Review Alienware M18x Notebook
First-class in every way. Tired of having a typical desktop PC sitting on your desk? Want a replacement which offers great performance? The new Alienware M18x fits the bill. This 18 inch model is not only visually impressive, it also packs the latest hardware under its hood. The perfect replacement for the everyday desktop PC?
18 inch notebooks do not usually garner a lot of attention. However, thanks to Alienware's simultaneous release of the 14 inch, M14x, and the massive 18 inch M18x, publicity will not be a problem. As usual, the M18x can be extensively configured on the manufacturers website, before buyers make the purchase.
A quad-core CPU from Intel's latest generation (Sandy Bridge) can be found inside the M18x. In the basic configuration, the Core i7-2630QM is installed in the notebook. However, buyers can choose to upgrade to the 2720QM, the 2820QM or, the extremely expensive, 2920XM for a premium. Graphic card: three options are available to buyers. The first is the GeForce GTX 460M, which is a bit slow for hardcore gamers. A dual-GPU configuration would be better suited for such buyers. Picking the Radeon HD 6970M in CrossFire (fastest) or the two GeForce GTX 460M GPUs in SLI, will satisfy even the craziest of gamers.
The DDR3 RAM will not drag the rest of the system down. The RAM amounts range from 4096 MB to over-the-top 32 GB (although 8 GB is more than enough). Which hard disk to choose will be a harder decision to make. Classical HDDs with 7200 rpm fight for the users attention with Hybrid models (which combine magnetic storage space with Flash storage) and modern SSDs (Solid State Drive). Two hard disk in RAID are possible. The 64 bit versions of Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate are available as the operating system. Film fans should pick the optional Blu-Ray drive (burns CDs and DVDs). WLAN and Bluetooth do not require a premium and are already installed in the notebook.
Basically, the M18x is intended for passionate gamers with thick wallets. The basic configuration costs 1999 Euros. Our well-equipped model came to 4449 Euros - upgrades are usually extremely expensive.
The Alienware laptop sticks out of the crowd with its luxurious and optically fabulous case (a definite crowd-pleaser). Buyers can choose to order the model in either red (Nebula Red) or black (Space Black).
The case surfaces (notebook cover, sides and bottom) are supposedly made of anodized Aluminum. However, the hand-rest regions have a comfortable rubber coating. All-in-all, the surfaces leave a high-quality impression. The workmanship is overall very good, although it does have some minor flaws. Still those are only noticeable if one takes a magnifying glass to the laptop.
The case will not get dirty easily thanks to its resistant surface. Only the glossy display falls victim to fingerprints and dust particles. The sturdiness of the case leaves no room for critique, even pushing down on the case strongly will not make it bend. Only the very tightly wound hinges could have been designed better. While opening, the base unit swings along with the display and shaking the base unit causes the display to wobble.
Alienware deserves praise for its extensive lighting elements. Keyboard, touchpad and many other elements can be lighted in any possible color. So even working in the dark will not be a problem. Frequent transportation of the case will be impossible due to its size (43.6 x 32.2 x 5.4 centimeters) and its weight (5.64 kgs).
Connectivity and Communication
Alienware has equipped the M18x with the latest ports so as to make it a good desktop replacement. This extensive connectivity includes, on the left side, four sound jacks, three display ports (VGA, HDMI and Mini-DisplayPort), a Kensington Lock, a RJ-45 Gigabit-LAN port, and two fast USB 3.0 interfaces.
The right side offers two USB 2.0-Ports, an eSATA/USB 2.0-combo and a HDMI-in port. Alienware has placed a 54 mm ExpressCard slot and a 9-in-1 cardreader above the optical drive. The front remains free of ports, and the back only has the power outlet. We would have been completely satisfied if a FireWire port had been included.
The positioning of the interfaces is good. As most of the ports are placed relatively further back, the use of an external mouse should be possible without problems. Still, the placement of a few ports on the back would have been nice.
WLAN a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0 are installed in the M18x right from the start. The optional Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 module delivers 450 Mbit/s, whereas the cheaper 6200 module offers 300 Mbit/s.
The buyer does not have to fear that the M18x will be delivered with tons of bloatware. Thanks to Alienwares decision not to install unnecessary software, the laptop is able to start out of the box at its top speed. The included CyberLink PowerDVD 9.6 can be used to play Blu-Ray discs directly, without needing expensive extra software.
