Alienware 18 Gaming Notebook Reviewby Dustin Sklavos on September 16, 2013 12:00 PM EST
We recently had a chance to play with the Alienware 17, and while it's not the perfect 17" gaming notebook, I'm reasonably convinced it's still probably the best one available. Alienware has done a major refresh of their chassis design across their entire notebook line; the 17 may be a step up from the M17x R3 and R4, but those weren't the notebooks that really needed to be looked at again. The M18x, on the other hand, definitely needed some new shoes.
Coming clean, I was never really a fan of the M18x. Alienware smartly stripped multi-GPU out of their 17" line when they made the jump to the M17x R3 and made that the signature feature of their beef supreme M18x, but the aesthetic just didn't look right stretched to those proportions. A deluxe model with an 18.4" display was always going to be bulky; stretching a fairly attractive look to those outsized dimensions just wasn't the right call.
Of course, the other reason why I didn't like the M18x and M18x R2 that much was that at the time, they were just too much. When the GTX 580M was released, it was plenty for mobile gaming, as was the GTX 680M. What changed in the interim? PC games stopped being glorified console ports inhibited by the aging architecture of their launch platforms and started to truly move into the next generation. BioShock Infinite may still be based on Unreal Engine 3, but it leverages DirectX 11 in a major way, and Tomb Raider's TressFX absolutely tears down most high end hardware (though it looks pretty fantastic in the process). That's all ignoring the gorgeous but otherwise criminally underwhelming Crysis 3. Next generation games are arriving, and suddenly we're finding ourselves needing a bit more punch.
|Alienware 18 Specifications|
Intel Core i7-4900MQ
(4x2.8GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.8GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 47W)
|Memory||32GB (4x8GB) Hynix DDR3L-1600 (Max 4x8GB)|
2x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4GB GDDR5 in SLI
(1536 CUDA cores, 771MHz/823MHz/5GHz core/boost/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Intel HD 4600 Graphics
(20 EUs, up to 1.3GHz)
18.4" LED Glossy IPS 16:9 1080p
Samsung SM841 512GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD
Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB 7200-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD
|Optical Drive||HL-DT-ST CA40N slot-loading BD-ROM/DVDRW|
Broadcom BCM4352 802.11ac Wireless
Killer Networks e2200 Gigabit Ethernet
Realtek ALC668 HD audio
Dual headphone jacks and mic jack
SD card reader
Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 3.0
2x USB 3.0
Dual headphone jacks and mic jack
|Operating System||Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit|
17.97" x 12.9" x 2.26"
456.5mm x 327.89mm x 57.5mm
Killer Networks wired networking
802.11ac wireless networking
Configurable backlit keyboard with nine user programmable keys
As configured $3,849+
Incidentally, the model we have in for review can't actually be ordered from Alienware's site right now; the Alienware 18 tops out at dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770Ms. This isn't that surprising, as top end chips usually have teething and availability issues. The 780M is a massive jump over the 770M, although two 770Ms in SLI would likely still provide an excellent experience. But a single 780M has 60% more shader power and at least 33% more memory bandwidth than a single 770M, so we're talking about a pretty substantial jump in performance.
The Intel Core i7-4900MQ at the heart of our review unit is a first for Intel; typically x900-branded CPUs are branded Extreme Editions, but this is a garden variety chip with a 47W TDP to boot. The 2.8GHz nominal clock speed on Haswell architecture isn't too shabby, and it's able to turbo up to 3.8GHz on a single core, 3.7GHz on two cores, and a still healthy 3.6GHz on all four. As Jarred pointed out recently, that puts the i7-4900MQ pretty squarely in high end desktop CPU territory.
We also get 32GB of DDR3L-1600 in four 8GB DIMMs, necessitating Windows 7 Ultimate (or at least Professional) instead of Home Premium. I think it's very telling that these gaming notebooks Alienware is seeding to the press are loaded with Windows 7 and not Windows 8 despite the latter having been around for almost a full year now. Alienware continues to offer both operating systems and even "recommends" switching to 8, but it's hard not to see the default 7 as a vote of no confidence.
Impressively, our review unit also comes equipped with a 512GB mSATA SSD courtesy of Samsung, and that's almost enough capacity on its own outside of the substantial 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Black mechanical hard disk that accompanies it. Most gamers may not even have to worry at all about using the mechanical storage. And networking is, as with the Alienware 17, handled by a Broadcom 802.11ac wireless solution and gigabit ethernet courtesy of Killer Networks.
It's not all rosy, though. One of the big upgrades with the Alienware 17 and indeed the modern Alienware line en masse was supposed to be matte finishes on the displays, yet the IPS panel being used on the 18 has a glossy finish instead. I know someone at Alienware is going to throw his hands up and go "screw this, I can't win" after reading this review, but I'd honestly rather have had a matte TN panel than a glossy IPS, even though feedback at the launch of the new line is the reason why the 18 is even offered with an IPS panel in the first place.
