Alienware 18 Gaming Notebook Review (with Intel Core i7 4930MX)

Today we are going to take a look at one of the most powerful gaming notebooks to ever hit the market, the Alienware 18.  This fits in right at the top of Alienware’s range and is one of the most expensive gaming notebooks that is currently available on the market.
Alienware are one of the most well-known gaming notebook manufacturers in the world, especially since they were absorbed by Dell in 2006. We have looked at a number of their gaming notebooks in the past and have generally left with positive feelings, even if can be expensive.
The Alienware 18 can be purchased fully configured on the Alienware website, with the base configuration costing a pound under £2000 inc. VAT.  There are plenty of options which can be added on top, though, which can easily send the cost above £3000.  Our particular sample has a number of additional options including an Intel Core i7-4930MX processor and dual nVidia GeForce GTX 780M GTX graphics cards.
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Specification
  • Display: 18.4 inch (467.36mm) WLED FHD (1920 X 1080) TrueLife Display.
  • Graphics Card: Dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M with 4GB GDDR5 (SLI).
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-4930MX Processor (8MB Cache Overclocked up to 4.3GHz w/ Turbo Boost).
  • Memory: 16GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz.
  • Hard Drive: 750GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s.
  • mSATA Storage: 512GB mSata SSD Boot.
  • Optical Drive: Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-ray Reader (BD-ROM, DVDRW, CD-RW).
  • WIFI Card: 5G WiFi Broadcom 4352 802.11n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0.
  • Keyboard: Backlit Keyboard UK.
  • Warranty: 1 Year NBD with Premium Phone Support.
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit (Windows 8 available at no extra cost).
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The Alienware 18 is supplied in a rather minimalistic black box which features a large Alienware logo in the centre.  It feels very good quality and features a large amount of padding on the inside to protect the notebook within. This box is shipped inside a larger brown box, which offers further protection.
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We were a little surprised at the lack of a generous bundle with this laptop, considering what we have received with previous Alienware models.  In the box, all we find is a small paper pouch containing some user guides and promotional material.
Unlike most smaller gaming notebook manufacturers, Alienware use a custom chassis for the 18.  This has given them much more freedom to create an exciting and unique design.
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The lid and underside of the notebook are finished in anodized aluminium which looks great and should be pretty resistant to damage.  This has a gunmetal-grey finish which is very attractive indeed.  Like most Alienware laptops, the 18 looks like it has been modeled on a stealth fighter, giving it a striking appearance.
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Considering the 18 is Alienware’s flagship machine and boasts a 18.4″ display, it’s not surprising that it is absolutely massive.  It weighs in at around 5.5 KG, meaning portability is quite limited.  We imagine that most users purchasing a machine like this will be using it to game at LAN’s, though, where this isn’t such an issue.
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Opening up the machine reveals a vast expanse of soft touch black plastic which feels very good quality and gives the notebook an exclusive appearance.  It feels pretty hard wearing, so we expect it will resist damage well.
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It’s not surprising that Alienware have decided to incorporate a full size keyboard on this machine considering its vast size.  In fact, the keyboard is even wider than usual as it features an extra column of macro keys along the left.
The keyboard also features backlighting which can be fully configured using the included control panel.  The keyboard is one of the best laptop keyboards that we have ever used and it feels a perfect fit for a high-end machine like this.
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The touchpad is fairly large and is recessed slightly into the palm-rest to help prevent accidental touches.  When you do touch the pad, though, it is illuminated with LED backlights.  Again, these can be configured in the included software utility.  The touchpad is of a similar high quality to the keyboard and is one of the best we’ve experienced.  The surface texture allows free movement of your fingers and doesn’t restrict motion at all.
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There are a pair of speakers are located in the front of the chassis alongside some LED lighting strips.  The speakers are very impressive and offer both decent sound quality and generous volume levels, although a good set of headphones or external speakers would be recommended for the best experience.  The laptop actually boasts a 5.1 configuration which is excellent both when gaming and for movies.
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Alienware have chosen to use a 18.4″ panel in this machine which is about the largest you’ll ever find in a laptop.  Despite the large size of the screen, it still has a thick bezel which shows just how big this laptop really is.
