REVIEW: Alienware 18

With dual graphics, top-of-the-line processing power and an 18.4-inch full HD display, the Alienware 18 is one of the most complete gaming laptops on the market today. But power comes at a price, with the machine starting at £2,299 and maxing out just north of £2,548 (all prices include VAT).

10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ALIENWARE 18

  1. The Alienware 18 is about as far removed from the current trend of thin and light laptops as you can get. Some might consider it the ugliest laptop they’ve ever seen, while others will salivate at the sci-fi inspired chassis and myriad of flashing lights. The overall design looks like an 1980’s throwback – there’s not a single piece of brushed aluminium in sight – and it weighs a back breaking 5.47kg, which is three times your average 15-inch model, but under the hood the Alienware 18 is a gaming powerhouse like no other.
  2. Whether you like the design of the Alienware 18 is personal, but there’s no denying its hardware. Offering a decent level of customisation, all four model variations come with factory-overclocked 4th Generation Intel Core i7 quad-core processors, an 18.4-inch WLED (white light emitting diode) display (1920×1080 pixels), at least 8GB of DDR3 1,600MHz system memory (upgradable to 32GB), a slot-loading dual layer Blu-ray drive, and run Microsoft’s Windows 8.1. All good so far…
  3. Similar to other Dell machines, the Alienware 18 offers a small range of build options. The most significant is a choice of GPUs, with dual options for both nVidia (GeForce GTX 880M) and AMD (Radeon R9 M290X). The dual nVidia option complete with 16GB total GDDR5 memory is the highest-performing configuration and helps to future-proof the machine the longest, although both configurations can handle the latest blockbuster games with minimum effort.
  4. Storage is major consideration on a gaming laptop, especially considering the size of current games and the fact that gamers are increasing recording sessions to share on social networking sites such as YouTube. The basic option is a traditional 500GB (5,400rpm) SATA drive, but there is the option to upgrade to a 1TB model, as well as combine the latter with a 256GB mSATA SSD for super-fast boot and application load times.
  5. Size and weight is a big factor with the Alienware 18 and it’s not really designed for frequent travel. Having said that, the machine is built to last. The hinge is designed to be opened and closed up to 20,000 times, a copper heat sinks provides superior cooling enabling longer gameplay at full power, and the three exhaust vents push air from the bottom of the system through the heat sinks out the rear to help ensure optimal heat management. The machine still gets very warm though, and you’ll risk blocking one of the numerous air intakes if you put it on your lap.
  6. Audio is an important feature of a multimedia laptop. Powered by Klipsch speakers, the Alienware 18 delivers a premium 2.1 stereo audio experience rarely heard from a laptop. The subwoofer provides a punchy, rich, full range of sound, and Dolby Home Theater v4 support helps to create a virtual surround sound experience whether you’re listening through headphones, laptop speakers or a home theater setup. Sure it still doesn’t sound as good as even a modest desktop solution, but it’s superior to other laptops and just fine for playing games and watching videos.
  7. You can’t review an Alienware machine without mentioning the AlienFX system lighting. One of the best features of buying an Alienware, custom software lets you create customised lighting and special effects on the laptop’s keyboard (and other kit like an external Alienware mouse and keyboard) to suit your unique gaming style. You can apply 20 different colours to 10 different zones (including rear panel, chassis surround and trackpad) for up to 10,240 billion colour combinations – or turn them off entirely!
  8. The keyboard is large with a comfortable response and there’s the full complement of numpad keys and macro keys that can be programmed using pre-installed software. However, the main issue with typing is that because the laptop is so high – well over 50mm – typing for long periods is uncomfortable unless the laptop is positioned low. And because of it’s size and weight, you can forget about operating it on your lap. The Alienware 18 really is a desktop replacement machine.
  9. Connectivity is plentiful with four USB 3.0 ports, so you’ve got plenty of scope for plugging in a mouse and other peripherals. There’s also Gigabit Ethernet to minimise lag during gaming sessions, and both HDMI and Mini DisplayPort interfaces for hooking it up to a larger screen. Dual Band Wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 are also standard.
  10. Factory overclocked to pack a punch with the most intensive tasks and delivering ludicrous framerates on the 1080p display, the Alienware 18 has features you simply won’t find on your average gaming laptop. It looks outrageous and costs a fortune – a similarly-performing desktop PC could be had for a third of the price – but for high-end gaming and other resource-intensive tasks such as video editing, the Alienware 18 is awesome. Just remember to keep it plugged into the mains power as the 8-cell Lithium-Ion battery lasts a pathetic hour or so.
SUMMARY
  • Looks & performs like no other
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Big, bright, colourful display
  • Above-par audio
  • Insane performance
  • Premium price tag
  • Back-breaking size & weight
  • Can get hot & noisy
  • Glossy screen throws off glare
  • Ridiculous battery life
  • FrodBonzi

    You’re reviewing this laptop 2 years after it comes out… You realize Dell has already discontinued it?

    Saying that, it’s still probably the best laptop (performance-wise) you can buy…

    • Thank you for your comment. Yes, Dell discontinued the Alienware 18 at the end of January 2015. It looks like the company is looking to replace dual GPUs with its Graphics Amplifier product. Shame.

      • FrodBonzi

        Well, they brought it back briefly and added dual 980m as an option… I just wish they’d updated the screen to 1440p and the processor to skylake… oh well :(