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Review: The Alienware m18 R1 (2023) is an incredibly powerful 18-inch gaming laptop that is now available for a little less money on Black Friday | Expert Reviews


Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - lead

Price when reviewed : 3,429

inc VAT

It’s not perfect, but for gaming performance the Alienware m18 R1 is a very tough act to follow

VIDEO: Alienware m18 Review: A Massive 18-Inch Gaming Laptop (With Nvidia RTX 4090)
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Pros

  • Outstanding gaming performance
  • Capacity for 10TB across 4 SSDs
  • Excellent selection of I/O ports

Cons

  • Mediocre display
  • Huge and heavy
  • Expensive

The Alienware m18 proves that, in 2023, 18 is the new 17.3. In fact, all of the major gaming laptop manufacturers – including Acer, Asus, and Razer, as well as Alienware – are in the process of replacing their high-end, 17.3in, 16:9 display machines with models featuring an 18in, 16:10 display. As ideas go, it’s a good one and, with the exception of the Alienware m18 R1 (2023) that I’m writing this on, the new breed of 18in laptops really aren’t any bigger or heavier than their 17.3in forebears, but the extra screen space is well worth having for gaming, entertainment, and productivity.

The latest generation of CPUs and GPUs from Intel, Nvidia, and AMD also mean that these new 18in super-laptops are now genuine desktop replacements. “Desktop replacement” is a phrase that’s been tossed around for a while, but now it can finally be used without exception, caveat, or excuse, as this new breed is capable of levels of performance that even 24 months ago would have been beyond our wildest imagining.

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Alienware m18 R1 (2023) review: What you need to know

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When the key metric is graphics performance, the new Alienware is the most capable laptop to have crossed our paths here at Expert Reviews by some margin – from the most demanding Triple-A games to heavy-duty 3D modelling, this m18 is supremely, uncompromisingly, staggeringly, fast.

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - front 2

Of course, the m18 has some failings too – like a high price tag, a mediocre display, a featureless keyboard, and less than impressive battery life – but, as an exercise in cramming desktop gaming performance into a laptop form factor, Alienware has done a superb job with the m18.

Alienware m18 R1 (2023) review: Price and competition

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Configuration tested: CPU: Intel Core i9 13900HX; GPU: Nvidia RTX 4090; RAM: 32GB; Storage: 1TB SSD; Display: 2,560 x 1,600 IPS non-touch 240Hz; Price: £3,429

(Note: The review machine sat on my desk is not one you can buy in the UK. If you want the RTX 4090 GPU, you must choose the i9 13980HX processor rather than the 13900HX in my machine. You can only have the 13900HX with the RTX 4080 GPU. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve quoted the price for the i9-13980HX model with the RTX 4090 GPU. The 240Hz display isn’t available for UK buyers either, only 165Hz or 480Hz, so I’ve quoted for the 165Hz.)

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - rear angle

The cheapest m18 model you can buy runs on an RTX 4060 GPU and a Core i7 13700H CPU, with 512GB of SSD storage and 16GB of memory. It’s yours for a quite reasonable £1,799. On the other hand, go all out for the top-spec 13980HX CPU and RTX 4090 GPU, with 64GB of RAM, 9TB of storage, the CherryMX mechanical keyboard and the 480Hz display, and you’ll be out of pocket to the tune of £5,099.

In the USA, you can buy the m18 with one of three AMD Dragon Range CPUs, including the range-topping 16-core Ryzen 9 7945HX and the AMD RX7600XT GPU, but at the time of writing, Dell couldn’t tell me if those models will ever come to the UK.

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - side closed

Obvious competition for the m18 comes in the form of Razer’s Blade 18 and the Asus ROG Scar Strix 18, but review samples of either have yet to trickle down to the British press, so we’ll have to consider some other alternatives for now.

The searing Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 is a beast of a gaming laptop, running on the same CPU as the m18, but incorporating the RTX 4080 GPU. Performance is strong, and the 240Hz Mini LED display is outstanding. Not cheap at £3,200, but very, very good.

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - lead 2

If you want something slightly more mature than the Scar 16, the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 is worth a look. The Core i9 CPU inside is less potent than in Alienware’s m18, but the RTX 4090 GPU is the same. The Zephyrus also uses the same stunning Mini LED Nebula HDR display as the Scar 16. The problem is the £4,000 price tag, which almost makes the Scar 16 look cheap.