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The viewing angles are pretty good and the screen is very bright indeed thanks to the WLED backlighting.  The 1920 x 1080 resolution is perfect for watching Blu-Ray movies on this machine and is also good for gaming.
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The Alienware 18 features a full complement of connections which should fulfill the needs of most gamers. On the left hand side of the machine we find a Kensington lock slot, a DC-in jack, an HDMI in/out jack, a Mini DisplayPort, two USB3.0 connectors, two headphone jacks and a microphone jack.
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Moving round to the right hand side of the machine we find the Blu-Ray drive alongside an SD card reader, two further USB3.0 ports and a RJ-45 ethernet jack.
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The rear side of the machine is reserved for three large exhaust vents.
Alienware have choen to use a Killer Networks Gigabit Ethernet NIC and a Broadcom 4352 5G WiFi card which also supports Bluetooth 4.0.
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Removing the bottom cover of the 18 reveals a very similar internal layout to previous Alienware machines we’ve reviewed.  The main difference is that Alienware have chosen to use an integrated battery with the 18 which cannot be removed without opening up the whole laptop.
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We can see three large cooling modules inside the 18: the pair on the left cool each graphics card and the one on the right is reserved for the CPU.
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The hard drive and memory are easily accessible under the main cover, as these are the only components that most users are likely to change.
Configuration
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Our sample of the Alienware 18 is based around the most powerful mobile processor currently on the market, the Intel Core i7 4930MX processor, which has been overclocked to 3.1 GHz, reaching up to 4.3 GHz in Turbo mode.  This is a quad core model which supports Hyper Threading, so there are 8 logical cores available.  Our machine also features 16 GB (4x 4GB) of DDR3 RAM which is clocked at 1600 MHz.
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Alienware has chosen to configure this particular machine with dual nVidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics cards which are the most powerful mobile GPUs currently available.  These each features 4 GB of GDDR5 memory and are clocked at 771 MHz.
Testing Methodology
Today we are going to use a combination of synthetic and real world benchmarks to showcase the performance of the Alienware 18.
Specification
  • Display: 18.4 inch (467.36mm) WLED FHD (1920 X 1080) TrueLife Display
  • Graphics Card: Dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M with 4GB GDDR5 (SLI)
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-4930MX Processor (8MB Cache Overclocked up to 4.3GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
  • Memory: 16GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz
  • Hard Drive: 750GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s
  • mSATA Storage: 512GB mSata SSD Boot
  • Optical Drive: Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-ray Reader (BD-ROM, DVDRW, CD-RW)
  • WIFI Card: 5G WiFi Broadcom 4352 802.11n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0
  • Keyboard: Backlit Keyboard UK
  • Warranty: 1 Year NBD with Premium Phone Support
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit (Windows 8 available at no extra cost)
Software:
  • PCMark 7
  • 3DMark
  • 3DMark 11
  • 3DMark Vantage
  • SiSoft Sandra 2013
  • Cinebench R11.5
  • CrystalDiskMark
  • Cyberlink MediaEspresso 6.7
  • VLC Media Player
  • Performance Monitor
  • Unigine Heaven Benchmark
  • Super Pi 1.5 Mod
  • CPUID Hardware Monitor
  • CPU-Z
  • GPU-Z
  • WinRAR
  • DiRT Showdown
  • Battlefield 3
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
PCMark 8 is the latest version in the popular series of PC benchmarking tools. Improving on previous releases, PCMark 8 includes battery life measurement tools and new tests using popular applications from Adobe and Microsoft. Whether you are looking for long battery life, or maximum power, PCMark 8 helps you find the devices that offer the perfect combination of efficiency and performance for your needs.
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pcm8
This is an impressive score for a laptop, showcasing the all round performance of the system.
PCMark 7 includes 7 PC tests for Windows 7, combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. Specifically designed to cover the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops, PCMark 7 offers complete PC performance testing for Windows 7 for home and business use.
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pcmark7
Again, an impressive score for the system.
3DMark is Futuremark’s latest benchmark. It can be used to benchmark and compare everything from mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablets and laptops, to high-end gaming systems. The benchmark is available for Windows, Windows RT Android and iOS.
With 3 separate tests, each of which is intended to be used alongside a specific classification of hardware, 3DMark is a very versatile benchmark. Ice Storm is intended to be used with mobile devices, Cloud Gate is good for use with laptops and home PCs, and Fire Strike can be used to push the performance of gaming PCs.
