If you could design a fantasy gaming notebook, there's a pretty good chance you would wind up with the Alienware M18x R2. Starting at $1,999, this notebook is jam-packed to the gills with awesomeness, including a beautiful 1080p display, dual Nvidia GTX 680M cards, and dual Samsung SSDs. Our configuration costs a whopping $4,454, but you shouldn't let a little thing like money come between you and sheer gaming bliss.
The M18x R2 is simply a beast, with a 2.4-pound power brick that weighs as much as some Ultrabooks. And that's appropriate, given that this rig looks like it ate a few of them for breakfast. The M18x R2 features a fingerprint-resistent anodized aluminum lid with a raised, striated panel that adds visual and tactile depth to the design. The backlit chrome alien head in the center of the lid is trademark Alienware.
Alienware covered the palm rest in a comfortable soft touch rubber finish, while the keyboard is encased in a shiny black brushed aluminum. A small, backlit alien head sits above the keyboard, along with a backlit control panel with buttons for volume, mute, play, pause, Wi-Fi and the Alienware Command Center.
The 17.2 x 12.7 x 2.05-2.12 inch M18x R2 weighs in at a whopping 12.6 pounds, which is expected from a gaming rig this big. Still, this machine makes both the MSI GT70 (16.8 x 11.3 x 2.17 inches, 6.8 pounds) and the Origin Eon 17S (16.2 x 10.8 x 1.65-1.79 inches, 6.2 pounds) seem positively puny by comparison.
As you might expect, the M18x R2 allows users to trick out the keyboard, Alienware logos, control panel, speaker grilles and touchpad in a multitude of colors. The AlienwareFX software also includes a pair of effects (Pulse and Morph) that can be altered by adjusting the tempo speed. AlienFX continues to be one of our favorite apps, proving itself to be almost as entertaining as loading up a game.
Simply beautiful. Once you start looking into the M18x R2's 18.4-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display, it's hard to look away. As we blasted our way through a gang-infested nightclub in "Max Payne 3," we were bombarded with opulent purples and golds. Our jaws dropped as time slowed and we watched our bullets hit our enemies in a gory ballet of bright-red blood and gore. Cutscenes were just as gorgeous, showing off the wear and tear on the face of a drug-addled Max Payne as he dealt with his demons.
The screen burst to life while watching the 1080p "Samsara" trailer. We felt like we were actually in India, gazing at a breathtaking view of a series of temples surrounded by lush green jungle canopy. A nighttime volcanic explosion painted the sky in blood-red clouds punctuated by bright orange flecks of lava. The display's wide viewing angles allowed three staff members to comfortably watch the trailer. They noticed a slight washout, but not enough to detract from the overall beauty.
At 255 lux, the M18x R2 comes in slightly higher than the 250 lux desktop replacement category average. The Eon 17S and the GT70 registered 205 and 262 lux, respectively.
Audio on the M18x R2 is superb. Dialogue during "Luther was loud and clear, allowing Idris Elba's heavy British accent to coat the room. When it came to music, the THX TruSound software in the Sound Blaster Recon3Di control panel delivered robust and well-balanced sound. As we listened to "Sometimes I Wonder," both Jill Scott's and Darius Rucker's vocals melded into a gratifying duet. The normally soothing keyboard was lively and sensual.
Despite the subwoofer, the notebook is a little light in the bass department. Trying to adjust the bass only succeeded in distorting an otherwise beautiful track.
However, the M18x R2 redeemed itself during "Max Payne 3," delivering rich, remorseful violins during the opening credits. In the first chapter we heard lively banter and casual music of a cocktail party devolve into screams, gunfire and a tense drumline. During the nightclub scene, there was heavy bass-driven techno coupled with Max's grisly, but muted, inner dialogue. We switched between a revolver and a Micro 9mm SMG with a sharp click that was almost as gratifying as the heavy blast of gunfire juxtaposed against the delicate sound of gun casings hitting the pavement.
The notebook will produce decent audio without TruStudio enabled, but we found that the technology adds a layer of warmth and depth that the Klipsch speakers lack.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like the rest of the notebook, the M18x R2's traditional keyboard is massive. Not only does the backlit keyboard feature a full number pad, it also has a set of five macro keys. The top key switches between three setups, enabling gamers to access 15 macros on the fly.
The keys are nice and big with firm, springy feedback. Combined with the soft-touch palm rest, the M18x R2 is one of the more comfortable notebooks we've typed on. We notched 52 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test with an 1 percent error rate. That's noticeably higher than our normal 45 wpm/1 percent error rate.
The 3.9 x 2.2-inch Synaptics touchpad has a ton of space for our fingers to glide, pinch-to-zoom, and two-finger rotate. The space was hardly needed since using multitouch gestures was such an accurate, fluid experience. Highlighting text and navigating documents and websites was also a breeze. Our only real gripe is that the discrete mouse buttons feel slightly mushy.
For such a big notebook, the M18x R2 manages to keep things nice and cool. The touchpad measured a temperate 77 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad after streaming a full-screen episode of "Rocko's Modern Life" on Netflix. The space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook were also relatively cool at 86 and 85 degrees, respectively.
The thermostat barely moved as we started playing "Batman: Arkham City." The touchpad, space between the G and H keys and underside measured 76, 83 and 84 degrees, respectively. We were able to watch videos with the M18x R2 resting comfortably in our lap for well over an hour.
