Alienware's M18x, Part 1: NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580M in SLIby Dustin Sklavos on October 3, 2011 11:50 AM EST
Stuffing in the Kitchen Sink
While I will readily admit I fell in love with the Alienware M17x R3 while I was testing it, using the M18x has left me feeling a bit cold. That may seem unusual given that stylistically it's virtually identical to the M17x R3 (much less the rest of the Alienware mobile lineup), but hear me out.
At first glance the M18x is simply a bigger M17x R3, and many of our remarks on that unit apply here. There's an added rubber accent to the lid near the hinge, and the number of exhaust vents on the back has doubled to cope with the increased thermal load of running an overclockable CPU and a pair of 100-watt GPUs. With the increased fan size, the M18x is also thicker than its "little" brother, and Alienware makes use of the extra chassis height by adding an ExpressCard/54 slot (something I wish they'd included with the still meaty M17x R3).
Where things get hairy is when you open the M18x. The screen is still 1080p, but at 18.4" that suddenly seems ever so slightly less impressive than at 17.3". The slight decrease in PPI isn't really a huge issue since getting better than 1080p is still fairly difficult even on desktops, and 1080p at 18.4" on a regular desktop monitor is next to impossible to find. You'll notice the keyboard and media controls above it are also identical to the M17x R3, but unlike the M17x, there's no 3D display option. We're not sold on 3D by any stretch, but 120Hz panels are still a benefit (all else being equal), and with 580M SLI the M18x can viably handle stereoscopic 3D gaming; you'll have to go with an external 3D display for such use.
Having had a chance to play with the M18x and M17x R3 a bit more, though, I do have a fairly major complaint with the design of the chassis. The average user is going to want to rest his wrists on the palmrests above the speakers, but the problem is that the contour there is a hard edge that digs into your wrists a bit. You'll have to adjust your posture and approach when you use the keyboard to prevent these from becoming painful.
My other issue with the keyboard, however, is specific to the M18x, and I can see this being hotly disputed by a couple of users in the comments. For the record I'm not a fan of keyboards that have gaming shortcut keys which line up with the sides of the keyboard proper, like Logitech's G series; I still cling fervently to my Microsoft/Razer Reclusa despite the fact that it's out of production. The reason for this is that when I need to hit the Control key, I just let my hand drift to the bottom left of the keyboard and I'm good. Likewise, with the Escape key, I drift to the top left. In my muscle memory I know the keyboard by both the classical home row, but also by the borders. My point is that when working with the M18x's keyboard, I found myself routinely hitting the gaming shortcut keys when I wanted one of the normal keys because they throw the whole keyboard off-center.
And then there's the sheer size of the M18x. For my personal computing needs I use both a 17.3" Alienware M17x R3 (I confess, I picked one up for myself after the last review) as a mobile workstation and my 11.6" ThinkPad as a netbook/writing system, and the distinction works out beautifully. I can understand the need for big notebooks, yet the M18x seems too big by any measure. I've felt that way about Clevo's X7200 notebooks, but the feeling really gets hammered home when you can look at the M18x and then the M17x R3. The M18x is huge, adding two pounds on top of the already portly M17x R3, and despite the support for dual-GPU configurations and insanely fast extreme edition processors I still feel like the extra mass is beyond the pale.
Of course, many of these are matters of taste and your mileage may vary. You're not going to find configurable gaming shortcut keys on most other gaming laptops, and the keyboard is still light years better than anything you'll get on a Clevo. And say what you will about the lighting, but until you've played with it and decided you were going to be the only BMF walking around with a laptop that glows violet, you can't truly say it's tacky.
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rsandoz - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkWhat about the case?
I believe the m17xr3 is plastic.
The m18x has an aluminum case. I actually own this with 6790 CF. This one was of the deciding factors as I have own the m17xr1 and m17xr2. When I saw the r3 had a plastic case much like my m11xr1 with cracking hinge problem, I decided against it. Didn't want to talke a change on cracking hinges again. Probably not the case, but an aluminum case feels much more solid.
rsandoz - Monday, October 3, 2011 - link<<Wish I could edit posts. Spell corrected.>>
What about the case?
I believe the m17xr3 is plastic.
The m18x has an aluminum case. I actually own one with 6790 CF. This one was of the deciding factors as I have owned the m17xr1 and m17xr2. When I saw the r3 had a plastic case much like my m11xr1 with cracking hinge problem, I decided against it. Didn't want to take a chance on cracking hinges again. Probably not the case, but an aluminum case feels much more solid.
Dustin Sklavos - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkThe M18x's case only has an aluminum plate on the lid and aluminum trim, at least as far as I can tell. I honestly didn't find the build quality to be radically different enough from the M17x R3 to merit mentioning.
rsandoz - Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - linkMy main cause for concern was the "after 6 or so months factor". Does the m17xr3 have a cracking hinge issue after 6 months. I had an m11xr1 and after 8 months the hinges cracked internally. Felt like the ultimate hooptie laptop. Plus the plastic case has more scratches on it than my m17xr2.
Death666Angel - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkSeeing how this is pretty much a desktop in most terms, I would like to know what kind of PSU is shipped with the unit. Also, could you provide power consumption while gaming/stressing the system with the different setups? I'd be interested in the difference between the nVidia and AMD GPUs used here. :-)
Otherwise, a good review and a monster of a laptop. Nothing for me though.
Ushio01 - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkBuy the Core i7-2860QM instead it has same base clock with higher turbo boost and a 10W lower TDP for $500 less.
JarredWalton - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkThat doesn't make a review "meaningless". The TDP is simply maximum power; in most loads you won't hit that level. As for saving $500, sure, go for it, but remember you'd also give up overclocking of the CPU. If you're already willing to spend around $3500 for this sort of notebook, what's another $500 to boost CPU speeds from 2.5GHz base and 3.6GHz max to 3.5GHz base and 4.2GHz max. With GTX 580M SLI, you'll probably actually realize a performance improvement from the CPU overclock in games.
Ushio01 - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkSorry I never meant the review was worthless in itself just the out of date CPU.
JarredWalton - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkUnderstood, but I'm pointing out that the overclockable CPU might be worth the upgrade price, at least if you're willing to spend this much in the first place (I'm not). The i7-2860QM has the same base clock, but unfortunately the laptop Alienware sent is using the earlier i7-2920XM instead of the newer i7-2960XM. Either way, the XM model CPUs will get you unlocked multipliers and the ~$500 28x0QM chips won't.
aznofazns - Monday, October 3, 2011 - linkI'm not sure you'd run into any significant CPU bottlenecks with a stock i7-2860M, though.
The argument that the $3500 already spent justifies the additional $500 for the unlocked multiplier doesn't really make sense. The $3500 is a sunk cost. It's already gone and shouldn't affect the decision to spend more on the CPU.
The real question is... what is the marginal benefit of the 2920XM over the 2860M? Would you really be seeing significantly higher framerates? I'd say probably not. The dual GTX580M's in SLI would still be the bottleneck for gaming at 1080p, unless I'm mistaken.