Record-breaking performance; Comfortable keyboard; Awesome lighting effects; Beautiful 1080p display
Front edge can dig into your wrists; Obscenely expensive
Packing the best of everything -- including two state-of-the-art GPUs -- the Alienware 18 is the quintessential gaming notebook.
What do you get when you put the best of everything into a notebook? The Alienware 18.
Packing the newest and most powerful Intel Core i7 processor, the newest and most powerful Nvidia GPUs -- two, for good measure -- as well as 32GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, this 18-inch system simply crushes all before it. However, it will also crush your bank account, as this configuration costs a cool $4,399 (although it starts at a more reasonable $2,099). Is it worth the investment? Absolutely.
Gone is the black, soft-touch lid, in favor of a silver-colored anodized aluminum. Two light bars extend diagonally from the lower corners toward the middle of the lid, with a glowing alien head at the top middle.
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Instead of two alien-eyelike lighting zones, there are now two thin light bars that start on the front edge, just below the speaker grilles, and extend around both sides. It's more subtle and sleeker than before, but still makes this notebook pop.
Weighing 12.2 lbs. -- 15.4 lbs. with the power brick -- the Alienware 18 defies the notion of "laptop." When we were finally able to find a bag large enough to accommodate its 18 x 12.9 x 2.3-inch dimensions, we nearly threw our back out trying to carry it home.
The AlienFX section of the Alienware Command Center utility makes it remarkably easy to change the lighting: Simply click on a lighting zone, and then select a color. Even cooler are the Pulse and Morph effects, which allow you to make the lights change from one color to another, or flash on and off.
Alienware has also partnered with several popular game developers that have agreed to create custom profiles for specific titles. The company currently offers 60 titles, including "Metro: Last Light," "Orcs Must Die! 2," "Hotline Miami" and "World of Tanks."
Keyboard and touchpad
In addition to the four macro keys above the number pad, to the left of the keyboard is a column of five macro buttons, as well as a Mode Shift button above that allows you to program up to 15 commands. It's great for gamers, but we also wish Alienware included dedicated volume controls -- something it phased out from last year's design.
When playing "World of Tanks," we felt as though we were on the actual WWII battlefield. We loved the way the sun glinted off the metal turrets and bathed the war-ravaged towns in afternoon light.
Yet, just like when we reviewed the Alienware 14, we wish the 18 were just a bit brighter. To be sure, its measured brightness of 254 lux was higher than the desktop-replacement average of 247 lux, as well as the MSI GT70 (240 lux). However, when you're spending more than $4,000 on a notebook, you want retina-searing brightness. The Toshiba Qosmio X875, for instance, measured 305 lux, and the Alienware 17 was 307 lux.
Games, too, benefit from the audio. The roar of the cannons and the grumble of our diesel engines in "World of Tanks" had a real visceral quality.
The Dolby Home Theater v.4 control panel let us adjust audio profiles, switching from Movie, Music and Game presets to our own custom equalizer settings. Like with the lighting effects, it's easy to spend hours tweaking these settings.
Ports and webcam
The 2-MP webcam on the Alienware 18 is capable of capturing stills and video with resolutions up to 1920 x 1080 pixels. A photo we took of ourselves revealed a fair amount of detail and accurate colors, but there was a bit of visual noise present.
On 3DMark11, the Alienware 18's score of 11,642 was nearly three times as high as the category average of 4,155. The MSI GT70, which has a single Nvidia GTX 780M GPU, had held the record of 7,352 for about five days.
"World of Warcraft"? Fuggedaboutit. On the maximum settings, the Alienware 18 averaged 168 frames per second. That's about 60 fps higher than the MSI GT70, and about 70 fps higher than average.
Even on more demanding games, the Alienware 18 barely broke a sweat. On "Bioshock Infinite," the system averaged 80 fps at its native resolution and with graphics at their highest setting. That's about twice as high as the MSI GT70 (44 fps), as well as the category average (35 fps).
And when you can turn all the eye candy on, boy do games look gorgeous. Every whisp of smoke, tree leaf and ripple in water looked incredible when playing "World of Tanks." And with its massive 18-inch screen, we were completely enveloped in the action.
Here, the lighting effects also came into play: Because there is a profile for "World of Tanks," all of the lights would change to orange, green or blue depending on the situation, or flash red when our tank was hit or destroyed. It helped take the sting out of losing -- somewhat.
After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the Alienware 18's touchpad was a cool 78 degrees F, the space between the G and H keys was 86 degrees and the middle of the underside was 84 degrees.
On PCMark 7, the Alienware 18's score of 6,199 topped that of the MSI GT70 (6,025), and was about 3,000 points higher than the desktop average (4,325).
The 512GB Samsung 841 SSD in the Alienware 18 was also equal to the task, duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files in 19 seconds, for a rate of 267.9 MBps. That's more than twice the category average of 106MBps. The MSI GT70 had a speed of 463 MBps, but that's because its two 128GB SSDs are configured in a RAID array.
As it runs 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium, and not Windows 8 -- something we're thankful for -- the Alienware 18 takes a little longer to boot.
The Alienware took 3 minutes and 40 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice -- 20 seconds faster than the GT70, and more than a minute faster than average.
As a result, the system lasted just 2 hours and 30 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). That's about two hours less than both the desktop-replacement average (4:14) and the score for the MSI GT70 (4:18).
One tradition that Alienware continues -- and that we like -- is that the company puts a bare minimum of excess software on its notebooks. You won't find annoying trials for anti-virus software or shortcuts to websites cluttering the desktop.
You mean you can't afford a second mortgage on your home? In that case, the Alienware 18 starts at a not-unreasonable $2,099, and includes a 3.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor; 8GB of RAM; a 750GB, 7200-rpm hard drive; and dual Nvidia GTX 765M graphics in SLI, both with 2GB of memory.
The Alienware 18 will come with a 1080p, 18.4-inch TrueLife PLS panel, which will provide a 25-percent increase in contrast ratio over the panel that came with our review unit.
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|CPU||2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4900MQ|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||32GB|
|Hard Drive Size||512GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size||750GB|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed||7,200-RPM|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||4X|
|Graphics Card||Dual Nvidia GTX 780M GPU in SLI|
|Wi-Fi Model||5G WiFi Broadcom 4352 802.11n/ac|
|Touchpad Size||3.9 x 2.25|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Kensington Lock|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone/Mic|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI-in/out|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Card Slots||9-1 card reader|
|Size||18 x 12.9 x 2.3 inches|