Introducing the Alienware M18x R2

Around the launch of the Alienware M17x R3, Alienware essentially bifurcated its high end notebook offerings into single-GPU (the M17x R3) and dual-GPU (the M18x). The M17x R3 was slimmed down from its beefy predecessor and the M17x actually remains one of the sleeker desktop replacement notebooks available. The M18x had to take its place at the top of Alienware's stack, then, as their contender for the most powerful gaming notebook on the market.

That contention continues with the M18x R2, which like the M17x R4 we recently reviewed is more of an incremental update than a fully-fledged new design. The R2, like the R4, brings with it an Ivy Bridge CPU and a pair of Kepler-based NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M GPUs in SLI. As we saw, NVIDIA made fantastic gains with the 680M over the 580M; if that didn't impress you enough, you may want to hold on to your hat because two 680Ms in SLI are liable to blow your mind.

If you're having trouble getting psyched about this monster, I don't really blame you. We reviewed a pair of Alienware M18x's last year and came away with mixed feelings. Performance was as fast as you could ask for, bar none, but the M18x really pushes the limits of just how big a gaming notebook can get. It's heavy enough that it can be uncomfortable on your lap or even to cart around from place to place, and I've even personally recommended to people shopping for gaming notebooks to go with the smaller M17x. The M17x is easier to move around, can benefit from Optimus instead of having to stick to switchable graphics (that demand rebooting), and I actually prefer not having the gaming macro keys.

Of course, those macro keys and the potential for SLI may swing some users. If you're one of those users, the M18x R2 may be for you, so let's dig in.

Alienware M18x R2 Gaming Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-3820QM
(4x2.7GHz + HTT, 3.7GHz Turbo, 22nm, 8MB L3, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 4x4GB Hynix DDR3-1600 (Max 4x8GB)
Graphics 2x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M 2GB GDDR5 in SLI
(1344 CUDA cores, 719MHz/3.6GHz core/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Display 18.4" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
Samsung 184HT (SEC5448)
Hard Drive(s) 2x Samsung PM830 256GB SATA 6Gbps SSD in RAID 0

(includes open mSATA slot and third 2.5" drive bay)
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (HL-DT-ST CA30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Killer Wireless-N 1103 Network Adapter
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio SoundBlaster Recon3Di (CA0132) HD Audio
Stereo speakers with subwoofer
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Battery 12-Cell, 11.1V, 97Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side ExpressCard/54
Slot-loading optical drive
MMC/SD/MS Flash reader
2x USB 3.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
HDMI input
Left Side Kensington lock
Ethernet port
2x USB 3.0
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Back Side AC jack
2x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 17.17" x 12.7" x 2.09-2.15"
436mm x 322.5mm x 53-54.7mm
Weight ~11.93 lbs (5.41kg)
Extras 2.1MP Webcam
Backlit keyboard with 10-key and programmable macro keys
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB 3.0
SoundBlaster Recon3Di with THX TruStudio Pro
Configurable lighting
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,999
Price as configured: $4,304

One thing's for certain, the Alienware M18x R2 as we have it in for review does not come cheap. Its starting price of $1,999 for just an i7-3610QM and a single GTX 660M is pretty high to begin with, and the upgrades are all pricy. This is another one of the reasons why I tend to recommend the M17x over its bigger brother, but if you absolutely must have the most performance you can cram in a notebook, pricetag be damned, obviously this is the way to go.

It's rare to see an Ivy Bridge CPU like the Intel Core i7-3820QM floating around in the wild. While top-end CPUs like the i7-3770K easily find their way into desktops, most notebook vendors are content with entry level chips like the perfectly adequate i7-3610QM. The i7-3820QM is a respectable piece of kit, though, boasting a nominal 2.7GHz core clock and able to turbo up to 3.5GHz on all four cores or even an impressive 3.7GHz on a single core. That means that despite the low 45W TDP, the i7-3820QM is actually able to ramp up clocks to the point where it's competitive with last generation's desktop quad cores and nip at the heels of chips like the i7-3770 non-K.

What we're really here for are the pair of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M GPUs in SLI. As I mentioned in the M17x R4 review, the silicon is basically a die-harvested GK104 identical to a desktop GeForce GTX 670 but with reduced clocks. Interestingly, it seems Alienware is getting different 680Ms than boutiques, as the pair of 680Ms in the M18x R2, like the M17x R4, only have 2GB of GDDR5 instead of 4GB. I don't consider this a drawback at all; even the desktop GTX 680 has a very difficult time utilizing more than 2GB of GDDR5, so the extra 2GB just winds up being mostly a waste. I'd rather have just the 2GB of GDDR5 than gain maybe a frame or two at the cost of additional power and heat.

The pair of 256GB Samsung PM830 SSDs in RAID 0 is impressive and mightily fast, though I continue to be skeptical about the value of putting SSDs in a striped RAID. Alienware leaves the M18x expandable, though; there's an mSATA slot and a third drive bay if you need it.