The heart of the software installation is the so-called Command Center. Here, the energy saving options (AlienFusion), lighting (AlienFX), touchpad (AlienTouch), and macro keys (AlienTactX) can be configured.
The delivery package includes plenty of extras. The package includes, other than the 330 W power adapter (1.54 kgs) and the 12 cell battery, an in-depth manual, a black cap, a good mouse pad, and a nice sticker. The notebook itself is hidden under a nice cover. The delivery packaged is rounded off by 5 DVDs (incl. Recovery-DVD).
The guarantee life can range from 12 to 48 months. Hardware support on the next work day is also a nice feature. In addition, the manufacturer also offers accident insurance for a premium.
Good input devices are a must for gaming notebooks. An external keyboard will not be necessary for the M18x, as the white bordered keys, with a nice size of 18x18 mm, offer a comfortable typing feel. Pressure point and stroke distance are also good, and the typing noise is acceptable.
The layout is nice. Alienware included 5 macro keys on the left of the keyboard. The user will need some time to get used to these keys as due to their placement, the main part of the keyboard has also shifted slightly. This will cause quite a few errors while typing at first, but the user will soon get used to the displacement. The sturdiness of the keyboard is sadly not good. There are many spots where the keyboard can be pushed inwards.
The minimally sunken touchpad can be deactivated and is of good quality. We really liked the big size (99 x 56 mm) and the smooth finish. The touchpad is very easy to use and comfortable.
Precision is great and vertical and horizontal scroll bars function without a problem. The multi-touch input is not activated by default and must be activated using the system controls. The two mouse keys should also be improved. The clicking method seemed rather undefined.
Alienware uses a 18.4 inch WLED display for the laptop with a format of 16:9 and a glossy surface. The resolution of 1920 x 1080 is not surprising and the entertainment branch speaks of Full-HD. Thanks to the big display diagonal (46.7 cms) films and games can really come to life.
The picture quality of the installed SEC5448 panel is great. An average brightness level of 221.9 cd/m² will be more than enough for indoors use. Thanks to the low black value of 0.36 cd/m², dark areas do not have ugly grey stripes. The contrast also beats the competition with a value of 736:1 which is offered by very few devices.
The picture has exceptional quality, and any media can be displayed well on the screen. The color space test of the M18x is also good, the sRGB space is completely covered. Only the illumination was second-class: 74% is rather poor, but during practical use this does not seem to be a problem.
The glossy display surface may give better color quality, but in turn, the user must deal with a variety of distracting reflections. Bad positioning of the laptop can cause strong reflections. In extreme cases, the user will have to move or darken the room. Personally, a matt display would have been better choice.
However, the good viewing angle stability makes up for reflections. Horizontally, the picture remains perfect even at big angles. Vertically, distortions in the picture appear faster, still most of the competition has poorer stability.
Processor: Intel Core i7-2920XM
"The best possible performance" - this seems to have been the motivation Alienware had when creating this notebook. The wide range of high-end hardware components available for the M18x is proof of this. Alienware completely disregards dual-core CPUs and picks quad-cores from Intels Sandy Bridge generation for future value. The Core i7-2630QM and Core i7-2720QM quad-core CPUs provide good enough performance for most applications. More expensive models bring fewer advantages. Alienware equipped our test model with the fastest quad-core CPU they had.
The Intel Core i7-2920XM is from the Extreme series and is produced, like all other Sandy Bridge processors, in the 32 nm format. The extremely high performance delivered by this CPU is thanks to its big 8 MB L3 cache (normally CPUs have between 3 to 6 MB). Some programs even profit from the "Hyperthreading" feature, which simulates virtual cores in addition to the four real cores. This means that the processor can simultaneously process up to 8 threads.
The best feature in our opinion is the high clock frequency. The CPU runs at a respectable 2.50 GHz right off the bat. As long as the core load and the temperature of the laptop stay within limits, the CPU clock frequency can be boosted up to 3.50 GHz - an increase of 1000 MHz! That is not all: thanks to the extensive overclocking features placed in the BIOS, the Core i7-2920XM can be sped up even further. There are three practical profiles, which increase the speed of the processor, as in our test model, to up to 4.20 GHz. The power usage is also equally high with a TDP value of 55 W. The weaker quad-cores have a TDP value of 45 W.
