The Alienware M18 is a monster 18-inch laptop that offers a huge screen and gaming performance innards that can justify delivering the goods to that panel at its maximum 165Hz. Sounds like an immediate winner, surely?
Well, yes, but it does have a few downsides: namely that the screen is a little dimmer than some; while at almost four grand for the model I tested, it's clearly very expensive; oh, and it weighs a ton – well, not literally, but it's a hefty 5.4kg (12lbs) when including the charger, which means you’ll need some strong shoulders to carry it around.
Once you've recovered from carrying the Alienware M18 to or from anywhere, however, does this machine have what it takes to be one of the best gaming laptops? Let's get to it...
ALIENWARE M18: PRICE & AVAILABILITY
The Alienware M18 is available now, starting at a base price of £1798/$2099/AU$3598. Sounds kind of reasonable for a gaming laptop this large, but do consider that's without the absolute top specs available.
However, you could break the £/$5000 mark! The review unit I tested was an in-between model, fitted with the Intel Core i9-13980HX processor with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU with 16GB of GDDR6 RAM, 32GB of DDR2 RAM, 165Hz display and a 1TB SSD.
ALIENWARE M18 review: DESIGN
The main thing that strikes you about the M18 is the weight of it. Especially if you drop it (don't do that!): weighing a hefty 4kg (8.8lbs), you’ll know if it lands on your foot. It is large as well, measuring 410mm wide and 320mm deep. It is a touch under an 25mm thick, though, so it is still easy to grasp and carry for short distances.
A brick-sized 330W power adapter powers the M18. This adds another 1.4 kg (3.2 lbs) to the weight you have to carry around, so don’t forget that you’ll be lugging around 5.4 kg in total when choosing a laptop bag. You’ll need to bring it however: the M18 can’t be charged by a USB-C power adapter or other power sources.
The brains of the M18 is the Intel Core i9-13980HX, the top-of-the-line 13th Gen mobile processor with 24 cores, eight of which are the fastest power variants that run at 5.8GHz, while the rest are the slower (4GHz) efficiency cores that take less power. That’s the fastest laptop processor that Intel currently offers.
This processor outputs a lot of heat when working hard, up to a maximum of 155 Watts. Combine that with the 45 Watts that the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU can output, and things get kind of toasty. The M18 deals with this through a large vapour chamber, seven heat pipes that transfer the heat, and four large fans that suck air from under the laptop body and over the fins on the heat pipes. These vent the hotter air out of the sides and back of the laptop.
All that transfers the heat effectively, but not without a lot of noise. This is a quiet whoosh in normal use, but start up a game, and it rises to the sound of an angry lawnmower, a noise that continues until after you quit the game and things cool down. I found this quite distracting, although the large speakers alongside the keyboard do an excellent job of drowning it out with more noise.
The laptop has the usual Alienware styling, with the glowing alien head on the back of the lid and above the keyboard. There are plenty of ports on offer: two USB 3.2 and a 2.5-gigabit Ethernet on the left side and a USB-C USB 3.2 Gen 1 port on the right. The rest are on the back, with the big power input, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, one Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 2, an HDMI 2.1, Mini Display Port, and an SD card slot. That means there are plenty of places to plug in monitors, external keyboards, hard drives, and anything else you need to reach gaming nirvana. For wireless connections, the M18 offers Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 connections, both of the latest versions of the wireless standards.
ALIENWARE M18 review: DISPLAY
There are two display options available for the M18: a Full HD (1920 x 1200 pixels) 18-inch panel that runs at an incredible 480Hz refresh rate; or the higher-resolution QHD+ (2560 x 1600 pixels) panel that has a 165Hz refresh rate. Both have a 16:10 aspect ratio, slightly taller than your 4K TV.
My review model was fitted with the latter of the two above options, which I found very impressive, with excellent colour and smooth, realistic motion in games. It also looks great playing back high-frame-rate video with smooth, realistic motion. It does lack the colour punch of OLED screens, though: the colour is good, but it looks flat compared to the vivid punch of an OLED or Quantum Dot display. This display does support the wide DCI-P3 professional colour gamut, although it is set to the standard sRGB gamut by default.
