Construction and Design
The Alienware Aurora m9700 is a very large laptopâ€¦ it’s the biggest unit we’ve reviewed so far and no doubt this design is due to the two internal hard drives and the two NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GS GPUs inside. Despite its size, the laptop doesn’t feel extremely heavy, well not any heavier than any other typical 17′ laptop anyway.
Like most Alienware systems, you can get your m9700 in a variety of colours; here we have is a Cyborg Green laptop, but you can also get it in Conspiracy Blue and Saucer Silver. The body is made from polished high-gloss plastic similar to the material you find used on car bumpers, but as you can predict it becomes prone to smudges and smears. I find that the gloss gives the laptop a plastic look which may not appeal to every consumer, but the selection of colours really makes it unique. Green and blue options are a $149 USD premium (hey, cool style is never free).
Unlike the Asus W2J 17′ laptop (reviewed here) the Alienware m9700 feels very sturdy and doesn’t flex in any noticeable way when handled or pressed. Attention to good structural design shouldn’t be surprising since Alienware knows that buyers of the m9700 will want to bring this with them to LAN parties or to a friend’s house.
On the lid there is the trademark Alienware logo that lights up a cool blue when turned on — too bad you can’t select the colour like on the Dell XPS M1710 (reviewed here). Opening the laptop reveals a full-sized keyboard and a slick looking touchpad.
The keyboard is somewhat soft with a mild click on the keys, which makes it very similar to Asus keyboards. The layout of the keyboard took some getting used to because I’m more accustomed to a typical laptop keyboard which does not have the number pad. The number pad is a great feature for gamers since many games make use of these keys. The touchpad is a bit odd because it uses the same hard plastic used on the laptop body, so it feels unusually smooth – not like your typical touchpad surface. I found that tracking was slightly sluggish which can be adjusted somewhat using the touchpad software. The touchpad bottons are seamless making it look like a Macintosh rather than a Windows based PC.
Above the top row of the keyboard are special function keys for your email, web browser, and keys for controlling media (the Aurora m9700 came preloaded with Windows Media Center Edition 2005).
The LCD display uses a glossy coat for higher contrast and there is a 1.3 megapixel webcam above the screen. We will look more closely at the display on the m9700 later in this review.
On the back of the laptop are a variety of jacks and ports. You have video output ports (VGA, DVI, and S-Video), video input ports (S-Video input), a USB port, power and modem jack, and finally audio input. Both exhaust ports are located on the back so make sure not to block these when you’re using this laptop.
The front of the m9700 is the DVD RW drive and a pair of speakers, this leaves the front free of any cords.
The left side is loaded with connections and slots, so let’s break it down:
- two USB 2.0 ports
- mini Firewire port
- 100/1000 MB LAN port
- SD / Memory Stick reader
- Express Card expansion slot
- Kensington lock port
In addition to these ports, the left hand side holds the two SATA hard drives that come shipped with the m9700.
On the right hand side you have substantially less connections than on the left, there is a lone USB 2.0 port, and the rest are related to audio hook-ups. First there is a standard full-sized SPDIF optical jack that many laptops do not have (most have just a mini port), second are all three jacks necessary for a 5.1 analog audio configuration (front, center, surround, and bass). Finally, there are microphone and headphone jacks.
The right hand side of the laptop is proof of Alienware’s attention to design. By having less connections on the right side, it keeps tangling cables and hot exhaust port air away from your mousing hand. Also, Alienware gives you a full compliment of audio jacks, none of this shared jack stuff you so often see on laptopsâ€¦ you get dedicated jacks for all your speakers, microphone, and headphones.
The location of the power and exhaust ports on the back is my preferred location since the power cable often gets in the way if located on the left or right side of the laptop, and the exhaust ports can make mousing uncomfortable if blowing off to one side.
Opening the base of the laptop reveals many upgradable parts as we mentioned on the previous page. In the above image, you can see the two NVIDIA GPUs connected via heatpipes to a single rear exhaust fan. There is also a black cable snaking its way between the two MXM GPU modules which I suspect to be the SLI cable. It’s also worth noting that the intake grills on the base of the laptop are protected from dust by a filter. It’s probably a good idea to dust these off once in a while.
Located at the top-left corner of the base is a “sub-woofer” speaker intended to produce deeper bass frequencies.