Alienware's pre-loaded utilities help the gamer by optimizing the laptop for each game or program. For example, instead of manually quitting programs you usually have open like Word or Excel, you can set the system to auto-quit those programs when you start up a Bioshock Infinite session. If you launch Team Fortress 2, the system could automatically bring up your favorite IM client so you can talk to your teammates. AlienFusion controls the power management on the system, so it can bring everything up to full power for gaming sessions, but shut parts of the system down for quieter browsing sessions or watching videos.
The Alienware 18 has an 18.4-inch 1,920-by-1,080 full 1080p HD screen that is quite clear and makes watching Blu-ray movies a pleasure. The system comes with a Blu-ray reader that can also read and burn DVDs and CDs. Of course, viewing HD videos online is a pleasant experience, limited only by your connection to the Internet via the system's 802.11ac Wi-Fi or Gigabit Ethernet port. Other ports include four USB 3.0 ports (two on either the left or right side), a SD card reader, a mini-DisplayPort, and a trio of audio ports for mic, headphone, and headset. The reason there are three is some gamers preferred headphones have two leads (mic and headphone) while others have a single lead (headset). The last notable port is the system's HDMI port, as you'd expect the port acts as a HDMI-out for use with an external monitor. What's unexpected is that the same port can be switched to HDMI-in, so you can continue to use the system as an 18-inch HD display after the PC internals inevitably become obsolete. The laptop is nominally user-serviceable, as there is a service manual available on Dell's website. You can remove the battery for replacement, but it requires a screwdriver to remove the bottom plate. Thus, we still consider the Alienware 18 to have a sealed battery because it is a 10- to 20-minute procedure to replace the battery as opposed to the traditional few seconds with a regular removable battery. Likewise, you can access the hard drive, optical drive, system memory, etc. for further upgrades/replacement, though this configuration is mostly maxed out to begin with.
The Alienware 18 comes without any pre-loaded apps aside from the Alienware utilities to control the screen, lighting, and energy usage. This is a good thing, since hardcore gamers hate performance robbing utilities like anti-virus and firewall programs. Our review unit came with Windows 7 Ultimate, which is the prime choice for most gamers. Windows 8 is available, but since the system doesn't have a touch screen, that's not our recommended configuration. The system came equipped with 32GB of memory, which is more than enough for today's games and programs.
The system also comes with a 500GB mSATA SSD as the boot drive, with a 750GB 7,200rpm SATA hard drive for data storage. This is perfect for the gamer, since he probably won't fill the 500GB SSD too quickly, and will still have the 750GB for storing downloaded videos and games that he doesn't play as often. The SSD boots fairly quickly and launches apps and games in seconds. The whole shebang is portable, but you won't be holding it on your lap for long without support: the system weighs 12.02 pounds alone. The system comes with a one-year basic warranty.
The Alienware 18 is a powerhouse system. With its new fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4900MQ, 32GB of system memory, 500GB SSD boot drive, and dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics cards, the Alienware 18 destroyed the competition on the game grid. It returned the highest, smoothest frame rate scores that we've seen on both Aliens vs. Predator (89 fps, maximum quality) and Heaven (87 fps, max quality). Likewise, the system is able to dominate on both 3DMark11 tests we ran. The Alienware trumps the Eurocom Scorpius, Origin EON17-SLX and the Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate ($2,824) on all the 3D based gaming tests. The Alienware 18 is no slouch on the multimedia tests either, though Origin is able to eke out a very slim lead on those tests. Keep the Alienware 18 close to a power outlet: short battery life of 1 hour 58 minutes isn't enough for a long gaming session. Besides, you'd want full power for your gaming sessions.