Game Rant is only starting to get into looking at gaming rigs for hardware reviews, partly of it is because PC gaming is bigger than ever and continuing to grow. Just look at the amount of available games over the holiday season versus what came out on the old and new gaming consoles and look how popular Minecraft and Free-to-Play games are on PC (Warframe, League of Legends, etc.). Many of these are making their way to consoles, but PCs still offer the highest graphics potential, the largest feature sets.
Of course, for the growing popularity of generating Let’s Play videos or livestreaming gameplay, PC is still #1. Before the new year, we looked at a desktop gaming center from Lenovo and for our next review we’re looking at something a little more mobile in a gaming laptop – “little” representing the keyword.
Alienware has long been in the game of offering powerful and custom gaming hardware for players, and now under the umbrella of Dell (since 2006), they’re still doing what they can to offer eye-grabbing machines that offer incredible power. If you’re a PC gamer, Alienware should be a familiar brand and if you’ve been to video game trade shows and events, chances are you’ve seen and played on their hardware. One such machine is the Alienware 18 laptop, or as we like to call it, “the beast.”
The video up top does a fair job of describing the power and specs of the Alienware 18 – a machine we were able to spend several weeks with – and it comes in multiple tiers ranging from the low $2000s to above $4000 depending on what you’re looking for, all of them featuring 1080p, 4th Generation Intel Core i7 Processors, Windows 7 Premium (you can upgrade to Win 8) and all of them coming with the brand’s signature AlienFX Lighting Zones. The video also talks about some of the Alienware 18 highlights, from cooling, extra keyboard functions and the built-in Alienware control center software.
It doesn’t however mention the most obvious aspects of the beast laptop – it’s size. When we first got hands on with the Alienware 18 we called it a monster, and not because it’s more powerful than most of the desktop PC workstations and gaming centers we use, but because it’s massive. Even the power brick is huge. Almost too massive to be truly portable. Think of it as a thinner desktop that lays down sideways and has a built-in keyboard and monitor – that’s essentially what it is.
PC gamers who need the most extreme power available, who travel to LAN events or for whatever reason need portability of a workstation that can play the most demanding software may have their answer in the larger Alienware laptops. Just don’t actually put it on your lap.
The Alienware 18, since it’s gaming focused, still uses the more gamer-friendly Windows 7 (Home Premium) by default. We tested Battlefield, MechWarrior Online, the Star Citizen hangar module, Minecraft and MMOs including Neverwinter and World of Warplanes without a hitch at the best possible settings. Frame rates kept at or above 30FPS when using recording software applications including Bandicam and Fraps at 1080p, making the machine that much more appealing to YouTuber ‘Let’s Players’ or gamers who livestream their gameplay via Twitch or Ustream. It does all of these things as best as they can be done on a laptop.
The drawbacks on the hardware side come from the form factor and not the insides. If you’re buying an 18-inch laptop, the expectation is that it’s going to be oversized in terms of width, but the thickness of the machine is a big turn off. With its 2.26″ thickness, using the Alienware 18 means that you’re typing and playing on a keyboard that sits 3x higher on your desk. It can be uncomfortable for your wrists and forearm. The design is too big and appears dated when putting it (or its slightly smaller Alienware 17 counterpart) side-by-side with the 17-inch gaming laptops from Razor (the 17-inch blade is .88 inches thick) and MSI’s even thinner GS70 (0.85 inches thick).
Dimensions & Highlights
- Height: Front: 2.23 in (56.71mm) Rear: 2.26 in (57.50mm)
- Depth: 12.909 in (327.89 mm)
- Width: 17.972 in (456.50 mm)
- Starting at weight with optional SSD: 12.064 lbs. (5.472 kg.)
There are four USB ports, two on each side, for all your gaming accessories, and an Ethernet port in case you need it for LAN. With the amount of options, the Alienware easily earns its spot at the center of a gaming room, with plenty of room to attach peripherals. For us, that meant gaming mice, a Logitech joystick, the Razer Tartarus Gaming Keypad, etc.
The Alienware 18 comes with plenty of options and users can opt in to upgrade various elements, most notably the RAM up to 32gb. There are two video card options with the higher tier one being the Dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M with 3GB GDDR5. Our model features the lesser GTX 765M with 2GB GDDR5 and it can play and and all currently available games but the 3GB options helps future proof the already-impressive hardware.
As for the software, the loaner unit we tested came with super-popular League of Legends pre-installed and we of course took it for a run with a variety of games mentioned above. Unique to the Alienware brand however is the Alienware Command Center. It’s insanely easy and fun to use, allowing users to customize the lighting of their machine by section. The keyboard for instance has five areas that can light up in any color they choose from a color wheel. It even allows for color patterns (i.e. pulsing lights). The lights on the exterior sides and even the Alienware logo can be given different colors as well, further emphasizing the Alienware 18 (and other-sized models) as gaming showpieces.
The Alienware Command Center isn’t just about pretty AlienFX lights however, as it also includes systems for setting up macros (for the extra macro keys on the keyboard), customizing power plans and the touchpad (which also lights up). The AlienAdrenaline system also lets advanced users setup custom profiles for their games and applications, letting them pre-define performance and display settings for each app.
The Alienware 18 may be too big and too pricey for the average user but it’s not designed for the average user. It’s top-of-the-line specs, over-the-top lighting features and oversized everything make it unique and powerful and that’s what it wants to be. We really do wish it was thinner for keyboard-use reasons but it can do anything and everything a PC gamer would want from a high-end machine, for an equally high price.
The Alienware 18 is available now in a variety of models. Find out more from the official site here.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.