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Alienware MJ 5500 Notebook Computer
System can switch between NVIDIA and Intel graphics By John Virata

Alienware has introduced a new family of notebook computers ranging in size from 12-inch models on up to 17-inch wide screen units. We've been working with the MJ 5500, a 15.4-inch wide screen unit that features 16:10 aspect ratio, integrated speakers on the display bezel, and the capability to switch between the integrated Intel graphics for longer battery life, and the 256MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 for those applications that require more horsepower. The 5500i came in Alienware Xeno gray and includes an Intel Pentium M processor running at 2.13GHz, 1GB RAM, and a 100GB Seagate Momentus 7200RPM hard disk drive running Windows XP Professional.

Location location
The front of the unit, under the wrist rests include a microphone, headphone, and SPDIF out port, SD/MMC card slot, as well as an external VGA tab that you switch when you want to switch from the NVIDIA graphics to the integrated Intel graphics. The right side of the system feature a 4 pin FireWire port, three USB 2.0 slots, power port, and an S-video out port. The left side of the system features a NIC port, modem port and a Slimtype 8X dual layer DVD-RW drive. The rear of the unit features a single VGA port for connecting an external display. It also features wireless 802.11b/g Internet capabilities as well.

Switch between NVIDIA and Intel graphics with the EXT. VGA button.


Creative features
This system seems built for the mobile creative professional who wants to create content and show that content. It provides users with widescreen output as well as fast graphics via the NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600.  The unit also ships with a 4 pin FireWire port which is especially helpful for those who need to transfer miniDV to the 100GB hard disk drive, as well as a built-in 4-in-1 SD/MMC card reader for those with digital cameras that support the format. In addition there is an available PCMCIA slot for more expansion capabilities.

InstantON
Another nice feature with the MJ 5500 is InstantON, powered by InterVideo. InstantON is a separate application that enables you to watch DVDs, view photos, play music, and play video without having to boot into Windows. To get to this feature, you simply press the Play button on the keyboard bezel, right above the Fkeys. What is nice about this feature is you have instant media access when you need it quickly.

When the system is shut down and you push the play button, the InstantON feature launches. If however, you are in Windows and you push the play button, Windows Media Player launches instead. So to access this cool feature, the system has to be turned off. InstantON enables you to navigate folders on your hard disk drive to access media or read media from a CD-ROM drive.

The InstantON feature isn't without its kinks though. Navigation takes some getting used to as it is done via the arrow keys, and there was no explanation on how to cycle through photographs. Once I clicked on a photograph, I couldn't figure out how to minimize it to get back to the photo library. It took some blind key pressing to figure out that in order to cycle through the photographs in full screen, you push the PgUp or PgDn keys, and to go back to thumbnail view, the End button will take you there.

The manual to InstantON is probably on the hard drive somewhere, but it would be nice to have a help menu that shows you how to navigate the interface. InstantON is cool for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that you can view media quickly. If you are a photographer and want to show your photographs to a client fairly quickly, or you have a video you'd like to share, InstantON can quickly show them.

Intel Cinebench results
NVIDIA Cinebench results

Performance
The MJ 5500 is loaded with all the necessary hardware to run the latest creative media applications such as the new Adobe Production Bundle, fairly efficiently.

   Results in minutes: seconds
After Effects Version used: 6.5.1
 Alienware MJ 5500, 2.13GHz Intel Pentium M, 1GB RAM, Windows XP Pro, $2,199
After Effects: Animation 3 seconds
After Effects: Video Composite 41 seconds
After Effects: Data Project  2 minutes
After Effects: Gambler  21 seconds
After Effects: Source Shapes  4 minutes 26 seconds 
After Effects: Virtual Set  3 minutes 47 seconds 
Maxon CineBench 2003 Rendering Time (lower is better)   93.7 seconds 
Maxon CineBench 2003 Rendering (CB-CPU score -- higher is better)   281
Hard Disk Speed 

  Read:34MB/Sec

Write:32MB/Sec

Adobe Photoshop Guassian blur    44.17 seconds
On the After Effects tests that we run here at DMN, the system completed the animation test in three seconds, the Video composite test in 41 seconds, the Data Project test in 2 minutes, the Gambler test in 21 seconds, source shapes test in 4 minutes 26 seconds, Virtual Set test in 3 minutes 47 seconds.

On the Photoshop test, which involves applying a Guassian blur with a radius of 6.3 on a 9.51MB image, the MJ 5500 completed the task in 44.17 seconds. With the hard disk test, the MJ 5500 scored a 34MB/second read test and a 32MB/second write test.

On the CineBench test, which tests 3D performance, the MJ 5500 scored a 281 CB-CPU on the Rendering benchmark, and 93.7 seconds on the single CPU rendering test, and a 2.84x OpenGL speedup. This was using the Intel integrated graphics. When the NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 was employed, the system scored a 284 CB-CPU on the Rendering benchmark, 92.5 seconds on the single CPU rendering test and a 8.73x OpenGL speedup

First Impressions
The Alienware MJ 5500 ($849 starting price , $2,199 as configured is a very capable content creation machine helped out by outstanding graphics in the NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600. The system scored respectably in the After Effects benchmarks as well as the Cinebench tests. The system offers some fairly important features, including the PCMCIA card slot, FireWire port, and the VGA switch that enables you to switch from Intel integrated graphics to the more powerful NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 graphics. What sets this system apart from virtually all others is the capability to switch display graphics. I am not aware of any other system on the market that can do this.

This is a boon for those times when you need to work in a "lite" mode, which helps to ease up on the battery depletion, and those times when you need maximum graphics power. Other nice touches include the instant Internet button, the InterVideo InstantON  functionality, and its acceptable weight of around 6 lbs. The battery power with the standard battery was around two hours running the NVIDIA graphics system, though the company claims an optional 9 cel lithium ion battery pack can power the system for up to four hours. For more information, visit www.alienware.com.

 


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
 







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