My introduction to Alienware was seeing their computers advertised as high speed gaming machines. Sure, computer games can be extremely processor and graphics demanding but a great gaming machine doesn’t automatically mean a great music production machine. Then Apple released the dual processor G5 and proclaimed it the fastest personal computer in the world. In December, 2003, MacUser wanted to put that claim to the test and the PC they chose to battle the G5 was the Alienware which surprisingly (to me anyway) outperformed the Mac in several categories. That caught my attention.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, project studio, broadcast, post production
Key Features: Pentium 4 CPU; up to 200GB; RAID 0, 1 hard disks; wireless support; 17-inch LCD screen
Price: As reviewed – $3,350, starts at $2,400
Contact: Alienware at 800-254-3692, Web Site.
A few months later I started seeing the Alienware Roswell-m mobile video editing system showing up in video and film magazines. Now Alienware has introduced a full line of desktop and laptop machines catered specifically towards music production. The new Alienware MJ-12m 7700 Laptop which was introduced back in February of this year is a portable computer targeted at recording professionals, video production engineers, content creators, and computer-aided design (CAD), engineering and manufacturing professionals. The made-to-order machine is constructed with top-of-the-line components and has a long list of software options from Steinberg, Adobe and Sony that can be pre-installed. The base system starts at $2,400.
The MJ-12m 7700 is powered by the latest Intel Pentium 4 desktop processors as well as the Nvidia GeForce Go 6800 GPU. It features a 17-inch widescreen XGA or SXGA+ LCD screen, dual-channel DDR2 memory support, 7-in-1 media card reader, and 802-11abg and Bluetooth wireless support. Amazingly, this machine has the undeniable power of a full-blown desktop system coupled with the flexibility and portability of a notebook. To support Intel’s full-speed Pentium 4 desktop processors, the MJ-12m 7700 was designed from the ground up to maximize power and minimize heat. The machine boasts clock speeds of up to 3.8 GHz and includes features like 1MB of cache, an 800 MHz front side bus and Hyper-Threading technology. Alienware allows users to select dual Serial ATA (SATA) hard drives up to 200 GB for RAID 0 or 1 configurations.
The Serial ATA RAID 0 configuration provides the highest levels of hard drive performance. In this configuration RAID 0, or “striping,” distributes data between two identical hard drives to enable enhanced system performance. In addition to increased performance, RAID 0 combines two hard drives sequentially, which doubles total available storage space.
The Serial ATA RAID 1 configuration provides fault tolerance for the ultimate peace of mind solution. RAID 1 stores data in parallel between two identical hard drives to provide data security. If one of the drives fails, the second drive takes over, allowing the system to function as it did before the failure. This is the perfect solution when high performance with redundancy is a must. The system features two Smart Bays which allow users to configure systems with dual optical drives. This allows for easy disc duplication and more efficient burning.
The MJ-12m 7700’s gorgeous 17-inch widescreen LCD provides users sufficient workspace for virtually any application needs. The monitor, which is the best I’ve seen on a portable, provides a 1400 x 900 native resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio. Alienware offers customers the option to purchase a built-in .3 megapixel video camera and an enhanced screen resolution of 1680 x 1050 by upgrading to the stunning 17-inch SXGA+ LCD panel (the unit I tested had this option).
Perhaps the most important feature of all Alienware computers is their complete configurability. A few minutes on the Alienware website (www.alienware.com) allows the buyer to build their ultimate machine tailored specifically to their needs. Another important feature for professional users is Alienware’s 24/7 tech support.
Let’s face it Mac users can be a bit snobby about their decision to choose an operating system that is only used by 3% of all personal computers worldwide. They brag about their computer’s speed, style and ease of integration into music and video software. And they are generally right. The Alienware MJ-12m 7700, however, can give any portable computer, be it Mac or PC, a run for their money and it won’t disappoint.
Typically, if someone is buying a portable computer for music production, they are also going to be using it for email, word processing and watching movies on the plane. If it was going to be exclusively used in the studio then it probably wouldn’t need to be portable. In my mind, the only way to accurately evaluate a computer is to use it for everything and that’s what I did with the Alienware box and frankly, I found that I liked it more and more every day.
I spent several hours installing software on the Alienware machine and at the end of the day, Microsoft Office, Filemaker Pro, Sony Acid 4.0, Sony Sound Forge 7.0, Sony Vegas 5, Sony DVD Architect 2, Steinberg Nuendo 2, Steinberg Wavelab 5 and Steinberg Cubase SX 3 were all up and rockin’ without a hitch. They all performed perfectly on the Alienware machine and in every instance provided performance well beyond what I have experienced with any other computer.
Projects with track counts well beyond 100 in Nuendo performed impeccably. I also found that the built-in speakers sound reasonably good and the four speakers and sub that shipped with the system even provide fairly good surround monitoring using the computer’s SRS WOW Surround Sound Technology. The onboard S/PDIF output provides easy interface with external converters and it also supports 5.1 surround sound so surround mixes can easily be referenced through a home surround theater with a S/PDIF input without needing to burn a DVD. When burning a DVD was necessary I had outstanding results using Sony’s DVD Architect 2.
With so many great features there are, of course, some downsides. This computer is heavy, really heavy. It has a desktop processor which means it also has enough heat sinks and fans to cool it. This creates a lot of weight, but frankly, I’d still be impressed if it weighed 20 pounds (it’s just under 13 pounds). Having a computer bag with wheels is a must and don’t plan on pulling it out on a flight if you are sitting in coach. There just isn’t enough room unless you are sitting next to an empty seat or find yourself in an exit row.
I was also disappointed to find only one FireWire port (some models have two) and sadly enough, it is the four-pin type. I hate the four-pin FireWire ports. I want to have the option to use bus-powered FireWire devices from my FireWire port and the four-pin ports just don’t seem very sturdy. Even with these negatives, the machine is still amazing and you gotta love an alien’s head with glowing eyes staring across your desk.
Even though it’s the heaviest portable I’ve encountered, the Alienware MJ-12m 7700 is hands down the best laptop I’ve ever used and quite possibly a near-perfect music-making machine.