If money is an issue, then the Acer Nitro 17 could be an alternative. The 17.3in 165Hz FullHD display is bright and colourful, the battery life is good, and the keyboard has plenty of gaming optimisations. The RTX 4050 model can be had for £1,500 and for a  further £100 you can get the RTX 4060, double the storage, and have an m18-matching 2,560 x 1,440 165Hz display.

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Alienware m18 R1 (2023) review: Design and build quality

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Visually, the m18 looks like a big m16. Stylistically, that’s no bad thing – though I still bemoan the absence of Alienware’s cool white colourways, as the m18 is only available in “Dark Metallic Moon”, with “Lunar Silver” restricted to the new X16 – but when I say big, I mean big: the m18 is a hefty lump measuring 410 x 320 x 26.7mm and weighing 4.04kg. Stick it in a (capacious) backpack, and you’ll certainly know you’re carrying something.

The m18 is also a solid bit of kit, made largely from aluminium, with every bit as rigid and squeak-free as the unibody Razer Blade 18. All the traditional Alienware styling cues are present and correct, including the big ol’ backside sticking out beyond the hinge assembly, the LED alien head logo on the deck and lid (the former is also the power button), and the Stadium LED ring light around the rear port array. If the sheer size isn’t already enough of a giveaway, a big 18 is embossed on the lid.

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - front

Not only does the m18 have more ports than the m16, the layout is better. On the left are two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, rather than one, a 2.5G Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm audio jack, while on the right there is now a USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 data port. Tucked away at the back are the same two Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI 2.1 and Mini DisplayPort 1.4 video outputs, an SD card slot, which only takes half the card, a third USB-A port, and the DC power jack.

None of the Type-C ports supports PD charging, so it’s just as well that the 330W power brick is both light and slender.

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - side angle

Whip the baseplate off and you will find easy access to the two SODIMM slots, the wireless card, the battery, and no less than four SSD mounts (two 2230 and two that will accommodate either 2230 or 2280 cards), so you can theoretically put up to 10TB into it. 

The 1TB SSD in my review machine performed handsomely, returning sequential read and write speeds of 5,315MB/s and 3,927MB/s, respectively.

Alienware m18 R1 review - SSD comparison

Alienware m18 R1 (2023) review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam

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The chiclet keyboard is a perfectly decent affair, with a largely solid deck and well-calibrated key action, but it’s a bit plain for a gaming keyboard and has none of the enhancements – like highlighted WASD and cursor keys, or a dedicated key to launch the Alienware Command Centre – that you find on the likes of the cheaper Acer Nitro 17. All you get is the option to enter High-Performance mode by pushing F1. 

On the plus side, you get full-sized arrow keys, dedicated volume controls in the top-right corner, a full numeric keypad – something the Razer Blade 18 lacks – and per-key RGB lighting. All useful touches, but I prefer my gaming laptops with keyboards that look and feel a little more gamer-ish.

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - front closed

At 130 x 80mm, the glass touchpad isn’t the biggest you’ll ever encounter on a large screen laptop and, given the amount of empty space around it, Alienware could have gone for something larger, but it works perfectly well, and it has a click-action that is well-weighted and very crisp.

The 1080p webcam is the same as that fitted to the m16. Not only does it perform its core function very well, but the module also includes some IR cameras to facilitate biometric security with Windows Hello facial recognition.

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Alienware m18 R1 (2023) review: Display and audio

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You can have the m18 with either a 480Hz FullHD or a 165Hz QHD+ IPS display. That’s it. There’s no 240Hz option, unlike the 18-inch competition from Acer, Razer and Asus. Nor can you opt for a trick Mini LED display, with eyeball-searing brightness and stellar HDR support, as you can with the similarly priced Asus ROG Scar Strix 16.

I’ll leave it to you to ponder the wisdom of fitting a 165Hz display to a laptop that can easily run Triple-A games at considerably higher frame rates, even without the help of Nvidia’s upscaling voodoo. For this sort of money, you might expect the options would be 240Hz QHD+ or 480Hz FullHD. 

