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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  • ggathagan - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    You can elucidate all you want, but DeeeNYC can't be elucidated. Reply
  • scook9 - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    I know it cost an arm and a leg, but the extreme CPU with the BIOS in this laptop is very impressive. People have been running the 2920xm in the M18x R1 at 4.5+ GHz with stock air cooling (no repaste needed - Dell is actually using quality paste on these Alienwares). I have not been following the R2 since I returned my R1 (loved it but the GPU died and dell did not have any new ones in stock so gave me a full refund 15 months after purchase!) but I imagine people are pulling off similarly impressive scores. Reply
  • Harmattan - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    It will be very interesting to see results of the 7970m Crossfire test. In my experience with my previous m18x with dual 7970m vs. my current dual GTX 680ms, while the AMD solution worked well when it did, in some cases Catalyst drivers failed miserably e.g., worse performance than a single 7970m. 680m drivers with SLI on the other hand have been rock solid for me.

    As for the case for this ultra-powerful laptop, it's this: it's a portable desktop replacement. The reason I own an m18x r2 with dual 680ms is not because I want the most powerful laptop in the world, but rather because I want a laptop that rivals and in some cases exceeds the power of a desktop. I live in a relatively small apartment in NYC where every square ft counts. The m18x allows me to save space/reduce clutter, utilize my 2560x1600 monitor to its fullest AND be able to take a no-compromise gaming experience on the road if I want.
    Reply
  • geniekid - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    Those are impressive performance numbers, but they better be for what they're charging. The baseline model makes the new Razer Blade look like a pretty decent deal - I'd pay an extra $500 for the SSD and superior build quality. Reply
  • twtech - Saturday, September 29, 2012 - link

    How does the keyboard feel? Are there any issues with it? How do your palms feel resting on it? Is the touchpad decent? Are there any issues with accidentally moving the mouse pointer or clicking when you're trying to type? Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    The keyboard is 'ok'. Its not the best I've ever used, but indeed is far from the worst too.

    The fact that it can change colour is lost on me, as I have set it to blue, and it stays like that, unless I fire up BF3, when it decides to change colour on my anyway, which is kind of interesting to see, but thats about it. It flashes red when you are near to death, and can be configured to do just about anything you want, but I've not really explored that.

    The touchpad does not suffer from much interference from your palms whilst you type, whereas the last laptop I had, did interfere very much. I'm sure this is the best touchpad I've had on a laptop to date. With the curve on the case in front of it, using the touchpad feels good too, but...

    When typing, the curved case ends where you wrists go, and makes it less comfortable. That curved edge should go right across the whole front of the laptop I think.
    Reply
  • PresenceOfMind - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    I'm about to purchase a M18X with SLI GTX 680M and I've been reading all I can to make the best choice.
    I'm very surprised with your article conclusion.
    I don't understand how can you make such a statement when your benchmarks, most of them, were not even done on game max settings and max display resolution. With lower settings you got average of 60FPS in same games, that's the minimal FPS expected for a hard core gamer machine.
    Furthermore, I would like to point out that M18X R2 scored 40 FPS more than a M17X R4 and also the fact that a M18X R2 built quality is a lot superior to the M17X R4. The M18X R2 is only 800 dollars more expensive than M17X R4.
    And as conclusion, I would like to bring up the fact that for this kind of machine, we should expect it to run it for at least 3 years before replacing. Do you really believe that a single card will be able to run the incoming games and new graphic technologies?
    PS : My only complain about the M18X R2 is the fact that it doesn't have 3D display and it doesn't support 1920X1200 resolution.
    Reply
  • Dug - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    I wish they would change the style or come up with alternative.
    Right now it looks like a Chevy.
    Many people would prefer something less annoying.
    Reply
  • ronmccord - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    I own the Mx18 running 2x580 m is sli and 2x256 in raid ssd, killer wireless everything top notch.
    I own this rather then a desktop for two reasons. I live in Colombia so bought it in Usa and was easy to bring with me vs a desktop which would be not possible. Also the M18x is aluminum and larger then the m17x which helps with cooling. I am hoping for a good 3 years out of it. I also like Alienware support which is the only! I repeat only company that will come to your house here in Colombia there is not one other manufacturer here that has a warranty except Apple. Had my Dell Xps laptop repaired twice here new hardrives. I also am running a Dell 30 inch with 2550x1600 res so good graphics is a must!. Now I am am a tech junkie and I also own a R2 M17x in sli with the aluminum case. I still check around like Sager and Msi to find options to Alienware but you can't beat the construction quality, warranty or look of the Alienware. Also I have it laying on top of the ZVOX speaker if you have not checked them out it fits perfect on it.. Matter of fact only thing that looks good is a laptop on it, and X51 style or an htpc style case. Only one speaker needed and the sound is incredible to watch movies and videos etc. With the Alienware Blacklaptop on top with Green lighting looks menacing. I love this look so much I actually would consider the Alienware x51, if that thing can run well with the equivalent of gtx 670 power I may consider passing the M18x to gf. Look forward to what Alienware and others come out with by next year this time. Who knows may be external graphics options that will allow me to have A small Alienware for travel and home or a 680m equivalent power in a m14x. Until then very happy with the M18xx and remember for those not appreciating it the more space you have to cool the better off you are! Thanks for reasing my long post hope it helps some in deciding I enjoyed everyones post especially the guy who lugs his m18x all over the world makes me feel better for my upcoming 30 day trip to Argentina however I only have the messenger bag vs backpack so I am jealous
    Reply
  • etundidor - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    Hey guys, Is there any chance of upgrade the M17x R2 mobo in order to increase the RAM to 32 GB or 16GB at least , Get SATA III 6G capacity, manage two GTX 680M and maintain the M17x R2 awesome HD display? Reply

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