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
Processor Intel Core i7-4900MQ
(4x2.8GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.8GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 47W)
Chipset Intel HM87
Memory 32GB (4x8GB) Hynix DDR3L-1600 (Max 4x8GB)
Graphics 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)
Display 18.4" LED Glossy IPS 16:9 1080p
SDC4C48
Hard Drive(s) 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
Networking Broadcom BCM4352 802.11ac Wireless
Killer Networks e2200 Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek ALC668 HD audio
Stereo speakers
Dual headphone jacks and mic jack
Battery 87Wh
Front Side -
Right Side SD card reader
Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 3.0
Ethernet
Left Side AC adapter
Kensington lock
HDMI in/out
Mini-DisplayPort
2x USB 3.0
Dual headphone jacks and mic jack
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit
Dimensions 17.97" x 12.9" x 2.26"
456.5mm x 327.89mm x 57.5mm
Weight 12.1 lbs
5.5kg
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Killer Networks wired networking
802.11ac wireless networking
Configurable backlit keyboard with nine user programmable keys
Warranty 1-year limited
Pricing $2,099
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.

In and Around the Alienware 18
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  • stacey94 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    pounds* Whoops Reply
  • SniperWulf - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - link

    Maybe so, maybe not. I frequent the gym enough for it to not be an issue. I've carried military equipment that was much heavier further distances that I'll ever carry this thing. Reply
  • SniperWulf - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - link

    Oh, and the machine itself doesn't weigh 12 lbs. Maybe my bag with all my crap it it does. Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    @blanarahul

    I bought the M18x R2.

    Specs: CPU i7 3920XM, which I've had up to 4.7GHz, but typically run @ 4.4 or 4.5GHz for everyday use. Dual 240GB SSDs in RAID0, dual 7970Ms, 16GB 1866MHz (clocked at CAS9), and 1TB for storage.

    With all graphical settings maxed-out, I hit the 200fps limit in Black Ops 2, frequently.

    Ignoring than the initial AMD drivers we had, and the glossy non-IPS display I have, I'm absolutely loving it. Looks wonderful on the big screen.

    As mentioned, the customer service is w o n d e r f u l, and most importantly for me - worldwide. As a frequent traveler, I cannot have a desktop, and this fits my needs wonderfully.

    Nice talking point in the office with new clients too.

    I will definitely upgrade to the newest M18(2, whatever) when Broadwell is released - Just so long as the IPS panel is still available.

    And that is voting with your feet.
    Reply
  • punko - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - link

    Bought one in February. I need a portable workstation, not an ultrabook. If you want something to sit cooly on your lap while you flip through facebook at an airport lounge, this isn't it. If you want to have something with serious chops, then this works. Myself, I find the screen a tad lacking in quality in comparison to my other 18", ASUS W90 VP , but performance is top drawer. Reply
  • Mondozai - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Comparing it to a mini-ATX kind of misses the point. Good luck taking a big desktop monitor with you in a handbag. It is for people who move around a lot and game on the go. Judged as that it is a great piece of hardware but most people would never buy it (including me) but that is beacause we do not have those needs. Comparing it to a mini-ATX does make me suspicious of your judgement, though. It is not a desktop PC, so why do you fail that test of common sense? Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    The mITX comparison is aimed at lan party gamers. A monitor and an mITX system can easily be carried in two trips; and if that's all you need your portable gaming for a few extra minutes walking for a thousand dollars savings. Unless your portability needs include being able to fly with it, or to troll coffee shop workers a tiny desktop is able to match most of the usecases for something like this. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Um...did you read the final paragraph? All we're saying is that if you just want a really fast and somewhat portable PC, there are alternatives to a maxed out SLI notebook that cost a lot less. "You lose a healthy amount of portability, but we're talking about thousands of dollars, too." A review done in a vacuum (i.e. not looking at other potential alternatives) is missing the point of a review, and so we include some desktop performance figures and mention the pricing of desktops so that readers who may not be as versed in the hardware scene at least get an idea of where performance stands. Reply
  • tim851 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    I'm with you, Jarred. Desktop numbers need to be in the benchmark IF ONLY to give one a reference point. Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - link

    Agreed. I'd like to see a desktop equivalent performance card in more mainstream gaming laptop reviews too. I could dig through bench or multiple articles to figure out what the closest desktop equivalent to a single 770M is; but being able to put it in context easily would be nice. Reply

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