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - rear closed

The m18’s display doesn’t do all that well regarding the basics either. The maximum brightness is a frankly average 313cd/m2, and the contrast ratio is an unexceptional 1156:1. There’s a useful amount of colour knocking around, with gamut volumes of 140.5% sRGB, 99.5% DCI-P3 and 96.8% Adobe RGB, but the average Delta E variation against the sRGB profile came in at just over 3, which is only borderline for any colour-accurate requirements. 

The m18 does better regarding motion handling, thanks to a 3ms GtG response time, with surprisingly little ghosting or smearing showing up in testing, let alone actual gaming. The display also supports Nvidia’s G-Sync adaptive sync technology once you select the ‘Nvidia GPU-only’ option in the Nvidia control panel.

Alienware m18 R1 2023 review - rear closed 2

The 2 X 2W speaker system is very impressive. Maximum volume is a healthy 79dB(A), and a nice, solid wedge of bass underpins the output. Blasting out the new PVRIS album, Evergreen, at maximum volume certainly didn’t highlight any weaknesses in the sound system.

Alienware m18 R1 (2023) review: Performance and battery life

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A quick glance at the basic spec of this laptop should tell you all you need to know about performance. Nothing that is built around a 24-core Intel Core i9 CPU with 32GB of RAM, and an Nvidia RTX 4090 GPU with a 175W TGP and 16GB of vRAM, is going to be anything other than quick. This Alienware m18 is the fastest gaming laptop we have ever tested here at Expert Reviews. 

The raw numbers tell the tale more eloquently than words: our 4K media benchmark scored 677, which puts it comfortably ahead of the ROG Scar Strix’s 632, while the SPECviewperf 3dsmax 3D modelling test ran at 210fps, to the ROG’s 175fps. 

Alienware m18 R1 review - 4K benchmarks

The gaming stats tell the same story. The following frame rates are all at 1080p, with maximum detail, ray tracing set to the highest, and no DLSS upscaling: Cyberpunk 2077 – 73.4fps, Metro Exodus – 105.5fps, Returnal – 140fps, Shadow of the Tomb Raider – 179fps, Wolfenstein: Youngblood – 241fps, Hitman 2 – 130.2fps.

With the latest DLSS 3 games, you have a huge amount of headroom to increase those frame rates: at native QHD+, with DLSS set to Balanced and Frame Generation on, Returnal ran at 172fps, and Cyberpunk 2077 at 91fps.

Alienware m18 R1 review - Hitman 1080p benchmarks

All the performance tests were run with the m18 in High-Performance mode, which runs the fans continually at high speed. The fans are audible, but the noise isn’t what I would describe as uncomfortably loud. I’ve certainly heard louder from other high-performance laptops, and the difference between the m18 and m16 was less marked than I expected, especially given that the m16 runs on a cooler AMD Dragon Range CPU. 

More importantly, the cooling system does its job well. No part of the m18 ever got warmer than 39°C (which was the vent grille above the keyboard), and there was no sign of thermal throttling, even under stress testing.

Battery life isn’t the strong suit of any gaming laptop, and certainly not a fire-breathing monster like this Alienware. Despite the 97Wh battery capacity, the lights only stayed on for 4 hours and 47 minutes in our video rundown test. That’s over an hour better than the Alienware m16, with its 76Wh battery, but 45 minutes shy of the ROG Strix Scar 16, which has a smaller 90Wh battery. 

Alienware m18 R1 review - battery comparison

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Alienware m18 R1 (2023) review: Verdict

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Considering the very high price, the m18 should have a much better display. For just shy of £3,500, a rather dull 165Hz QHD+ panel, frankly, takes the proverbial. Granted, the 480Hz screen is only £100 more, but the idea of a 1,920 x 1,080 matrix stretched across 18 inches – that’s still only 122dpi – fails to excite any more than 165Hz at QHD+. The keyboard is a bit  mundane too, though it works well enough.

However, the m18 is so breathtakingly powerful I’m prepared to give it a pass on the workaday display and keyboard. At the end of the day, no other gaming laptop can so effortlessly run even the most demanding titles with all the graphic bells and whistles turned on, and that is primarily what I want for my money. Hook this m18 up to a good gaming monitor, like the Asus ROG Swift PG27AQDM, and you will have a superb gaming rig and a good laptop.

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