Super: Alienware did not forget about the integrated graphics chip of the CPU (HD Graphics 3000). A Fn key combination can be used to switch to this chip, which will save power and thus increase the battery life. Unfortunately, the switch will require the restart of the laptop.
The M18x treated the CPU benchmarks like a walk in the park. In the Single-Core Rendering test of the Cinebench R10 64 bit benchmark, the popular Core i7-2630QM (Alienware M14x) did not stand a chance, with 6346 to 4574 points, the Core i7-2920XM is in the lead by 39%. Even in Multi-Core Rendering, the higher clock frequency played a big role: 23134 to 16545 points - a plus of 40%. Of course, in everyday gaming, the influence of the processor will be less.
|PCMark Vantage Result||18908 points|
|PCMark 7 Score||4579 points|
Graphics card: AMD Radeon HD 6970M X2
The M18x had to offer an expensive duo of the latest graphic cards in SLI or Crossfire (Nvidia and AMD respectively) to match the performance of the strongest desktop GPUs.
The Radeon HD 6970M CF is currently the fastest dual-GPU combo after the GeForce GTX 485M SLI. AMD's 6970Ms are DirectX 11 ready and they have the codename "Blackcomb XT". They are produced with the latest 40 nm process. The graphic cards have over 960 Unified Shaders and while the core runs at 680 MHz, the memory of 2048 MB GDDR5-VRAM is clocked at 900 MHz. The memory interface is well-dimensioned: 256 bit. This will almost never be used to the full extent.
Dual-GPU configurations offer many advantages, the biggest being the higher performance (up to +100%). However, these high performance configurations also come with a few disadvantages. For example, the so-called "micro stutters" caused by dual-GPU systems (caused by the difference between the two pictures created by the graphic cards), can be quite annoying in some cases. Subjectively, these are not noticeable in the M18x, as the Radeon HD 6970M CF manages to process fast enough most of the time (micro stutters only become clearly visible when the frame rate drops under 30 fps).
Another problem of SLI or CF systems is their high dependence on drivers. This is usually clearly noticeable with the latest games as they still lack the proper drivers. The result: the second graphic card does not increase performance or even slows down the performance. In addition, the power usage and temperature emissions rise, which also leads to louder noise emissions.
SLI or Crossfire systems are usually for buyers with an obsession for the best possible performance, and to achieve this, they are usually ready to put out more money and download the latest drivers on a regular basis.
The GPU performance of the M18x is levels above that of other notebooks. The Radeon HD 6970M CF offers amazing performance and currently only the GeForce GTX 485M SLI can beat it. In the 3DMark Vantage bechmark (1280 x 1024), the CF system scored 20126 points, whereas the SLI combo (from the Schenker XMG U700 ULTRA) scored 23082 points with a desktop CPU in the same test (+15%).
Nvidia's "Fermi" architecture enables better "Tessellation" performance (a vital part of DirectX 11). This statement is confirmed by the results of the Unigine Heaven 2.1 benchmark (1280 x 1024). Nvidias GeForce GTX 485M SLI places above the Radeon HD 6970M CF with 78.5 to 63.9 fps (+23%).
|3DMark 03 Standard||106339 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||31864 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard||25671 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||20881 points|
|3DMark 11 Performance||5727 points|
As mentioned before, the case of the M18x can hold up to two hard disks. Alienware offers a wide range of storage solutions: everything, from HDDs, SSDs and Hybrid models, is available for purchase. Buyers can further customize the storage devices by putting them together in a RAID level (0 = increase in performance, 1 = mirroring).
Our test model contained the Samsung PM810, a 256 GB SSD (Solid State Drive). The SSD delivers great performance as attested by the AS SSD benchmark. HDDs can only dream of read and write rates of 253.95 MB/sec and 246.22 MB/sec. The typical access time of a SSD lies around 0.5 ms (HDDs around 20 ms).
The program performance of the M18x will make desktop PCs quiver in fear. Any and all tasks are executed quickly and properly, and pushing the notebook to its limits is incredibly hard. A quad-core processor and two high-end graphic cards ensure top-of-the-line performance and long-lasting value. Thanks to the integrated SSD, the M18x broke quite a few records. 18908 points in the PCMark Vantage are a clear sign that Alienware has done something right. This is what buyers should expect from ultimate desktop replacement notebook!
