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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  • Pathfindercod - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Ive had my 18 for a month and my 14 for 3 weeks. My 18 has the 4800 cpu, 780 sli, 16gb ram, I took out the stock 750gbd hd, put two 512gb Samsung 840 pros' and a Plextor 256gb mSATA. I absolutely love this 18, it is pretty amazing for a laptop. My 14 is quite impressive for a 14" laptop, the 1080p panel is great IMO. I did calibrate them with my Spyder 4 Elite, but they are great panels in both of the machines. Reply
  • Pathfindercod - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Oh and Alienware cant seem to keep up with demand... This is my first real Alienware computer and im happy i decided to get one. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Conspiracy!

    Notice how the 780M scores 7,970 points in Fire Strike? 7970. Yeah, right!

    (tongue planted firmly in cheek)
    Reply
  • xTRICKYxx - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    I wish the panel was 2560x1440 or something high-res in that respect. Even a 120hz panel would have been better than the IPS. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    In most games it looks like 780m SLI wouldn't be fast enough to feed either of those options reasonably well. Only half the games scored well above 60 FPS, and since going to 2560x1440 would roughly double the amount of work very few would be playable at the higher resolution.

    Depending on what, if anything, the new consoles do to put upward pressure on the performance of top level systems we might be able to do that with next years die shrunk mobile GPUs. Then again if new games end up doubling the amount of GPU they demand we'll still be stuck in the same situation. Maybe nVidia/AMD will get 3way GPU support working well enough to create even more massive laptops that could do it in that case.
    Reply
  • kogunniyi - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    How does your impression of the build quality of the 17/18 stack up with that of any of the workstations you have tested? Reply
  • boeush - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    In concordance with what xTRICKYxx posted previously, I also find the measly 1080p resolution on an 18"+ laptop monitor, just plain offensive. Never mind that it's a glossy monitor, and with a rather ho-hum color gamut and contrast to boot -- in a system that (when fully tricked out) costs $4,000+ (not including tax and shipping...) The monitor on this thing is nothing short of a flat-out insult.

    Never mind that the chassis is over-sized for both the monitor and the keyboard (or, conversely, the monitor and the keyboard are under-sized for the chassis.)

    And really, who the hell needs 32 GB or RAM? And who'd need the hard drive when there's 512 GB of SSD available? These seem like pretty stupid choices to me. I'd rather have that space taken up by a larger battery (maybe something like 50% larger): lord knows, the chassis is big enough to accommodate it!

    On the whole, this design seems like a bunch of cost-cutting compromises and design block reuse, in a system that's supposed to be a top-of-the-range, aspirational, halo product. FAIL
    Reply
  • boeush - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Oh and also, forgot to mention: why, WHY, would anyone configure a premium performance-oriented system like this, with DDR3L-1600 memory??

    Seems to me, 2400 ought to be the minimum here (and yes, 16 GB of RAM would still quite suffice at least for the next 5 years or so...)
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Probably because that's the fastest sodimm widely available. Mobile memory isn't generally available in faster than official JDEC speeds. I just checked Newegg, they had 84 sodimm items at 1600, 9 at 1833, and none at higher speeds. The low number of available sodimms at that speed means Dell would probably be concerned about sustaining availability if they offered them. The lower voltage doesn't really do much in laptop as power hungry as this, but it doesn't hurt either; and it's probably significantly cheaper for Dell to use the same 8GB dimms in this beast as the other 99% of 16GB laptops where the lower voltage is a benefit. Reply
  • boeush - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Well, DELL being an OEM (with rather large production volumes), ought to be able to source the memory it needs directly from manufacturers -- without having to go through retail channels (and eat the retail markup) like Newegg. Apple does it, and its customers pay the premium for the resulting premium products. That arrangement makes sense. Alienware wants to charge a premium for its product, but cuts corners on design costs? FAIL

    Also, even if 2400 is for some reason impractical using today's manufacturing processes, at least provide 1833 if not 2133 -- both of which are actually available even through the retail channel (and really, there is no point in going with low-voltage memory on a performance-oriented laptop with friggin' SLI...)
    Reply

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