Introducing the Alienware M18x R2

Around the launch of the Alienware M17x R3, Alienware essentially bifurcated its high end notebook offerings into single-GPU (the M17x R3) and dual-GPU (the M18x). The M17x R3 was slimmed down from its beefy predecessor and the M17x actually remains one of the sleeker desktop replacement notebooks available. The M18x had to take its place at the top of Alienware's stack, then, as their contender for the most powerful gaming notebook on the market.

That contention continues with the M18x R2, which like the M17x R4 we recently reviewed is more of an incremental update than a fully-fledged new design. The R2, like the R4, brings with it an Ivy Bridge CPU and a pair of Kepler-based NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M GPUs in SLI. As we saw, NVIDIA made fantastic gains with the 680M over the 580M; if that didn't impress you enough, you may want to hold on to your hat because two 680Ms in SLI are liable to blow your mind.

If you're having trouble getting psyched about this monster, I don't really blame you. We reviewed a pair of Alienware M18x's last year and came away with mixed feelings. Performance was as fast as you could ask for, bar none, but the M18x really pushes the limits of just how big a gaming notebook can get. It's heavy enough that it can be uncomfortable on your lap or even to cart around from place to place, and I've even personally recommended to people shopping for gaming notebooks to go with the smaller M17x. The M17x is easier to move around, can benefit from Optimus instead of having to stick to switchable graphics (that demand rebooting), and I actually prefer not having the gaming macro keys.

Of course, those macro keys and the potential for SLI may swing some users. If you're one of those users, the M18x R2 may be for you, so let's dig in.

Alienware M18x R2 Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-3820QM
(4x2.7GHz + HTT, 3.7GHz Turbo, 22nm, 8MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 4x4GB Hynix DDR3-1600 (Max 4x8GB)
Graphics 2x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M 2GB GDDR5 in SLI
(1344 CUDA cores, 719MHz/3.6GHz core/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Display 18.4" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
Samsung 184HT (SEC5448)
Hard Drive(s) 2x Samsung PM830 256GB SATA 6Gbps SSD in RAID 0

(includes open mSATA slot and third 2.5" drive bay)
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (HL-DT-ST CA30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio SoundBlaster Recon3Di (CA0132) HD Audio
Stereo speakers with subwoofer
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Battery 12-Cell, 11.1V, 97Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side ExpressCard/54
Slot-loading optical drive
MMC/SD/MS Flash reader
2x USB 3.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
HDMI input
Left Side Kensington lock
Ethernet port
VGA
HDMI
Mini-DisplayPort
2x USB 3.0
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 17.17" x 12.7" x 2.09-2.15"
436mm x 322.5mm x 53-54.7mm
Weight ~11.93 lbs (5.41kg)
Extras 2.1MP Webcam
Backlit keyboard with 10-key and programmable macro keys
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB 3.0
SoundBlaster Recon3Di with THX TruStudio Pro
Configurable lighting
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,999
Price as configured: $4,304

One thing's for certain, the Alienware M18x R2 as we have it in for review does not come cheap. Its starting price of $1,999 for just an i7-3610QM and a single GTX 660M is pretty high to begin with, and the upgrades are all pricy. This is another one of the reasons why I tend to recommend the M17x over its bigger brother, but if you absolutely must have the most performance you can cram in a notebook, pricetag be damned, obviously this is the way to go.

It's rare to see an Ivy Bridge CPU like the Intel Core i7-3820QM floating around in the wild. While top-end CPUs like the i7-3770K easily find their way into desktops, most notebook vendors are content with entry level chips like the perfectly adequate i7-3610QM. The i7-3820QM is a respectable piece of kit, though, boasting a nominal 2.7GHz core clock and able to turbo up to 3.5GHz on all four cores or even an impressive 3.7GHz on a single core. That means that despite the low 45W TDP, the i7-3820QM is actually able to ramp up clocks to the point where it's competitive with last generation's desktop quad cores and nip at the heels of chips like the i7-3770 non-K.

What we're really here for are the pair of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M GPUs in SLI. As I mentioned in the M17x R4 review, the silicon is basically a die-harvested GK104 identical to a desktop GeForce GTX 670 but with reduced clocks. Interestingly, it seems Alienware is getting different 680Ms than boutiques, as the pair of 680Ms in the M18x R2, like the M17x R4, only have 2GB of GDDR5 instead of 4GB. I don't consider this a drawback at all; even the desktop GTX 680 has a very difficult time utilizing more than 2GB of GDDR5, so the extra 2GB just winds up being mostly a waste. I'd rather have just the 2GB of GDDR5 than gain maybe a frame or two at the cost of additional power and heat.

The pair of 256GB Samsung PM830 SSDs in RAID 0 is impressive and mightily fast, though I continue to be skeptical about the value of putting SSDs in a striped RAID. Alienware leaves the M18x expandable, though; there's an mSATA slot and a third drive bay if you need it.

