Alienware m18 R2 is a Beast of a Machine

Alienware m18 R2 is a Beast of a Machine

Alienware m18 R2 Review

It’s an absolute powerhouse with face-melting performance for both work and play that stays cool under pressure.

The Alienware m18 R2 is designed with one thing in mind: power. Whether you’re crunching numbers or waves and waves of marauding orcs, this gaming laptop rarely breaks out in a sweat or loses frame rates. But a premium laptop demands a premium price, with the base model starting at $3,498


Excellent gaming and multitasking performance
Comfortable keyboard
Stays surprisingly cool when gaming


Weak audio
Dim display

One thing has been ridiculously clear in my 15-plus-year career reviewing consumer tech. I’m a size queen when it comes to laptops, particularly gaming laptops. I was bereft when Dell put the original Alienware 18 out to pasture and spent a number of years requesting its return. So, I was ecstatic to see the behemoth return to the market in the form of the Alienware m18 R2.

And you might ask, what’s so great about a massive gaming laptop? Unlike the 14 and 15-inch machines, an 18-inch laptop gives OEMs a license to get extravagant with the spec offerings. Intel Core i9 processor? Yes, please. Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU with 16GB of GDDR6 VRAM? Gimme. All of this and more awaits in the second iteration of Alienware’s modern 18-inch notebook, the Alienware m18 R2.

Starting at $3498 (model reviewed priced at $US3,299), the Alienware m18 R2 satisfies my need for outlandish, kitchen-sink-esque specs in a mobile package. And okay, I know the whole mobility thing is up for debate. But as I write this review in my living room, away from my desk with this laptop in my lap, I don’t mind moving it from room to room in my house; putting it on my back in a backpack is a totally different story.

And despite all those high-powered specs, the m18 R2 stays remarkably cool thanks to Alienware’s proprietary cooling system. And you’ve got that clicky ultra-low profile Cherry MX keys with that mesmerizing, customizable RGB lighting.

However, this laptop has a few caveats in terms of display and audio. The matte panel isn’t as bright and vibrant as some gamers would expect, and the speakers don’t pump out the weighty boom you want to hear when you blow up a bunch of explosive canisters in a game. But if you want jaw-dropping power, you’ll be hard-pressed to outdo the Alienware m18.

Alienware m18 R2 Design

Sporting Alienware’s Legend 3.0 design language, the m18 looks every bit the Destroyer in your sci-fi, space opera fantasy armada. But unlike its smaller brethren, the Alienware m16 R2, the m18 retains the large protruding butt (BBLs need not apply). It’s necessary for venting purposes as well, as this is where you’re going to find the majority of your ports when it’s time to build out your mobile battle station, including a full HDMI 2.1 ports, a mini DisplayPort, two Thunderbolt 4, a USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, a power adapter port.

There’s also an SD card reader back there, which I would have preferred to sit along one of the sides, but hey, its inclusion is such a rarity these days, I’ll take it. The rest of the portage on the laptop includes two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, an RJ-45 port, a headset jack on the left, and a USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 on the right.

But enough about ports, let’s talk about the actual design. The majority of the m18 R2’s chassis is made of anodized aluminum in color Alienware called Dark Metallic Moon, with a big 18 stamped into the lower-left corner of the lid. It’s nice and definitely stately, but I wish the company also offered a Lunar White version, as it better accentuates all the lighting, in my opinion.

Photo: Sherri L. Smith

Ah, the lighting was one of the first things that drew me to Alienware systems, hell, gaming laptops in general. It’s been toned down for my tastes in the modern era. I miss having the ALIENWARE on the bottom bezel, and the touchpad welcomes me with a warm glow when I open the lid. But you still have some zones and 16.8 million RGB colors to flex your creativity. The m18 R2’s ovular butt is wrapped in a light strip, and you still have the two alien heads on the lid and the power button. And finally, there’s the keyboard with its full num pad waiting for a splash of color outside of the default turquoise.

The Alienware CherryMX ultra-low-profile mechanical keyboard, the m18 R2’s rocking, is a clicky delight to type on. With a 1.8]-mm key travel, it’s loud enough to satisfy that ASMR spot but quiet enough that it won’t necessarily disturb anyone sitting next to you.

At 9.3 pounds, 16.2 x 12.6 x 0.95 ~ 1.1 inches, the m18 R2 isn’t something you’re going to throw in a backpack. For that, you’ll want to look at the Razer Blade 18, which looks tiny by comparison with its 6.8-pound, 15.7 x 10.8 x 0.86-inch dimensions.

To keep this thing cool, Alienware has employed its CryoTech cooling system, which consists of four ultra-slim fans, seven copper heat pipes, a large redesigned vapor chamber to keep the CPU and GPU cool, and the company’s proprietary Element 31 thermal paste, which also helps dissipate heat on the processor and graphics chip. The honeycomb-shaped vents along the top of the keyboard deck, as well as the rear and undercarriage of the system, denote the position of air intake and outtake. However, there are also some vents along the sides of the notebook.

After an hour of playing Warhammer 40K: Darktide, the hottest point of the laptop was the left rear vent, which my heat gun measured at 123 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a bit warm, but it’s nowhere near where your hands would normally be on a regular basis. The undercarriage vent hit 105 degrees, which let me comfortably play on my lap. Be aware that the fans will immediately whir to life when the game starts and do their best impression of a jet turbine.