We have already pitted the Radeon HD 6970M CrossFire system against the GeForce GTX 485M SLI once before: Detailed Comparison. So, in this test, instead of trying out a variety of games, we checked four of the most popular and latest games.
The performance-hungry Ego shooter game, Crysis 2, has set many standards and is one of the biggest hurdles for mobile graphic cards. A resolution of 1920 x 1080 and the setting "Extreme" will force most notebooks to their knees. However, the Radeon HD 6970M CF fights fiercely and manages to deliver an average frame rate of 43.3 fps, a very good result. The use of a single Radeon HD 6970M lowers that display rate to 30 fps.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
The M18x deals with the slightly outdated graphic engine of the popular Call of Duty series easily. 4x anti-aliasing (AA), 8x anisotropic filtering (AF), Full-HD resolution and details at level "Extra" are no problem for the Radeon HD 6970M CF system: the laptop runs the game at 94.8 fps. Nvidia's GeForce GTX 485M SLI manages a better score of 119.0 fps (+26%).
|Call of Duty: Black Ops|
|1920x1080||extra, 4xAA, 8xAF||94.8 fps|
Blizzards successful sequel can be enjoyed by gamers in its full splendor on the M18x. The intro scene for the mission, "For the Swarm", ran fluidly with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and a setting of "Ultra". The Radeon HD 6970M CF performs faster than the GeForce GTX 485M SLI in this game: 82.3 to 65.9 fps (Nvidia's GPUs perform 25% slower).
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Even the eternal Call of Duty competitor from DICE did not manage to break the M18x. The game was knocked out of the park with a frame rate of 93.4 fps, despite the high settings: 4x anti-aliasing, 8x anisotropic filtering, Full HD resolution and high details. The SLI competition is slightly faster with 96.8 fps.
|Battlefield: Bad Company 2|
|1920x1080||high, HBAO on, 4xAA, 8xAF||93.4 fps|
Verdict Gaming Performance
Gamers will weep for joy when they see the performance this 18 inch beast can deliver. AMD's Radeon HD 6970M CF has more than enough juice to run the latest games with maximum resolution and details fluidly. Graphic improvement features such as anti-aliasing can be switched on without a problem. The two graphic cards promise to deliver amazing performance for the next few years, so the buyer will not have to worry about future games.
Nvidias GeForce GTX 485M SLI lies in front of the AMD Crossfire solution, but the AMD graphic cards offer a better price-to-performance ratio. Still, potential buyers should take a good look at desktop PCs before deciding on this laptop, as there are many PCs which offer equally good performance for a much lower price.
|Crysis - GPU Benchmark (2007)||48||fps|
|Crysis - CPU Benchmark (2007)||44.8||fps|
|F.E.A.R. 2 (2009)||157.7||fps|
|Anno 1404 (2009)||140.9||fps|
|Colin McRae: DIRT 2 (2009)||86.1||fps|
|Need for Speed Shift (2009)||64.9||fps|
|Resident Evil 5 (2009)||120.5||fps|
|CoD Modern Warfare 2 (2009)||118.3||fps|
|Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010)||93.4||fps|
|Metro 2033 (2010)||35.8||fps|
|StarCraft 2 (2010)||82.3||fps|
|Mafia 2 (2010)||90.2||fps|
|Fifa 11 (2010)||328||fps|
|Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)||94.8||fps|
|Crysis 2 (2011)||43.3||fps|
This is one of the few weaknesses of the M18x. Under load (games and 3D applications), the cooler fans operate at a clearly audible level. This high noise emissions can even drown out the sound of quieter game genres (adventure or strategy). Under full load, the M18x is extremely noisy - from a distance of 15 cms we measured around 54 dB(A) (severe).
The notebook is comfortably quiet when less performance demanding programs (Office, Internet, video etc.) are running. The cooler fans even turn off completely from time to time. When the notebook is idle, the cooler fans turns up temporarily only to switch off again. This can be annoying and we would have preferred to have them running constantly, but at quieter level. Noise sensitive users will probably not be very happy with the M18x.
28.6 / 33.4 / 35.7 dB(A)
||37.8 / dB(A)|
||43 / 53.8 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: Voltcraft SL-300 (15 cm distance)
The M18x performed well in this test. In idle mode (the dedicated graphic cards off), the surface of the base unit warms up to a moderate level of 31°C. Surprising: the average temperature actually sinks when the Radeon HD 6970M CF are active and the laptop is under heavy load. The surface however warms up slightly to around 32°C which is still relatively very low. The hand-rest regions do not warm up much, and so the M18x is well-suited for longer gaming sessions.
