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
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
Left Side AC adapter
Kensington lock
HDMI in/out
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
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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  • GeneVostok - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    I wish you'd have reviewed the 14 instead upgraded to 1900x1080 matte IPS and the 765GTX. But you've already done two of them :).
  • ananduser - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    So what? They've reviewed 3 macbook airs one after another. There's nothing stopping them reviewing their 3rd Alienware, the 14"-er.

    Sorry for the troll.
  • stacey94 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Because the Air is a trendsetting product will have much wider appeal than any Alienware? What's wrong with that?

    There's nothing new about this Alienware model...it's just a spec bump. The new MBAs bring some insane battery life numbers, while sporting a better chipset than most competitors.

    I'm expecting a very detailed review of the Zenbook UX301 from Anandtech as well. It's the bellwether for HiDPI ultrabooks.
  • ananduser - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - link

    Silly fanboy: "The new MBAs bring some insane battery life numbers, while sporting a better chipset than most competitors."

    Reading Anand's own review, the MBA barely has a chipset that is equally performing to their own last gen version. Where did you get the better chipset from ? It's more frugal but it's not faster.
    Oh and btw, Anand didn't review any other ultrabook so you cannot make your comparison, not yet.
  • Wolfpup - Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - link

    Ugh, that's depressing if the Air actually has wider appeal. I hope that's not the case.

    These Alienware systems actually just seem like good mid and high end systems, back before the race to the bottom of everyone offering low end CPUs with no GPU.
  • gandergray - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    I second the motion for a review of the Alienware 14. (As always, thank you producing quality content.)
  • blanarahul - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Name one person who has bought this Portable Desktop.
  • scook9 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    A lot of people will. Just because you do not see a need does not mean others wont. I bought the original M18X on day one and never looked back. Was a great system for 15 months when a GPU died and Dell refunded the entire thing for me since they would not have a replacement part for a month - extremely high quality customer service. I did not have to fight, bicker, waste time, or anything with them - they just said "yep, we are not getting more for a month so will give you a 100% refund", keep in mind that was on a 15 month old no longer cutting edge system that was heavily used. The Next Business Day On-site warranty on the Alienware notebooks continues to wow me and keep me an Alienware customer (I have my 4th one now).
  • SniperWulf - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Me. Except I went with a Sager for this buy. I bought last years NP9370. GTX 680M with an i7-3630QM, 16GB RAM and all the trimmings. Cost came in at around $1800. Some months later I bought the second 680M for another $600. At $2400 its hard to beat, especially when compared to the Razer Blade (awesome engineering, total waste for the $ if your after performance). Couple that with the fact that I can throw it in a bag and head over to a friends and get damn close to the performance out of this that I do out of my desktop and its a win/win.
  • stacey94 - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    12 bounds? I think you're going to have some back pain issues later in life.

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