Ultimately though, the M18x R2 is as much an incremental update over its predecessor as the M17x R4 was, so the pro's and con's from that shell still essentially carry over here. The addition of mSATA is appreciated, as is the Killer Networks wireless-n, but the Creative sound chip is more of a "well, that's nice" inclusion, and nothing about the shell itself has really changed. Even the display panel is the same. If you own a first-generation M18x, you may not be missing that much here.

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  • Silma - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    The conclusion is a bit flawed though.

    A. You don't buy a gaming computer to play today's games. You buy it to play today's games plus games in the next 3 years.

    B. There is a display port. When at home you may want to play on a 30" 2560x1600 screen and still want a laptop because you are often on the road.
  • A5 - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    If you want to play for 3 years, don't buy a laptop.
  • Meaker10 - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    The M18X supports intel XTU.

    The 3820QM is partially unlocked allowing you to add +400mhz to each turbo boost frequency (4 core, 2core and single core). You can also adjust TDP limits.

    If you upped the frequency by 400mhz and the TDP limits up to 75W short and 60W long then you could see for sure.
  • Steveymoo - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    Unless that screen refreshes at 120hz, I would have a hard time justifying spending this much money on a gaming laptop, even if I had all the money in the world. It's bulky, heavy, noisy, and hot, and all games are naturally capped at 60fps because of the LCD panel. There comes a point where the diminishing returns make the practicality of such a product null & void. Sure, you can say it's probably future proof, but graphics will only seriously improve when next gen consoles come out. By then, dx12 will have been released, and we will see another 1 or 2 generations of video cards from both AMD, and Intel.

    So, I have to ask, who exactly is wasting their hard earned cash on these laptop configurations?
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    I'm one of those who 'wasted' their hard-earned cash on an M18x R2.

    Yes, the screen is the low-point (in the daylight), and yes I'd like more resolution, but no choice. Other than Crapple, who else does a better screen now, for this sort of machine?

    Anyway, it is not noisy, and for the 70% of the time I'm not gaming, completely silent too. I have to run Sandra SiS, or something to provoke the fans to any noticeable level. Even gaming the noise is quite acceptable. The girlfriend's MacBook is actually louder in everyday use, I kid you not. When her fans spin up, I hear it clearly over my usage.

    Hot? Where? Do you sit near the back by the fans?

    Games do run over 60fps, whilst it not noticeable on the screen, it is from the mouse, in feel / fluidity of play. E.g. MW3 is capped at 91fps, if I sync every frame, then yes it will run at 60fps. At home, I use the VGA output to my 3D screen, and it looks lovely. Not a fan of hdmi.

    Heavy, it is kind of, but with the Alienware backpack, I must say, it is quite manageable, and I am a frequent traveler. In 6 weeks, this M18x R2 has been to Thailand, Saudi, Venezuela, UK, and Thailand again. No problem. Even my previous was an 18.4"er, and I carried that across the globe for 2yrs.

    Price? We are not talking about the price difference between a new GTR, or a Ferrari, 'tis just a couple of grand more than a competing quality notebook, and not every household is short of money, I can tell you.

    I can also justify it, as our in-house software is heavy on cpu / memory requirements, and sometime the databases I need to run bring the supplied Core 2 duo laptops to their knees. So, I went with Crossfire, 3920XM, 16GB 1866MHz RAM, dual SSDs in RAID0, and this machine thus performs admirably when I get to site, running 4.4GHz on all four cores, all day. I know of some that run theirs higher.

    Its a real talking-point when meeting new customers too.

    Still waiting for AMD/ATI to finalise their drivers though (no 680Ms in mine, dual 7970Ms), so gaming can be hit-miss sometimes, but I hear this will be solved next month.

    Have a nice day.
  • bji - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    I cannot even look at the pictures of this Alienware. It is so ugly that it hurts my eyes.

    Also, Anand doesn't respond to his email, so don't bother ever emailing him. Not sure why he even puts his email address up on this site.
  • AstroGuardian - Monday, October 1, 2012 - link

    If i was Anand i wouldn't even bother to reply most of the stupid emails, but would use the time to reply to constructive emails.
  • tphillips63 - Thursday, May 2, 2013 - link

    It depends on what your subject is. I and many others have email conversations with him over the years. I can tell you he does answer cogent emails on subject.
  • DeeeNYC - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    Aside from a pro gamer or people who are always going to LAN parties I don't even see the point in something like this.
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    Frequent travelers, such as myself, don't have the option to own a desktop, and indeed I just sold my last desktop, because of the dust gathering on it. (but I still prefer desktops, and would have one again, if I was stationary enough)

    I also hear people living away at Uni, like to use them too, as they can have large screens for watching movies, and pack up and go home for the holidays with their computer too.

    Don't forget others needing mobile workstations.

    And thus, for those of us who need raw power & portability, this is the only way to go.

    Also, you can pack it away in 5ms, when having parties / people over to visit, can't do that with your tower & screen & keyboard quite as easily...

    I hope that elucidates you.

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