The hardware components had to prove themselves in a stability test which latest a few hours (Furmark and Prime). While the processor performed as expected, one of the two graphic cards reduced its clock frequency from 680/900 MHz to 100/150 MHz temporarily. This "throttling" only occurs under unrealistic conditions (full load for multiple hours), so the user does not need to fear a decrease in performance in everyday use.
(+) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 35.8 °C / 96 F, compared to the average of 39.6 °C / 103 F, ranging from 21.6 to 68.8 °C for the class Gaming.
(+) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 37.9 °C / 100 F, compared to the average of 42.3 °C / 108 F
(+) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 30.8 °C / 87 F, compared to the device average of 33.2 °C / 92 F.
(+) The palmrests and touchpad are cooler than skin temperature with a maximum of 29.9 °C / 85.8 F and are therefore cool to the touch.
(±) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 28.8 °C / 83.8 F (-1.1 °C / -2 F).
The sound system of the M18x was created in cooperation with the company Klipsch. Alienware has installed two speakers (front of the laptop) and one subwoofer (case bottom). The sound quality of this 2.1 speaker system is quite good. In comparison to other laptops, the sound is voluminous and strong. The bass is also clearly audible. The high volume level helps intensify the audio experience. In short: external speakers are not necessary. Any users who still want to connect external speakers, will definitely be happy with the "Surround" sound output (5.1 analogue & 7.1 digital via HDMI or S/PDIF).
Most gaming notebooks can not deliver high run times. Thankfully, the M18x is not part of this group. Thanks to the strong 12-cell battery (96 Wh) and the automatic graphics switching technology, the notebook can also run free from the wall socket for long periods of time. The battery life, when the laptop is idle, is especially impressive. We used the Readers test from Battery Eater and found a result of six hours and 16 minutes (minimum brightness and all energy-saving options turned on).
The laptop lasts 3.75 hours when used for surfing on the internet via the WLAN module, with maximum brightness and moderate energy-saving options. Mobile film playback is also possible with the M18x. Our test DVD ran a total of 3.5 hours. However, when the Crossfire system is switched on, the battery life sinks immediately. The Classic test from Battery Eater showed a result of 57 minutes with maximum brightness and minimum energy-saving options. So, the use of Intel's HD Graphics 3000 is recommended for users who are not constantly gaming.
The power usage varies strongly, depending on which of the two graphic solutions is currently active. Intel's HD Graphics 3000 makes the notebook consume 19.2 to 28.2 W when idle and 67.1 to 132.1 watts under load. AMD's Radeon HD 6970M CrossFire system lead to a higher power usage of 39.9 to 53.0 W (Idle) and 182.7 to 315.9 watts (load). This level of power usage is similar to that of a desktop PC.
|Off / Standby||0.3 / 0.6 Watt|
|Idle|| 19.2 / 25.8 / 28.2 Watt|
182.7 / 315.9 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max: Voltcraft VC-940
In the beginning, we were skeptical of the M18x. Alienware's 18 inch "monster" does not exactly fit into any of the current trends, and most buyers do not go above the 17 inch range. However, after our in-depth testing of this laptop, we have to conclude that the M18x has a lot of potential.
Of course, the laptop is large and heavy (more than 5 kgs!). So a mobile gaming platform is out of the question. Still, the performance delivered by this notebook has no equal in the laptop world. Regardless, of what the task is, the M18x can do it. Thanks to Intel's Sandy Bridge processor and AMD's Crossfire system (two Radeon HD 6970Ms), passionate gamers can play any game at maximum details.
The M18x offers much more than good performance. The display and the sound system are both very good, and the extensive connectivity offered on the high-quality case ensures that the M18x can serve well as a replacement for the everyday desktop PC. Another positive feature is the great battery life, which is achieved thanks to the graphic switching technology.
The M18x has very few flaws. Besides, its heavy weight and large size, the noise emission could be a problem for noise-sensitive buyers. Otherwise, this luxurious desktop replacement laptop has been designed very well by Alienware. The M18x sets standards for other notebooks. However, whether or not the Alienware M18x is more useful than a desktop PC is a question which can only be answered by the buyers themselves.