The Alienware M18x Revisited

In our first run with the Alienware M18x, we sat down and took a look at the notebook itself along with NVIDIA's current top shelf mobile graphics part, the GeForce GTX 580M. We came away from the experience with mixed impressions of the M18x itself, a notebook that is by all means incredibly powerful but also seems to lose a lot of the balance that made the M17x R3 so desirable. On the other hand, the GeForce GTX 580M wound up being the fastest mobile GPU we'd yet tested, made only more formidable through the SLI configuration the M18x enables.

Today, Alienware has graciously provided us with the second half of the current top shelf performance equation in the form of a near-identically configured M18x, this time with two AMD Radeon HD 6990Ms in CrossFire. We'll also take a look at the Intel Core i7-2920XM's stock performance and compare it against the overclocked settings Alienware allows you to configure it with.

In a beautiful bit of synchronicity, our Radeon-equipped M18x also uses Alienware's black shell instead of the "nebula red" they equipped our GeForce model with. Other than that, this review unit is going to seem very familiar to those of you who caught the first part of our review. If you missed it, give it a read first.

Alienware M18x Notebook Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2920XM
(4x2.5GHz + HTT, 3.5GHz Turbo, 32nm, 8MB L3, 55W)
(Overclocked to 3.5GHz, 4.2GHz Turbo)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 4x4GB Hynix DDR3-1600 (Max 4x8GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6990M 2GB GDDR5 in CrossFire
(2x1120 stream processors, 715MHz/3.6GHz core/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Display 18.4" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p
Hard Drive(s) 2x Seagate Momentus 750GB 7200-RPM HDD in RAID 0
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo (HL-DT-ST CA30N)
Networking Atheros AR8151 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Audio IDT 92HD73C1 HD Audio
Stereo speakers with subwoofer
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Battery 12-Cell, 11.1V, 97Wh
Front Side N/A (Speaker grilles)
Right Side ExpressCard/54
Slot-loading optical drive
MMC/SD/MS Flash reader
2x USB 2.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
HDMI input
Left Side Kensington lock
Ethernet port
2x USB 3.0
S/PDIF, mic, and two headphone jacks
Back Side AC jack
4x exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 17.17" x 12.68" x 2.13" (WxDxH)
Weight ~11.93 lbs
Extras 3MP Webcam
Backlit keyboard with 10-key and configurable shortcut keys
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Configurable lighting
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year, 3-year, and 4-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting at $1,999
Price as configured: $4,224

There are a couple of major differences between this unit and our last one that are worth pointing out. First, while our GeForce-based system simply had a pair of 750GB 7200-RPM hard drives, this one has them configured in the RAID 0 that Alienware inexplicably seems to love shipping notebooks with. Don't ask me why, I just work here, but hopefully if I keep harping about this eventually they'll offer an SSD+HDD configuration in models that support it--the way they should have been doing for a while now. This is liable to affect PCMark scores somewhat.

The other major difference? The Radeons of course! While the AMD Radeon HD 6970M sported a slightly cut down Blackcomb GPU, essentially a downclocked version of the desktop Radeon HD 6850, the 6990M features a Blackcomb with all 1120 shaders enabled and a minor clock speed bump beyond the 6970M. Compared to the jump from the GeForce GTX 485M to the 580M, this is a bit more substantial of an improvement in raw hardware power. The 6990M features those 1120 shaders and a core clock of 715MHz (up from 680MHz on the 6970M, but down from the 900MHz of the desktop 6870), with 2GB of GDDR5 strapped to a 256-bit memory bus and running at an effective 3.6GHz (down from the desktop model's 4.2GHz clock.)

Since this M18x is otherwise identical to our previous system, we've eschewed retesting the screen and battery life, and our assessments of the unit's design and build quality from the previous chapter still apply. While the two differ in graphics configuration, Alienware uses muxes to switch the graphics hardware on and off, making any differences in running time academic at best. We've also opted to run our CPU-based benchmarks (and the 3DMarks) again using the i7-2920XM at stock speeds to compare performance against the maximum preset overclock Alienware makes available. The net result is a tremendous amount of new data for us to sift through.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • The Crying Man - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Would it be possible to make the Radeon bars red and the Nvidia bars green in your charts? It's pretty minor, but it messes up my ease of reading knowing these companies have their colors.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Done -- I'll send you your bill later.
  • The Crying Man - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Thank you kindly.

    So uh... do you accept monopoly c notes?
  • therealnickdanger - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Real Benjamins are probably worth less... ;-)
  • yelped - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    OK, I just have to arrange a government loan before I go bankrupt.... :)
  • GTRagnarok - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Nvidia's pricing of the GTX 580M is ridiculous.
  • mclazer - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Yeah, it was what kept me from pulling the trigger for a while on the m17x... i wanted the 120hz screen and they wont sell it with the 6990 (I dont care about 3d).

    Dell is selling the model with 120hz screen for 300 bucks less now though.. so I went ahead and ordered one finally after considering the m18x and m17x.

    It kinda sucks that the system that would be able to take advantage of a 120hz screen the most (m18x w/ SLI) doesnt have it as an option.
  • prophet001 - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    This is exactly what I had been wanting to see. As far as comparing the m17 to the m18, another difference is the reduction in the pixel density. I don't understand why Alienware would put this monitor in this laptop.

    Anyway, thank you again.
  • AlexRain1973 - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    The one thing that 580M stands out from the 6990 is their Overclocking capabilities, I've seen what the guys are doing in NBR M18x Forums and it's simply destroying AMD due to the fact that the Nvidia's BIOS is flashable and currently we've seen up to 35% Overclock! that's pretty crazy! It can achieve that due to the Video BIOS and the ability to be able to leverage higher voltage.

    That's where the extra 300 goes ;) (Remember this isn't a consumer type system, it's 100% enthusiasts)

    Righ now, the M18x with 2920/2960 and 580M SLI Setup with Mod BIOS makes for the fastest laptop in the planet, ahead of Clevos with Desktop CPU!
  • Meaker10 - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Good overclocks, just a shame the card is throttling itself.

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