We used the ‘Fire Strike’ benchmark which is designed to be used on gaming PCs. We opted for the Normal setting, NOT the Extreme mode.
3dmark
3dmark
This test lets us see the excellent video performance of the system.
3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.
After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.
If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.
3dmark11
3dmark11
Again, we see impressive performance for the system, especially in the graphics portion of the test.
Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7. This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.
As we would expect, overclocking significantly boosts the CPU score of the system.
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3dmarkvantage
Another set of great results for the Alienware 18.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software.
Sandra is a (girl’s) name of Greek origin that means “defender”, “helper of mankind”. We think that’s quite fitting.
It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what’s really going on. Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCI-X, PCIe (PCI Express), database, USB, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc.
Native ports for all major operating systems are available:
  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x86)
  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x64)
  • Windows 2003/R2, 2008/R2* (IA64)
  • Windows Mobile 5.x (ARM CE 5.01)
  • Windows Mobile 6.x (ARM CE 5.02)
All major technologies are supported and taken advantage of:
  • SMP – Multi-Processor
  • MC – Multi-Core
  • SMT/HT – Hyper-Threading
  • MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE 4.1, SSE 4.2, AVX, FMA – Multi-Media instructions
  • GPGPU, DirectX, OpenGL – Graphics
  • NUMA – Non-Uniform Memory Access
  • AMD64/EM64T/x64 – 64-bit extensions to x86
  • IA64 – Intel* Itanium 64-bit
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These tests showcase the excellent CPU processing performance of the system.
Cinebench R11.5 is the newest revision of the popular benchmark from Maxon. The test scenario uses all of your system’s processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral “No Keyframes” animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores.
In fact, CINEBENCH can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.
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cr115
Here we can see the benefits of using multi-threaded benchmarks.
Super Pi is used by a huge audience, particularly to check stability when overclocking processors. If a system is able to calculate PI to the 2 millionth pace after the decimal without mistake, it is considered to be stable in regards to RAM and CPU.
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superpi
This test shows off the incredible single threaded performance of the system.
WinRAR is one of the most popular archive manager programs available. It can backup your data and reduce the size of email attachments, decompress RAR, ZIP and other files downloaded from Internet and create new archives in RAR and ZIP file format. You can try WinRAR before buy, its trial version is available in downloads.
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winrar
Here we can see how well the laptop performs in a real world scenario.
The Matroska Media container is a very popular, open standard Multimedia container which is usually found as .MKV files. It is a very popular format in enthusiast circles and can be played directly in VLC or Windows Media Player with suitable codecs installed.
We played our 1080P MKV movie using the latest version of VLC Media Player and measured the CPU usage with the Performance Monitor built into Windows.
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Some very low figures for the 18, leaving plenty of clock cycles for other applications.
CyberLink MediaEspresso 6 is the successor to CyberLink MediaShow Espresso 5.5. With its further optimized CPU/GPU-acceleration, MediaEspresso is an even faster way to convert not only your video but also your music and image files between a wide range of popular formats.
Now you can easily playback and display your favourite movies, songs and photos not just on your mobile phone, iPad, PSP, Xbox, or Youtube and Facebook channels but also on the newly launched iPhone 4. Compile, convert and enjoy images and songs on any of your computing devices and enhance your videos with CyberLink’s built-in TrueTheater Technology.
New and Improved Features
  • Ultra Fast Media Conversion – With support from the Intel Core i-Series processor family, ATI Stream & NVIDIA CUDA, MediaEspresso’s Batch-Conversion function enables multiple files to be transcoded simultaneously.
  • Smart Detect Technology – MediaEspresso 6 automatically detects the type of portable device connected to the PC and selects the best multimedia profile to begin the conversion without the need for user’s intervention.
  • Direct Sync to Portable Devices – Video, audio and image files can be transferred in a few easy steps to mobile phones including those from Acer, BlackBerry, HTC, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Palm, as well as Sony Walkman and PSP devices.
  • Enhanced Video Quality – CyberLink TrueTheater Denoise and Lighting enables the enhancement of video quality through optical noise filters and automatic brightness adjustment.
