We loved last year's M11x R2. Sure, it did have a hinge problem, and the choice of 100Mb Ethernet was odd, but it proved what could be done in a tiny chassis. At 2kg it's no MacBook Air, but if you're looking at the Alienware, you're a different breed of laptop user.
The M11x is back in 2011 with revision three in red or black, the hinge has been fixed and the Ethernet port bumped up to gigabit. It even picks up two USB 3.0 ports to keep up with the times, and ditches the confusing Alienware custom Windows theme. Sadly, the SIM slot is still an empty promise: Dell does not ship the 11x R3 with a WWAN module in Australia.
What can be put inside is still pleasingly mad: up to a Core i7 2617M, 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD of indeterminate origin, if you've got more cashflow than a Saudi oil baron. If you're ever so pedantic about performance, you can throw in a Killer NIC, too, to ensure your networking abilities are top notch.
Our review sample came in a little more muted fashion: a Core i5 2537, 4GB RAM and a 7200rpm, 320GB hard drive. It did come with the GeForce GT 540M though, which is the fastest graphics card configuration available for the M11x, and pleased us mightily.
It is, otherwise, business as usual for the M11x — an 11.6-inch, 1366x768 screen; backlit keyboard, part of four different lighting zones that can be customised to any colour you like (including off); DisplayPort, HDMI, USB 2.0 + charge, 2x USB 3.0, SD card reader, FireWire ports; and dual-headphone jacks and a microphone jack that can be re-purposed as 5.1 sound. On-board speakers aren't exactly the second coming of audio, but they are a darn sight better than what they deserve to be, considering the laptop size.
There are two disappointments with the 11x R3: the deeply set screen is nowhere as vibrant as it could be, and the mouse buttons are smooshy enough that you'll want to bring your own mouse for anything more than casual use.
It's a testament to the progress of technology that this mid-range edition of the M11x R3 outperforms the high-end M11x R2. 3DMark06 pulled in 8112, PCMark05 5774, meaning that even at the mid-range the R3 is a more than competent performer. Despite this increase in performance, it also squeezes out more battery life, coming in at three hours and 51 minutes with all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD file played back. That's an extra 27 minutes on top of last year's top of the range model.
We still love the M11x, but with the ever-marching pace of technology, we'd like to see it go on a diet, get a better screen and a much better touch pad and buttons for the R4. And maybe, just maybe, make use of the currently pointless 3G slot.