After the slew of Ultrabooks we have tested at ITProPortal, we thought it was about time we looked at something right at the other end of the spectrum. And we couldn't get much further from featherweights like Toshiba's Portege Z930-10Q and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon than the Alienware M18x. This is a massive 18in-screen laptop (the clue is in the model name) that weighs in at a mammoth 5.41kg, and is as deep as some 13in models are wide. But it also has the kind of performance and specification that will leave many desktops cowering with inadequacy.
Being from Alienware, this is clearly a portable aimed at the (very) serious gamer, and the component parts reflect this extremely well. The M18x can be purchased with quite a hefty selection of options, too numerous to go into here, with the bare minimum beyond what most notebooks offer as their top selection. For example, only quad-core processors are available. Our particular sample sits somewhere in the middle of the range. The processor is Intel's Core i7-3740QM, a quad-core CPU with a nominal clock speed of 2.7GHz. But of course this is a rather unimportant figure, as Turbo Boost 2.0 allows a single core to run at 3.7GHz when required, and all four cores can exceed the nominal rating at the same time. To complement this desktop level of CPU performance, the M18x comes with a whopping 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 memory. This is as much as some 3D graphics workstations come with, and there's an option to upgrade to 32GB too.
The Core i7 processor is from Intel's Ivy Bridge range, but you wouldn't expect a system like this to rely on the latter's much-improved HD 4000 integrated graphics. In fact, the M18x is so far beyond this level it really shows how far integrated graphics would have to go to be any real challenge. Again, Alienware offers lots of graphics options, and our M18x sits near the top end with a pair of AMD Radeon HD 7970M chipsets arranged in CrossFireX parallel configuration. Each chipset has its own 2GB of GDDR5 memory, giving the M18x enough graphics grunt to drive its 18.4in display smoothly in most games at its native resolution. However, the HD 4000 chipset is still available, and you can switch to using this if you need to conserve power, although this requires a reboot, which isn't the case with Nvidia's Optimus technology.
Speaking of that screen, it is pretty impressive. This is one display for which the native 1,920 x 1,080 resolution does not equate to pixels that seem too small. Viewing angles are superb and colours are beautifully contrasted. The screen does have a glossy finish, so isn't ideal for usage in bright conditions. But whilst we would criticise this in a business notebook, the gamer's tendency to operate in near darkness makes it less of an issue. Audio is also in keeping with the huge screen. There's a Creative Sound Blaster Recon3Di chipset, and the stereo speakers are assisted by a subwoofer. You can crank up the volume and receive an experience on par with a mid-range iPod dock, but if this isn't good enough there's digital 7.1 output via the S/PDIF port and HDMI for an external surround speaker setup.
Storage is pretty standard, however. The Seagate Momentus 7200.5 has a healthy 750GB capacity and 7,200rpm rotational speed, but there's no solid state disk on board, not even a small one for use as a cache. There are SSD options for the M18x, but they do add quite a bit to the price. The LG CA40N optical drive, however, is a DVD rewriter and Blu-ray reader, so you will be able to take full advantage of the screen resolution with HD movie media.
The keyboard has a very pleasant action, although touch-typing is unlikely to be your main usage. It is attractively lit in your chosen colour, with an extra row of function keys on the left, a full numeric keypad on the right, and a full set of dedicated multimedia keys on the top right. The trackpad is reasonable, with soft but responsive buttons, although we suspect gamers will switch to a mouse most of the time. The trackpad edges are lit to match the keyboard.
The M18x is absolutely brimming with ports, all of which are on the left and right, with just the power connection at the rear. The left houses twin headphone minijacks, so you can listen with a friend, a microphone minijack, the aforementioned S/PDIF digital output, two USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA and LAN. This would be most notebooks' usual port array, but the right houses yet more, including a relatively rare HDMI input, a combined USB 2.0 and eSATA port, two more USB 3.0 ports, the SD card slot, a 54mm ExpressCard slot, and the slot-loading optical drive. Our sample also came with the optional Killer Wireless-N adapter, which prioritises gaming traffic over your wireless connection, improving latency.
Performance results for the M18x are, unsurprisingly, stunning. In fact, this is the most powerful notebook we have ever tested, particularly when it comes to graphics. The Maxon Cinebench R11.5 rendering score of 6.96 is faster than any other desktop replacement system we've seen, beating both the Toshiba Satellite L855-118 and P850-12Z by over 10 per cent. Graphics abilities are streets ahead, though. The M18x's Cinebench OpenGL result of 69.68 is twice as quick as any notebook we've benchmarked, and the score of 10,152 in 3DMark11 is over five times quicker. So this system will easily play the latest games at screen resolution, with high quality settings.
You are probably assuming that this kind of performance will only be possible when the M18x is attached to the mains, and mostly this is true. Our 100 per cent utilisation test, which runs processor and graphics flat out until the battery is exhausted, lasted 77 minutes. So you would get slightly over an hour of intensive gaming on battery at best. However, the situation is a bit more optimistic if you want to work on the move or enjoy multimedia that the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics can cope with.
Running MobileMark 2007, the M18x lasted 242 minutes, which isn't stunning, but is no worse than other desktop replacements, and implies you could word process, or perform other light office tasks, for as much as four hours. The M18x lasted 178 minutes of MobileMark 2007's DVD playback test, too, which again isn't outstanding but at least means you could watch an entire film on the move. That is, assuming you can find a padded bag big enough to transport this absolutely massive notebook.
The Alienware M18x is a beast of a notebook. In fact, the category of notebook doesn't really do it justice. It also comes at a beast of a price, with our configuration exceeding £2,500. But if you are willing to pay a small fortune for a portable gaming system that will give even high-end desktop owners reasons to be jealous, there are few options more powerful than the M18x.
Manufacturer and model
2.7GHz Intel Core i7-3740QM
16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000 and 2x AMD Radeon HD 7970M in CrossFireX configuration
750MB Seagate Momentus 7200.5 7,200rpm SATA hard disk
LG CA40N Blu-ray reader and DVD rewriter
18.4in WLED TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
1 x USB 2.0 / eSATA combo, 4 x USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, VGA, HDMI output, HDMI input, LAN, 2 x headphone, microphone, S/PDIF, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
436 x 322.5 x 54.7mm
1 year NBD