There is a lot to be concluded here, but lets start by saying that the Aurora m9700 performance was not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for based on the reasons I have explained throughout the tests. That said, the Aurora m9700 is still a seriously powerful notebook, however when you see the words SLI 7900 on paper, you expect more than 56fps in Prey at 1600x1200. Given that a single Radeon X1900XTX desktop videocard is capable of 92fps when coupled with a relatively old Pentium 4 660 processor, I did expect more. On that same note I expected SLI to make a real difference, since Alienware claimed numerous times it can deliver up to 100% more performance.
So is Alienware lying then, or is there something wrong with the Aurora m9700 SLI configuration? I do not believe Alienware is lying, and I do not believe there is anything wrong with the Aurora m9700. SLI is working correctly as I proved with the FSAA 4x and Aniso 16x quality testing. The problem is quite simple and it is the same problem that has plagued many desktop gaming systems in recent years. The Aurora m9700 is unbalanced and the system specifications do not complement each other as well as they could. The bottom-line is dual GeForce Go 7900GS graphics cards cannot be fully utilized by a single core 2.4GHz AMD Turion64 processor.
|The cooling design featured within the Aurora m9700 is very impressive!|
Unfortunately, I was not able to prove this theory by overclocking the Turion64 ML-44 processor to give the SLI cards more headroom. Nevertheless, it is painfully clear that the processor was not powerful enough to fully utilize SLI, as even a single GeForce Go 7900GS faced system bottlenecks at 1280x1024. It was disappointing to find that by removing one of the graphics cards, performance barely took a hit. In fact, in some ways by removing SLI the notebook became slightly faster and overclocking the single GeForce Go 7900GS graphics card delivered the best performance.
This does make me question how well the Aurora mALX notebook, which starts at $4500 and features SLI GeForce Go 7900GTX graphics cards, would perform as it comes equipped with the same processor. Of course, this is not a fault on Alienwares behalf, as they have fitted the Aurora m9700 with the fastest possible processor for gaming available at the time of release. Unfortunately, it would appear that AMDs fastest single-core processor is simply not fast enough.
In the desktop arena, Intel Core 2 Duo processors have now proved graphics cards such as the Radeon X1900XTX have far more headroom, for example taking average frame rates in Quake 4 from 100fps to 150fps. Therefore, unless you are aware that Antialiasing and Anisotropic Filtering has to be enabled to see the real benefits of the Aurora m9700, purchasing the second graphics card is and will be just a waste of money. This is not necessarily a disadvantage of the Aurora m9700 notebook, as in-game visuals are spectacular with FSAA 4x and Aniso 16x enabled at 1600x1200, let alone 1920x1200. On that note all the testing was not conducted at 1920x1200 as it would not have made for a fair comparison between the desktop system, which was limited to 1600x1200.
The good news here for consumers is that they can get the full power out of the Aurora m9700 without having to purchase the second GeForce Go 7900GS graphics card. This means you can save at least $400 on the extra graphics card without sacrificing the killer performance. As I see it, you could potentially get the same performance as we have just witnessed in our tests for as little as $2500 if you were to configure this notebook sensibly. The Turion64 ML-40 would be my processor of choice and I would combine it with 1GB of memory, the 200GB RAID0 configuration and a single GeForce Go 7900GS.
Although the Aurora m9700 performance was slightly disappointing given the specifications, it is still an amazing piece of hardware and easily the best gaming notebook I have ever come across.
There are many more positive aspects of the Aurora m9700 which I would like to discuss. First and foremost this notebook is built to last. The majority of notebooks that I look at are very flimsy and are constructed primarily from plastic, very thin plastic. Alienware was obviously not overly concerned with the weight of this notebook and having said that, you can expect a very sturdy notebook in the Aurora m9700.
In fact, I dismantled this $3700 notebook twice during the testing phase to remove one of the GeForce Go 7900GS cards, just to be 100% sure SLI was disabled. The other reason for taking the Aurora m9700 apart again was to examine the cooling setup and inspect its overall build quality. It is not until you take a look inside that you begin to fully appreciate how impressive this notebook really is. When removing the covers you will soon learn that there is much more to this notebook than a couple of high-end graphics cards and a pretty case.
Rather, Alienware has fully engineered a masterpiece with the Aurora m9700. The cooling design is incredibly impressive, as the Aurora m9700 houses some serious plumbing. The biggest issue I find with gaming laptops is not the size, weight or performance, rather it is the heat which they generate. In fact, in the past I have had to hold off several notebook reviews simply because the product was grossly unstable through-out benchmarking due to overheating problems. Well, I am happy to report that the Aurora m9700 did not slip up once during the benchmarking phase.
Overall, the Aurora m9700 really is the ultimate gaming notebook, with so many excellent features to speak of, its hard to name them all. The physical feel and look of this notebook is first class and even the most ham-fisted gamer will look like a pro when gaming with the Aurora m9700. Although it is not the cheapest gaming alternative, the Aurora m9700 is priced rather competitively. Given the fact that a similar powered desktop system would cost at least $2000, many will justify spending around $3000 on such an impressive gaming notebook.