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brucek2 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - linkYour original question asked about "all these weak resolution screens on notebooks nowadays", so it sounded a lot more like a question about the industry in general than this about particular machine.
cjb110 - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - linkSorry but (a) is a terrible suggestion, given the lack of upgradability the machine should be built as a whole unit. For years gaming laptops have always suffered as they couldn't drive the panels they were paired with. Downscaling looks obviously crap, so kudos to Alienware by sticking with a panel their machine can actually game on.
boeush - Friday, September 20, 2013 - link"Downscaling looks obviously crap..."
Why should it? In reality, it is upscaling. For instance, you render the game at 1920x1080, then scale up the result to 2560x1440 (if that's the actual display resolution, which IMO is what should be the case on an 18''+ high-end notebook!) As long as the aspect ratio is the same, the up-scaling will work well without any image distortion (and if done right, may even provide an additional antialiasing effect.)
brucek2 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - linkre: win7/8, I just now got a sales email from Dell. The big promo in the subject line? the usual Not -X% off, or +X% power, or FREE <gizmo> -- but
"Want Win 7? Swap it out for free during Summer Clearance"
Promos of course are about telling customers what they want to hear, not necessarily about establishing truths. But still very telling that their research convinced them that this would be the most important selling point in a new system now.
kyuu - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - linkLooks to me like a play at getting a few extra bucks by selling some old Win7 keys they have lying around to people who don't realize that Win7 offers nothing over Win8.
Laststop311 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - linkThe m18x is a truly superb machine if you like to goto your buddies and lan party it up. In that respect it is very portable. But like the article suggests it's much better building a mini itx system. I sold my m18x and used the proceeds to build a mini itx bitfenix prodigy setup.
I got a i7-4770k OC'd to 4.8Ghz on all cores HT and turbo disabled. With the awesome Asus z87 mini itx boards. Cooling the CPU is a simple corsair h100i with 4 fans in push pull. 140mm exhaust in the rear and large 200mm intake fan in the front. 4 rad fans are the high static pressure noctua 120mm's and the rear is a 140mm noctua. Always use noctua fans they never let ya down. I've had the same 120mm noctuas for 4 years now and they are still as silent and deadly as the first day I got em. Xigmatek fluid circulative bearing 200mm fan for the intake is also dead silent.
PSU was a tough find. The problem is 160mm just barely fits and if you want a modular psu you need to go down to 140mm. The only modular psu with atleast 600 watts at that size was a silverstone. Luckily it does exist. I'm not a fan of dual GPU setups but I splurged and got a titan. If it wasn;t for getting a titan the sale of my m18x would of covered the whole build and a more modest gtx 770 but with next gen gaming around the corner and the new systems using up to 5GB V ram per game the Titan was the best future proof choice.
For storage we have the wonderful 512GB Samsung 840 Pro and a 4tb Seagate NAS model drive for its superior noise level. Paid only 250 dollars out of craigslist for the SSD it's also where i got my dell u3014 for 515. No optical drive installed the radiator on the top blocks it but who needs an optical drive really. Hvae an external usb 3.0 dvd burner in the house somewhere if I really need to use a disc.
As you can see selling the m18x r1 (I had it upgraded with gtx 680m in SLI and the triple pipe heatsink from the R2 extreme edition up from the single pipe the r1 came with and it had the i7-2960xm overclocked to 4.1ghz) led to me having a WAYYY better mini ITX set up. The single gpu titan with an overclock to 1067mhz and memory at 6.2ghz performs more fluid than the gtx 680m setup and even with the gpu's fan cranking up it's still much quieter than the laptop. CPU speed is a very large increase as well. So dustin is very much correct you can just build a mini itx system and put to rest the large heavy gaming notebooks.
The future of gaming notebooks is something like the razer blade 14 3rd generation. 6.5 hour HD video battery rundown time and impressive 1600x900 native resolution gaming in a package at about 4 pounds and 0.66" thick all the way around, no fatter bumps. It can have longevity like an ultrabook but also have gaming muscle. For 2000 with a 256GB mSATA SSD it's the way to go if you must have a gaming laptop. Other then that usage get a mini itx system + a cheaper haswell ultrabook with a good 8 hour battery life.
thesavvymage - Monday, September 16, 2013 - linkwhy would you buy the 4770k and then disable HT? Might as well have gotten the i5....
ShieTar - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - linkYeah, I second that question. Especially for somebody who was looking for cost-efficient gaming, the 4670K would have made more sense.
Then again, working hard to get an ITX gaming system, and then taking a 30", 24lbs monitor along with it doesn't make a whole lot of sense either.
5150Joker - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - linkHate to break it to you but if you compared benchmark results of your 680M SLI OC'd with an unlocked vbios, it would be nearly as fast as the bitfenix mini-itx system you built while being much better for portability. Furthermore, you could have upgraded that M18x with 780M SLI and when OC'd matches a Titan.
5150Joker - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - linkThis review lost all credibility when the author tried comparing the M18 to an ITX desktop.