There is no support for high dynamic range (HDR) video, although this is not a massive surprise at this size. Because while the screen is big, it's not exceptionally bright – maxing out at about 383 nits. That’s adequate for general use but is somewhat lower than most smaller laptops. It’s bright enough to be seen in all but direct sunlight, but it looks pale and wanting next to a big, bright gaming monitor or a smaller laptop.
Laptops like this are about one thing: games. I found that the Alienware M18 could handle pretty much every game I threw at it without blinking. It produced a butter-smooth 165fps in Doom Eternal at the native display resolution in the maximum Ultra Nightmare graphics settings, which looked great on the big screen. The M18 also handled the graphically demanding racing game F1 22, managing an average of 80fps at native resolution and again at the maximum quality. That’s an impressive score for this demanding game.
In the 3D Mark benchmarking programme, the M18 scored 19,349 in the Time Spy test, which is very high. It also handled the intensely demanding Speed Way test, managing a score of 5563 in this high-resolution, high-image quality benchmark. That puts it near the top of the gaming laptops we have tested on T3, in raw numbers terms at least.
It also handled more serious tasks without problems, chewing through Photoshop filters and complex Premiere Pro video renders in short order, thanks to a combination of fast processor and plenty of memory. The M18 also managed an impressive score of 16,674 in the CPU benchmark of GeekBench, and 180,636 in the GPU benchmark. Again, these are some of the highest scores we have seen from gaming laptops. =
ALIENWARE M18 review: FEATURES
As you might expect, this laptop has plenty of features other than the basics, including a glowing keyboard and body, as well as very expandable storage.
My review unit came with the clicky CherryMX keyboard, which has a lovely, clicky feel: every key press is accompanied by an excellent clack that lets you know the key has been pressed. It is a bit noisy, though: those who share your office or home can tell how your game is going by how furiously you are bashing away at it.
The keyboard also has individual RGB LEDs under each key which can be individually controlled through the Alienware AlienFX app, which allows you to set a particular colour scheme or pattern for each game or app for the keys, the alien head, and the LEDs on the back of the laptop body. This app also allows you to create key bindings associated with each game, so you can attach macros to function keys or the like.
Above the keyboard is a row of speakers that produces clear, bright sound with plenty of volume. The stereo separation is good: I was able to figure out where the bad guys were coming from and if they were behind me.
My review unit came with a 1TB SSD drive, but this laptop can be outfitted with up to 9TB of storage because it has four spots for SSD drives: two long M.2 slots and two additional shorter M.2 slots. The larger slots can hold drives up to 4TB in size, while the smaller ones are limited to 512GB drives for a maximum of 9TB of space. This combination of up to four drives also allows you to create RAID setups for speed or redundancy: a feature on only a few laptops. Dell only offers options up to 8TB direct from the factory, but all slots are easily accessible if you want to upgrade. The M18 also supports up to 64GB of DDR5 RAM in two memory slots. That is expensive, though.
ALIENWARE M18 review: BATTERY LIFE
A monster laptop with a monster (97Whr) battery should mean monster battery life, right? Well, that depends. With a casual task like watching a movie or doing some work, I got 4 hours of battery life. That’s acceptable: long enough to watch a movie.
That falls off a cliff when you start gaming, though: running Doom Eternal, I got less than an hour of battery life because this thing sucks down power like a BFG9000 sucks down energy orbs.
Alienware M18 review: Verdict
Honestly, you probably already know if this is the laptop for you. Are you an ordinary person? Buy a cheaper gaming laptop that is less cutting-edge. Are you a gaming legend in your own lunchtime? Do you spend more time streaming on Twitch than watching it? Then this might be a good pick: it’ll run any game you throw at it, providing the high-frame-rate, smooth gaming beauty that you need and offering enough processing power to run OBS in the background at the same time.
There is no such thing as a future-proof laptop, but the M18 has enough power, memory, and storage to handle rapidly expanding games for a few years to come, while that massive 18-inch screen generally looks excellent. As long as you don’t need to move it too often, because it’s bloody heavy – which is hardly a surprise at this scale, but that's the biggest strength and weakness of the M18 all rolled into one, really.
We’ve counted down the best gaming laptops and the best student laptops, but the Alienware M18 is the first 18-inch gaming laptop that we have tested. That makes it hard to draw comparisons, but there are a few apparent rivals. Razer offers the Razer 18 Mercury, for example, or there's the Acer Helios 18.