Alienware's M18x, Part 2: AMD's Radeon HD 6990M in CrossFireby Dustin Sklavos on October 14, 2011 12:00 AM EST
Conclusion: NVIDIA Retains Their Title, But Barely
We had a hunch that NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580M would continue to be the fastest single GPU available in notebooks, and that turned out to be accurate...mostly. In a couple of games the 580M is a slam dunk, while in others it trades blows with AMD's Radeon HD 6990M. Once multi-GPU solutions are brought into the equation, things tend to veer more in favor of NVIDIA's solution, but we remind you that two isn't always better than one: it may look better on charts, but benchmarks don't tell the stories of micro-stuttering and sometimes inconsistent performance. There's a reason none of our editors would recommend a multi-GPU solution in a desktop, and so I personally can't really recommend it in a notebook either.
What are we left with? Well, once again my recommendation at the end of the first part of the M18x review applies: the M18x feels like too much, especially compared to the M17x R3. That's doubly true when you realize the M18x's only single-GPU solution is a GTX 560M; everything else is SLI or CrossFire. So when you bounce down to the M17x R3, you can get a single 6870M, GTX 560M, 6990M, or GTX 580M, and unfortunately for NVIDIA, this is where AMD steals the show.
Simply put, the 580M just isn't worth the $300 premium over the 6990M. The two are comparable enough that situations where NVIDIA's part leads just don't justify the massive difference in price. Those of you still itching to configure an M18x will have an even easier time with it: a pair of GTX 580Ms is a staggering $700 more than a pair of 6990Ms. If price is of no consequence to you then by all means go for NVIDIA's solution, but if it matters even in the slightest, AMD wins the value competition hands down. Think it's just Alienware? A visit over to AVADirect reveals the same kind of price difference in a custom configured X7200.
Ultimately both of these solutions are more than adequate for getting your mobile game on, but AMD really does win the value proposition by a landslide. The GTX 580M is a fantastic GPU and I've certainly gotten a lot of mileage out of mine, but I also need the support for CUDA. If you don't, your answer is a simple one, and the M17x R3 with a Radeon HD 6990M may just wind up being the best balance of price and performance for mobile gamers. The M18x remains, as before, too much for most users.