The 2.1-megapixel camera in this Alienware captures video and stills in 1920 x 1080. The webcam delivered accurate color in both natural and fluorescent lighting. However, the images weren't as sharp as we would have liked. We noticed that the camera failed to capture many of the sequins on our shirt and there was a noticeable amount of graininess in a photo.
The M18x R2 is simply loaded with ports. A pair of USB 3.0 ports sit on the right along with a combo eSATA/USB 2.0 slot, HDMI in, a 9-in-1 card reader and a slot-loading Blu-ray reader. The left side of the notebook houses another pair of USB 3.0 ports, a mini-DisplayPort, HDMI out, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, a secure lock and jacks for headsets, headphones, a microphone and S/DIF. The AC adapter jack is on the notebook's rear.
Gaming and Graphics
Gaming on a notebook has never made us feel so giddy. Outfitted with dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M GPUs with 2GB of VRAM, the Alienware M18X R2 is like the 1985 Chicago Bears defensive line -- mean, powerful and quite capable of knocking you on your ass. In those instances when you have to do some actual work, the notebook switches to its Intel HD Graphics 4000 card. However, we wished the system came with Nvidia's Optimus technology so the rig would switch modes automatically.
The M18x R2 dropped some seriously impressive numbers in "Max Payne 3." At maximum settings on 1920 x 1080p with Antialiasing at 8X, the M18x R2 delivered an average of 43 frames per second. When we kept the Antialiasing at 8X and dropped the settings down to high, we got 60 fps; switching to Normal, we saw 84 fps.
The M18x R2 dominated the competition during our benchmark testing, scoring a jaw-dropping 10,117 on 3DMark11. That's 7,518 points above the 2,659 desktop-replacement category average. The Origin Eon 17S and its single Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M GPU with 4GB of VRAM notched 6,014. The MSI GT70 0ne276US and its 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 675 GPU delivered 3,651.
During the "World of Warcraft" test, the M18x R2 notched an incredible 410 fps on autodetect at native resolution (1920 x 1080p). That's light- years above the 168 fps average. The GT70 and the Eon 17S were neck and neck with 231 and 232 fps, respectively. When we maxed the settings out, the M18x R2's frame rate dropped to 201 fps, more than twice the 87 fps average. The GT70 scored 137 fps while the Eon 17S notched 129 fps.
Not even the notoriously taxing "Batman: Arkham City" could slow the M18 R2's stride. The notebook notched 86 fps on low at native resolution, crushing the 64 fps average. The Eon 17S and the GT70 managed only 69 fps. When we cranked the game to maximum, the M18x R2 notched a ridiculous 70 fps. That's more than twice the 33 fps desktop replacement average. The GT70 scored 44 fps, and the Eon 17S could muster only 30 fps.
Powered by a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-3820QM with 16GB of RAM, the Alienware M18x R2 can definitely take care of business. During PCMark 7, the M18x R2 scored 5,495, well above the 3,524 category average. That was also enough to top the MSI GT70 0ne276US (2.3-GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM), which scored 4,983. However that wasn't enough to beat the Origin Eon 17S 5,602, which came with a 2.9-Ghz Intel Core i7-3920XM.
The M18x R2's dual 256GB Samsung SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration booted Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit) in 29 seconds, beating the 0:54 second average. The GT70 and its dual 128GB SSDs and 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive clocked in at 0:32. The Eon 17S burned past the competition with 0:17, thanks to its dual 128GB SSDs.
During the File Transfer Test, the M18x R2 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in a blistering 12 seconds. That translates into a 424.1 MBps transfer rate -- 377.7MBps above the 46.4 MBps average. Once the files were cached, however, the M18x performed the test in only 6 seconds for an unbelievable transfer rate of 848.2 MBps. The GT70 and Eon 17S notched a "ho-hum" 282.7 and 254.5 MBps respectively.
When we ran the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the M18x R2 paired 20,000 names to their matching addresses in 4 minutes and 4 seconds. It was enough to top the 4:14 average and the GT70, which notched 4:44. However, the Eon 17S finished in a speedier 3:17.
Having dual GPUs is great for playing games, but lousy on battery life. During the LAPTOP Battery Test, the Alienware M18x R2 lasted a short 2 hours and 57 minutes with the discrete GPUs enabled. However, this rig clocked 5:03 when we ran the test on integrated graphics mode. This was more than enough to outlast the Origin Eon 17S' time of 2:35. The MSI GT70 0ne276US clocked in with 4:27.
Software and Warranty
Alienware's slim software package keeps the focus where it needs to be -- gaming. However the company does include alien-themed software to optimize and customize the computing and gaming experiences. AlienFusion creates custom power profiles for just about every situation. AlienTouch lets users disable/enable the touchpad, while Macro Keys handles color and moveset configurations for the five macro keys.
AlienAdrenaline was one of the more useful programs. We liked having the ability to set up custom profiles for specific games. For example, when we clicked the"Max Payne 3" shortcut, the utility automatically launched FRAPS and switched the keyboard to our Max Payne setup.
Our $4.454 review unit has a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-3820QM CPU with 16GB of RAM, dual 256GB SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration and dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M GPUs with 2GB of VRAM.
What, you mean you can't afford that? In that case, the $1,999 base model features a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. The $2,599 model has similar specs to the base model but ups the ante with 8GBB of RAM, dual 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration and Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
Each year, Alienware keeps outdoing itself in terms of performance, and this year's M18x R2 is no different. Its dual Nvidia GPUs, dual SSDs and gorgeous 1080p display put the M18x in a class by itself. The customizable lighting and booming audio just add to the fun. If you have the means, this gaming notebook is absolute perfection.