a movie off the hard drive and set screen brightness to 80 percent. This basically fires up the speakers, activates the LCD and spins the hard drive. Normally a 12-cell battery would last several hours, but with its high-end components, the m7700a only squeaked out one hour and 34 minutes. It's enough juice to carry you through most presentations, but it's not enough for a truly mobile computing experience.

For raw power, few systems can touch the m7700a. In fact, not surprisingly, it's faster than many standard desktops. If you can put up with the weight and size, the m7700a has a lot to offer.

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