The Alienware M18x is a desktop replacement notebook in the truest sense — it’s powerful enough to replace a desktop workstation, but it’s also as big and as heavy as a desktop PC.
It’s exceedingly powerful and has the ability to handle almost any current-day computing task possible. It’s also very well kitted out in terms of integrated ports, and the screen and keyboard are excellent.
Design and setup
When we unpacked the Alienware M18x, we were astonished with its sheersize. We’d seen it before on the Area 52 roadshow, but with other laptops like the Apple MacBook Pro on hand as a point of reference the M18x does expose itself as a behemoth. It’s 55mm thick, more than double the MacBook and far, far thicker than the new Intel Ultrabook family.
The Alienware M18x has the most input and output ports we’ve ever seen on a notebook. Four USB ports, two of them USB 2.0 and two 3.0, and a single combination USB-eSATA socket join an SD card port, ExpressCard/54 slot and DVD-RW (or optional Blu-ray) drive in making up the expandable storage options, while video and audio I/O are covered with HDMI out and in, VGA, miniDisplayPort, SPDIF digital audio output and headphone and microphone jacks.
The HDMI input is especially valuable. You could plug in a gaming console or even a second laptop to use the M18x’s high quality screen for display.
The Alienware M18x is exceptionally well constructed. Aluminium and high quality rubberised plastics make up the majority of the M18x’s body, and there is absolutely no flex when twisting either the screen or the chassis itself. The keyboard is large with spacious, well laid-out keys that are excellently weighted for either typing or gaming, and the multitouch trackpad is large with the best left and right-click buttons that we’ve used on a laptop.
The 16:9 Full HD screen of the Alienware M18x is glossy, but it’s excellent. It is vibrant and very detailed and has wide vertical and viewing angles, and in anything but direct daylight it performs very well. It’s a slight pity that a matte screen isn’t an option, though.
The M18x comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, although you’ll need to shell out for Ultimate or Professional if you want to use 32GB of RAM. A range of extra Dell and third party software is preinstalled as well.
Specs and performance
The Alienware M18x we tested was a mid-range specification, but you can build one to order on Alienware’s site that is even more of a performance beast. Our test unit had a second generation Intel Core i7 processor, the 2720QM. 16GB of RAM was installed but you can fit up to 32GB, and you can similarly swap the twin 750GB hard drives in our test mule for two 256GB solid state drives in a RAID configuration.
We tested twin Radeon HD 6790M graphics processors in our M18x but the latest incarnation has dual power-hungry Radeon HD 6990M or Geforce GTX 580M chips.
In a laptop chassis, even a big one like the M18x’s, all this equipment makes an impressive statement. Our Alienware M18x was around the £1699 entry level price tag (yep, that’s as cheap as they get), but a fully-specced up M18x with top-of-the-line processor, dual graphics, dual solid state hard drives and RAM will lighten your wallet by a full £4,000.
In any case, the Alienware M18x blitzed our performance tests. It managed a result of 20 seconds flat to create our test Blender file, and iTunes media encoding was equally fast at a blistering 37 seconds. The M18x’s 3DMark06 score of 22411 is amazing, it’s roughly twice as high as the next most powerful competitor we've tested. This notebook is no slouch, and you can customise it to be even more powerful.
Switching between the M18x’s discrete dual graphics cards and the integrated Intel graphics requires a full system restart. That's a minute long wait for the purpose of power-saving, which makes it a bit of a cumbersome process. We don’t expect many users to take the M18x away from their desks, so this isn’t a huge problem.
The fans of the Alienware M18x do get a good workout when the notebook is being used for 3D gaming. When we booted up Steam and tried out Tropico 4, Space Marine, Dead Island and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the slightly-whiny exhaust fan was an ever-present accompaniment. Although the speakers are good, Alienware should consider shipping noise-cancelling gaming headphones with the M18x.
We’re not sure what to think about the battery life of the Alienware M18x. It’s definitely not a good result at 2hr 1min in our battery torture test (where we disable all power-saving, maximise screen brightness, turn on Wi-Fi and loop a DVD movie), but given the size and power of the M18x we’re inclined to think it’s impressive nonetheless.
We ran the test with the full-fat Radeon graphics enabled, because changing to the low-power integrated Intel HD chipset requires a restart. If you’re looking to wring as much life out of the M18x as possible we think you could crack the three hour mark with brightness down and power saving on. The M18x’s internal battery is a 12 cell that can be replaced.
If you’re looking for a proper desktop replacement, replacing a gaming desktop that is, the Alienware M18x is undoubtedly the notebook to pick. It’s massive and has a price tag that’s painful, but its performance is almost unparalleled.