Ultimately though, the M18x R2 is as much an incremental update over its predecessor as the M17x R4 was, so the pro's and con's from that shell still essentially carry over here. The addition of mSATA is appreciated, as is the Killer Networks wireless-n, but the Creative sound chip is more of a "well, that's nice" inclusion, and nothing about the shell itself has really changed. Even the display panel is the same. If you own a first-generation M18x, you may not be missing that much here.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • PCMerlin - Saturday, September 29, 2012 - link

    Wow.... Either you guys missed the "or better" aspect of it or you just haven't been paying attention to what the rest of the world is doing.

    Apple is offering up to 2880x1800 on MacBook Pro Retina (problem is, I'm not too keen on Apple). Retina screen resolutions are also available on i-Pads and i-Phones.

    Android phones and tablets are also catching up to those resolutions, Asus has a 1920x1200 on their 10.1" Transformer now.

    New TV's are coming out with 4k UHD (2160p)

    My 4 year old Gateway has a 1920x1200 screen - all I'm asking is why the PC market feels that 1080p is "good enough" when the rest of the world is aiming higher?

    If high-resolution PC laptops are dead, then my prediction is that the PC laptop itself will soon be dead, also.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Would be interesting if they put 2560x1440 in this thing, considering the graphics power. Reply
  • JPForums - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    No. It is my money and I can buy what I want. If I want 1920x1200 and they aren't offering, there is nothing forcing me to buy their product. Also, if I never make them aware that they lost a sale due to the panel, then it will never get addressed.

    On the flip side. While 1920x1200 is not in fact dead, it has been largely relegated to high end offerings (with high end price tags). Now I must make a choice to spend the extra cash or do without. For the laptop market, I must also decide whether I can live with the other tradeoffs. For instance, I may be able to get 1920x1200 in a mobile workstation, but I also have to buy a workstation graphics card that isn't optimized for gaming. This may or may not be acceptable to me if I value gaming. High end workstation graphics, last I checked, had worse optimus support than their consumer counter parts. If I value optimus, this may not be acceptable.

    My personal number one issue is that most laptops don't have what I consider to be adequate cooling. I don't like to see my graphics cards breach 90C, much less my processor. Thermal throttling due to inadequate cooling (even with help) was the achilles heal of the M6400 I used at work (before it fried) and I'm not satisfied with <10C of margin before the dust even starts building up. Unfortunately, good cooling solutions seem to be mutually exclusive to 1920x1200 screens on performance laptops, so I'm now at 1920x1080 due to my prioritization.

    If PCMerlin prioritizes screen resolution, that is his choice to make. Alternately, he could buy the laptop and purchase an additional 1920x1200 or better monitor for when he's docked like I did.
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Saturday, September 29, 2012 - link

    You know what would make this whole 16:9/16:10 discussion go away? If they kept the same aspect ratio and physical size and just upped the resolution/pixel density. A 2160x1215 screen would have more vertical pixels than our old favorite and a nigh-perfect 134.7 ppi at 18.4".

    Do I prefer 16:10 over 16:9? Sure. Do I prefer 1440x900 over 1600x900? Nooope. Would a 2160x1215 screen be more expensive to manufacture than a 1920x1080 screen at the same size? Not significantly, since the size of the screen drives the price more than it's resolution.

    What kills this Alienware (well, all Alienware laptops) for me, though, is the glossy screen. There's no way I'd pay more than a few hundred dollars for a laptop that has one.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    Don't know where you've been, but most of these 16:9 whinefests contain at least a few comments of people specifically mentioning how they would prefer 1440x900 over 1600x900 because of how the aspect ratio is just inherently superior... Reply
  • Sufo - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    Rubbish. The complaint is 1080 vs 1200. WUXGA can display 2 documents side by side comfortably. This is what is was designed for. Anything lower will not. Anyone who is found arguing that 1440x900 is superior to 1600x900 should not be counted towards the collected opinions of 16:10 supporters. The sad fact of the matter is that 1440x900 was replaced, by and large, by 1333x768 which is, by all accounts, a travesty. Reply
  • noblemo - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    Thank you, Dustin, for both the M17x R4 and M18x R2 reviews. As a general question, are the display benchmark tests performed on the unit as shipped, or do you run a calibration first? Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    We run a calibration first. Reply
  • noblemo - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    Thank you for replying. Reply
  • Tchamber - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    "It's heavy enough that it can be uncomfortable on your lap or even to cart around from place to place..."

    I still have my old HP HDX9000 20" laptop that weighs neigh on 15lbs lol, its collecting dust except when I want to use its HD dvd player. My M17xR1weighs as much as this 18xR2, so I feel like its a bargain as far as size/weight is concerned. Its impressive how far laptops have come in the last few years.
    Reply

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