  • Video, Music and Image File Conversion – Convert not only videos to popular formats such as AVI, MPEG, MKV, H.264/AVC, and FLV at the click of a button, but also images such as JPEG and PNG and music files like WMA, MP3 and M4A.
  • Online Sharing – Conversion to video formats used by popular social networking websites and a direct upload feature means posting videos to Facebook and YouTube has never been easier.
For our testing today we are converting a 1.43 GB 720p MKV file to Apple Mp4 format for playback on a portable device using the Applepreset. This is a common procedure for many people and will give a good indication of system power.  Hardware acceleration was enabled to give you a good idea of system wide real world performance.
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This time is impressive and shows the incredible real world performance of the system.
According to EA, Battlefield 3 garnered 3 million pre-orders by the day of its release. It is unknown at present whether these figures are worldwide or just for the US. The pre-order total makes it “the biggest first-person shooter launch in EA history”, according to the publisher. The engine is beautiful on the PC and very demanding of the partnering hardware.
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We used the settings illustrated in the screenshot above for testing.
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An excellent framerate achieved at very high settings.
Black Ops 2 is the latest episode in the Call of Duty franchise and is one of the most popular games of the moment.  It uses an updated version of the IW engine, used in previous Call of Duty games, which isn’t particularly demanding.  This makes it ideal for testing mid-range gaming systems like this.
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We used the native screen resolution at the settings illustrated in the screenshot above.
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Another incredible results for the Alienware 18, showcasing the amazing gaming performance of this system.
Dirt Showdown is the latest title in the franchise from Codemasters, based around the famous Colin McRae racing game series, although it no longer uses his name, since he passed away in 2007.
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We used the settings illustrated in the screenshot above for testing.
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Once again, the 18 really impressed us with its gaming performance.
We measured the noise level of the system while loading the CPU using Prime95 and GPUs using FurMark. We also recorded the noise level with the system idling at the desktop.
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The system is almost silent when idle and only really becomes noisy when gaming.
We measured the temperatures of the system while loading the CPU using Prime95 and GPU using FurMark. We also recorded the temperatures with the system idling at the desktop.  The ambient temperature was maintained at 20 degrees C for the duration of our tests.
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These temperatures are well within tolerances for the components and reflect the decent cooling performance of the system.
To test the battery life we put the machine through two real world situations.  Firstly we tested the machine while browsing the internet with WLAN enabled (General).  Secondly we tested the machine while gaming with SLI and full brightness active.
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We would expect the 18 to last long when gaming, however the performance in the general test was impressive for a laptop of this nature.
We measured the power consumption of the system at the wall while loading the CPU using Prime95 and GPU using FurMark. We also recorded the power consumption with the system idling at the desktop.
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This laptop consumes a lot of juice under load, but less than a high end gaming desktop system would.
There’s no denying that the Alienware 18 gaming notebook is a very powerful system targeting the high end audience who want a desktop replacement.  It offers significantly more power than many desktop PC’s we have reviewed this year and there are few laptops out there which will be able to compete.
We love the design of the Alienware 18, it is very dramatic and will attract the eye of people close by which is exactly what a gamer will want when spending a lot of money.  The use of anodized aluminium and soft-touch plastic give the 18 an exclusive look and feel which could only be rivaled by a Macbook Pro.  The integration of customisable LED lighting is ensure to entice those gamers who like to show off at LAN events, too!
Alienware have obviously spent a lot of time perfecting the touchpad and keyboard as they are among the best we have ever used.  They are a far cry from the cheap and rattly keyboards that we find all too often on Clevo based gaming machines.
While the specification of the 18 will vary wildly depending on how much cash you are willing to spend, we would recommend that you upgrade the warranty.  As standard, the 18 only gets a year of cover which we don’t think is enough when you are spending this kind of money.
At a price of around £3,500, our fully loaded version of the 18 won’t suit everyone’s budget, however even the £2000 base system will offer excellent performance and is well worth considering if you’re in the market for a high performance gaming notebook.
Configure your own over here.
Pros:
  • Massive screen.
  • Unique aesthetics and lighting.
  • Outrageous performance.
  • Excellent build quality.
Cons:
  • Short standard warranty.
  • Expensive.
Puppy says: An amazing notebook that is more powerful than many desktop systems available today.
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