Conclusion: More Notebook than You Need?

For end users who want a powerful gaming notebook, or heck, a powerful notebook in general, my go-to has been the Alienware M17x R3 since I reviewed it (provided they have the budget for it). Now that I've had a chance to sit down and review the M18x, my go-to is...still the M17x R3. The M18x is faster, yes, but with the added performance come some additional compromises.

In and of itself, the M18x is another feather in Alienware's cap. The screen quality is good, the overall design feels sturdy and attractive (although I think I'd pass on the red finish and stick with the black), I still love that stupid glowing keyboard, and the performance is there (and how!). There's plenty of connectivity, upgrade options, and so on. There's nothing inherently wrong with the M18x. Except that it's freaking huge.

Where the M17x R3 feels like a fairly balanced mobile workstation and gaming system, heavy but not insanely heavy to the point where you just don't want to cart it around anywhere, the M18x is beastly. I review the lion's share of desktops here (read: desktops that don't have big glowing apples on them) and with many builds I often feel like they're excessive. They're past the point of diminishing returns, where you just don't get performance and efficiency commensurate with their size/noise/cost/power consumption. That's how I feel about the M18x. If the M17x R3 is a sound investment for someone who wants a good, stylish mobile gaming system with the performance they require, the M18x feels like an offering for the more-money-than-sense crowd.

We're at a point now where top-end mobile GPUs really are good enough, particularly when no one is doing higher than 1080p displays. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580M is incrementally faster than the GTX 485M, but it runs roughshod on AMD's still-capable Radeon HD 6970M, and with the M17x R3 Alienware adds Optimus support as an enticing bonus. Adding a second 580M just doesn't seem to be worth the headache often associated with multi-GPU configurations, much less the expense. If you're only going to go with one GPU, there's absolutely no reason not to just get the smaller and more affordable M17x R3. Alienware offers four GPU configurations for the M18x, three multi-GPU rigs and a single GeForce GTX 560M, which really should tell you all you need to know.

If you want as much power as you can conceivably cram into a notebook, I can certainly recommend the M18x over any competition from Clevo or really any other notebook. You want power? You got it. But if you want a more balanced design, I'd strongly encourage you to stick with the M17x R3.

Of course, we're only halfway done with the M18x. Check back soon when we'll have the second half, focusing on the AMD Radeon HD 6990M in both single and CrossFire configurations to see how it performs on its own as well as how it stacks up against the competition. The 580Ms in SLI aren't just going to have to be faster than the 6990Ms in CrossFire, they're going to have to be $700 faster. Stay tuned.

Update: Alienware's muxed graphics solution still uses the drivers from NVIDIA's Verde program, so updating drivers is a non-issue. However, the end conclusion remains the same: the M18x still feels like too much, while the M17x R3 is probably going to be the gaming notebook of choice for the overwhelming majority of users.

Continuing the Case for 1080p
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  • rsandoz - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    What about the case?

    I believe the m17xr3 is plastic.

    The m18x has an aluminum case. I actually own this with 6790 CF. This one was of the deciding factors as I have own the m17xr1 and m17xr2. When I saw the r3 had a plastic case much like my m11xr1 with cracking hinge problem, I decided against it. Didn't want to talke a change on cracking hinges again. Probably not the case, but an aluminum case feels much more solid.
    Reply
  • rsandoz - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    <<Wish I could edit posts. Spell corrected.>>

    What about the case?

    I believe the m17xr3 is plastic.

    The m18x has an aluminum case. I actually own one with 6790 CF. This one was of the deciding factors as I have owned the m17xr1 and m17xr2. When I saw the r3 had a plastic case much like my m11xr1 with cracking hinge problem, I decided against it. Didn't want to take a chance on cracking hinges again. Probably not the case, but an aluminum case feels much more solid.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    The M18x's case only has an aluminum plate on the lid and aluminum trim, at least as far as I can tell. I honestly didn't find the build quality to be radically different enough from the M17x R3 to merit mentioning. Reply
  • rsandoz - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    My main cause for concern was the "after 6 or so months factor". Does the m17xr3 have a cracking hinge issue after 6 months. I had an m11xr1 and after 8 months the hinges cracked internally. Felt like the ultimate hooptie laptop. Plus the plastic case has more scratches on it than my m17xr2. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    Seeing how this is pretty much a desktop in most terms, I would like to know what kind of PSU is shipped with the unit. Also, could you provide power consumption while gaming/stressing the system with the different setups? I'd be interested in the difference between the nVidia and AMD GPUs used here. :-)
    Otherwise, a good review and a monster of a laptop. Nothing for me though.
    Reply
  • Ushio01 - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    Buy the Core i7-2860QM instead it has same base clock with higher turbo boost and a 10W lower TDP for $500 less. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    That doesn't make a review "meaningless". The TDP is simply maximum power; in most loads you won't hit that level. As for saving $500, sure, go for it, but remember you'd also give up overclocking of the CPU. If you're already willing to spend around $3500 for this sort of notebook, what's another $500 to boost CPU speeds from 2.5GHz base and 3.6GHz max to 3.5GHz base and 4.2GHz max. With GTX 580M SLI, you'll probably actually realize a performance improvement from the CPU overclock in games. Reply
  • Ushio01 - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    Sorry I never meant the review was worthless in itself just the out of date CPU. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    Understood, but I'm pointing out that the overclockable CPU might be worth the upgrade price, at least if you're willing to spend this much in the first place (I'm not). The i7-2860QM has the same base clock, but unfortunately the laptop Alienware sent is using the earlier i7-2920XM instead of the newer i7-2960XM. Either way, the XM model CPUs will get you unlocked multipliers and the ~$500 28x0QM chips won't. Reply
  • aznofazns - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    I'm not sure you'd run into any significant CPU bottlenecks with a stock i7-2860M, though.

    The argument that the $3500 already spent justifies the additional $500 for the unlocked multiplier doesn't really make sense. The $3500 is a sunk cost. It's already gone and shouldn't affect the decision to spend more on the CPU.

    The real question is... what is the marginal benefit of the 2920XM over the 2860M? Would you really be seeing significantly higher framerates? I'd say probably not. The dual GTX580M's in SLI would still be the bottleneck for gaming at 1080p, unless I'm mistaken.
    Reply

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