Reviews
Alienware 18 800 Series Review (Early 2014)
Gaming at Warp Speed

By Seán O'Sullivan - July 31st, 2014

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With a starting price of $2,299, the Alienware 18 has priced itself out of the range of consumers who base their computer purchases based on whatever items are on display at Best Buy. Which is just as well, because the Alienware 18 isn’t for those people – it’s unabashedly for gamers who want a powerful rig, but want the convenience of an all-in-one setup. If you’re the kind of gamer who feels tangible discomfort when you have to set graphical settings to anything lower than ‘maximum’, the Alienware 18 should be right in your wheelhouse.

This year’s update sports the same case as the model I got to test drive last year, and I’m still enamoured with its sturdy hinge, solid construction, and 18.4″ IPS display, which provides impeccable viewing angles (should you need to share the screen). There’s a welcome proliferation of ports too, including HDMI In/Out, and Mini DisplayPort in addition to four USB 3.0 slots. It’s built to last, and the parts that your hands spend their time perched on have a just-grippy-enough rubberized finish. The keys and track-pad buttons alike have great travel and resistance, and thankfully neither make much racket, even when you’re pounding the keys.

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Ominous. Freaky Cool. Powerful. Like Ricky Lima, but more plasticky.

One of the more immediately apparent features is the trademark coloured LEDs that glow beneath the surface of the hardware. The keyboard, track-pad, Alienware logo and case trim can be configured to be as garish or muted as you like using the bulit-in AlienFX software (there is even a setting for strobing between colours); but even using the default settings, I found the glow just made using the Alienware (even for mundane tasks, like web browsing) feel like more of an experience. There are a handful of games that control these lights to great effect, like Hotline Miami (blasting you with red light as your character gets covered in blood), or Metro Last Light (which dims the light as you skulk around in the shadows). It’s a subtle enhancement, but its absence in the majority of my Steam library was disappointing (particularly when I had left on a gaudy rainbow pattern while playing something dark and foreboding).

Unsurprisingly, for a system that’s designed to handle new AAA titles with ease, the Alienware 18 absolutely chews through everyday tasks. Programs launch with nary a glimpse of a splash screen, bouncing between media-heavy Chrome tabs is free of hiccups, and it can boot in a few seconds – and resume from suspend even faster. It’s startling levels of speed – the sheer responsiveness made necessary system restarts less of a chore, as you’d barely have time to pull out your chair before you’re back at the login screen and the Alienware 18 is awaiting your input. I played a few hours of some fairly demanding games, including Shadow Warrior, DayZ, and Crysis 3, and was delighted with the performance and visual quality, as well as the relative quiet of the fans that kept the system from ever getting perceptibly warm.

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Not really slim – but look at all the ports!

The heft of the Alienware 18 is boggling to some – it tips the scales at 5.5 kilograms, and the base of the system alone is the depth of two closed MacBook Pros stacked on top of one another – but this is to be regarded as a desktop replacement. Further testament to this fact is how easily it can be opened up and have its guts swapped out – something that can’t be said of many upper-tier laptops, but a major boon to the value proposition for guys like me who don’t mind tinkering to get more use out of something. The more time I spent with this form factor, the more sense it made – it takes up less space than a tower and monitor combo – the ports are all very accessible, and the HDMI-in means that it serves excellently as a screen for any HD consoles, if you prefer to play games in an office chair rather than on a couch.

The version I spent time with cost $4,300 online (it’s rocking 16GB RAM, a Core i7 Quad Core overclocked to 4.1GHz, and dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M graphics with 8GB of GDDR5), but it’s possible to soup it up to a $5,500 configuration. Considering dual NVIDIA GeForce 860M Cards is what comes as “standard” on the $2,150 model, it’s clear that you can’t go wrong.

I love the Alienware 18 – it’s totally unlike anything on the market, and it just fits my lifestyle. If you’re looking for a good-value gaming computer that comes pre-built, looks smart, and takes up less space than a typical setup, while also promising aftermarket upgrades, there’s no other choice.

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