Alienware m18 R2 Display and Sound

Glossy or matte? It’s an age-old battle for laptop users. Do you go with the vibrant color, potentially marred by the glare of a glossy panel, or do you possibly sacrifice color with a matte display? Alienware chose the latter option with its 18-inch, 2560 x 1600, 165Hz refresh rate, 3-millisecond response rate panel. I got an average of 376 nits with my light meter, which is fine, but I would have preferred a bit more brightness.

Speaking of smoothness, the display also uses Nvidia G-Sync DDS technology to cut down or downright eliminate any image tearing or fragments. It works in tandem with Nvidia’s Advanced Optimus mode, which, when enabled, allows you to choose which GPU the laptop will use between the integrated and discrete GPUs.

Even as I was fighting my way through gangs of hostiles in CyberPunk 2077, I never experienced any stuttering or slowdown. However, the lurid neons of Night City that I’ve come to know and love were nowhere near as vibrant on the m18 R2’s display, which was disappointing. It also affected the contrast in darker scenes, making it hard to see some of the finer details in the environment.

Photo: Sherri L. Smith

A pox on bottom-mounted speakers! For a laptop with the bounteous proportions of the m18 R2, I’d expect a bit more oomph in the audio department. Even with the pre-installed Dolby Atmos software, the pair of 2W speakers didn’t properly convey the bass on Janelle Monae’s “Lipstick Lover.” The artist’s vocals had a hint of tinniness at maximum volume, but the percussion and guitars were clear.

The choral vocals and dialogue sounded great on Warhammer 40K: Darktide sounded great. The audio was rich and full, but I wanted more from the actual combat. Hitting enemies with a serrated shovel didn’t give that meaty thunk that I was looking for. And gunfire was quieter than expected.

Either way, whether you’re gaming or listening to music, you’re going to want to invest in a good gaming headset.

The 1920 x 1080p webcam on the m18 R2 is one of the better-integrated shooters I’ve seen this year. I was impressed with the color reproduction capabilities which did a great job of capturing my skin tone and the various colors in my locs. Details were crisp enough that the camera actually caught the distinct white, gray, and black thread patterns in my couch instead of turning it into a gray blob. You could also read the text on my t-shirt without issue.

Alienware m18 R2 Performance

Alienware reaffirmed my love of big-ass gaming laptops, outfitting my review unit with a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i9-14900HX processor (which can be clocked to 5.2GHz) with 32GB of DDR5 RAM, a 2TB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD and an Intel UHD Graphics GPU, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU with 16GB of GDDR5 VRAM. However, if that’s not enough power, you can further upgrade the RAM and SSD up to 64GB and 4TB, respectively. Either way, my review unit can play any AAA title at high frame rates and smooth rendering.

With a Core i9 CPU, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that you’re going to see great results on synthetic benchmarks. The processor gave excellent results on both single and multi-core tests such as Geekbench 6 and Cinebench. The processor will have no problem outperforming most Core i7 CPUs as well as AMD Ryzen 7 8700G processors and below. I’d love to see how Alienware would fare against the Razer Blade 18 or the Acer Helios 18.

As expected from its 4090 GPU, the laptop crushed the 3DMark tests, foreshadowing the beating my real-world testing was about to take. The m18 R2 kept up the pressure on the Blender benchmark, averaging 89 seconds after three runs.

Photo: Sherri L. Smith

But how does it translate to actual games? Well, I cranked up Warhammer 40K: Darktide to maximum settings with ray tracing enabled and saw the frame rate top out at 114 fps. But more often than not, the fps counter stayed in the 92-97 fps range. That’s not too shabby. I also attempted to put the m18 R2 through its paces with Cyberpunk. Despite cranking every setting to Ultra or High, including ray tracing and Nvidia DLSS, the Alienware punched through those graphics like wet toilet tissue. The frame rate topped out at 113 fps and kept a comfortable frame rate range of 95 – 102 fps.

All in all, the M18 R2 is an absolute beast whether you’re using it for work or play.

Alienware m18 R2 Battery life

Yes, the Alienware m18 R2 has a 6-cell, 97Wh battery. It also has the aforementioned Intel Core i9 processor and Nvidia RTX 4090 GPU. As such, it goes without saying that this laptop needs to be plugged in at all times, especially when gaming. I squeezed 3 hours and 17 minutes of battery life out of the m18 R2 with both the Windows 11 and Alienware Command Center power settings on Balanced with about 40% brightness. During that time, I wrote this review in Google Docs, browsed the web, did a little social media doom scrolling, and fell into an “X-Men ‘97” theory hole on YouTube.

The laptop didn’t fare so well when I played Cyberpunk, tapping out after 1 hour and 21 minutes.

Photo: Sherri L. Smith


Play time’s over! Grant me Powweeeeerrr?!” Dracula in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”

Seriously, this tricked-out version of the Alienware m18 R2 makes me feel like a supervillain who’s about to drop the hottest monologue. With all that power under the hood, there’s very little that can stop this behemoth, and believe me, I tried. No matter what real-world or synthetic tests I threw at this beast, the laptop did its best Christian McCaffrey impression, stiff-arming everything. And while it’s easy to get drunk with power, the m18 R2 has a lot of other good things going for it, such as that super clicky, ultra-comfy keyboard and the CyroTech cooling system that dissipates heat well enough to use the laptop in your lap.

However, power like this doesn’t come cheap, and with the laptop starting at $US1,899, you definitely have to pick and choose where you’re going to upgrade, if at all, since the base model comes out swinging with a Core i7 CPU, and RTX 4060, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Other concerns include a rather dim display and weak audio. But if you’re looking for unmitigated performance with great cooling, fun customizable lighting, and a clicky keyboard, the Alienware m18 R2 is the echelon of high-powered gaming.

Buy it at Dell

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