Dell Alienware M18x 18.4in gaming notebook
Playing away from home
The BF3 test did raise one major annoyance, though. While AMD and Nvidia have improved mobile driver roll-outs in recent years, Dell remains notoriously slow. Both drivers are customised to support hot key and power management functions, and suspend/resume behaviour, so you're tied into Dell’s updates. A critical element of PC gaming, it doesn't augur well that, at time of writing, after six weeks and eight weeks respectively, AMD and Nvidia's latest drivers were unavailable on Alienware's flagship laptop.
Then there's the issue of the battery. The M18x lasted 1 hour 17 minutes on a looping PCMark Vantage test with everything on, and 1 hour 58 minutes when switched to integrated graphics – which, incidentally, requires a reboot every time on both AMD and Nvidia configurations.
Those durations are understandable, of course. Combined, the CPU, dual GPUs and fans pull around 250W from the 96W/hr 12-Cell Li-ion battery, so you'll only get around 20 minutes of gaming. But even that's not an option here as Dell instead automatically underclocks the GPUs with battery use.
Frame rates drop off a cliff, and games need scaling back to low settings to achieve anywhere near the comfortable 30FPS mark – hardly worth it for the extra 20 or so minutes underclocking provides. It might seem harsh to complain. But it's an important point when you can pick up a more powerful desktop for around £500 less. At 5.4Kgs, the M18x's already slim advantage of mobility is further eroded by the constant need to plug it in.
The M18x lives up to expectations. It feels lovingly crafted around gamers' needs, combining superlative design, build quality, aesthetics and scalable power. But it comes at a cost. The review model's price compares reasonably well to other gaming laptops, but component upgrades incur a luxury brand tax, with the top spec costing close to £5k. The real issue, however, is one of positioning. The extra size, weight and power consumption required by the dual graphics cards pushes it into competition with much cheaper desktops. For all it's gaming power, that's one contest the M18x can't win. ®
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