I just got to spend the last two weeks writing, browsing the web and playing all kinds of video games on this. The Alienware M18x.
I have never had more fun with a laptop computer in my life.
I know Alienware has a certain reputation amongst PC gamers. That for the most part their flashy desktops and laptops are for the, well, flashy. That you're paying for a brand name, not the computer inside. That if you make your own computer, or even buy from a competitor, you'll be getting a much better deal.
And you know, for the most part, I agree with all that. And think it still applies to the brand's lesser units. But the M18x is not a lesser unit.
Why? It's more beast than machine. The specs on the thing are, for a commercial laptop, mind-blowing. Normally when confronting the idea of seriously playing games on a laptop you have to be prepared to sacrifice performance for mobility. You just can't put all the fans and drives inside a laptop shell that you'd stack inside a roomy desktop case.
The M18x gets around this easily, not by shrinking its components, but by virtue of being enormous. It's over 17 inches wide and nearly 13 inches deep, and if you ever plan on actually picking the thing up off a table, know it weighs just under 5.4kg.
As inconvenient as that may be, it means the M18x has the space to cram enough parts to put most desktop units to shame. My review unit, for example, was a 2.2GHz i7 with 16GB of DDR3 SDRAM, two 700GB hard drives and a pair of 2GB Radeon HD6970M graphics cards. It even has a third graphics card, an inbuilt Intel unit, which you can switch to while in battery mode to conserve power.
So, yes, it could run Crysis. And anything else I threw at it. Over the two weeks I tried Crysis, Shogun 2, Bad Company 2, Mirror's Edge, civilisation V and a host of other games, trying to find something that would slow it down, with no luck. Everything I booted up ran flawlessly on max settings, with the exception of Mirror's Edge, and that's only because the game's PhysX support was never going to work on a Radeon card.
What impressed me more than the insides of the machine, though, was its exterior. Part of my dislike for Alienware over the years has been thanks to the brand's garish case design, but the M18x is, aside from the tacky yet trademark "grills" at the front, surprisingly classy. Most of the exterior is made of anodised aluminium, which in other words is a thick, brushed metal, and it looks great.
Also looking sharp is the M18x's screen, which at 18.4 inches is ludicrously large for a laptop. But at 1920x1080 and with a WLED screen, it's also ludicrously gorgeous.
It's not perfect, however. The keyboard, while eye-catching with its ability to change colours via a control panel, is also annoyingly "squishy", and I had a few bugs pop up from time to time like the computer staying on battery power even after I'd connected the AC supply..
I didn't like the mouse buttons either, as compared to the rest of such a strong, solid unit they felt surprisingly cheap and flimsy.
Not that any of those portable concerns really matter, nor does its battery life, because this isn't a laptop in the true sense of the word. You don't surf the web on your couch with an M18X, or prop it up on your lap while taking the bus to work. It's simply too big and too heavy to make it viable as a laptop computer.
What the M18X is, then, is a portable desktop. Something you can tether to a desk during the week, then at the weekend for a trip away or a LAN party you can just rip this out and whisk it away. Bam. Portable desktop. All the convenience and power of your "regular" PC with none of the cords or transport hassles.
And before you say it's too expensive, I think in the M18x's case that's entirely irrelevant. With this much stuff crammed into a laptop of this size, it's not aiming for mass-market success. Complaining about the M18x being too expensive (prices start at $US2000 and shoot up from there depending on extras) is like complaining about a Rolls Royce being too expensive. It's irrelevant, because the people in the market they're being pitched at simply don't care.
They want the best and they want to look the best, and in this case, that's exactly what they'll be getting.
(If you've got any more questions about the M18x, drop them in comments and I'll do my best to answer them!)
The Alienware M18x is available now from Dell. Prices begin at $US2000.