Alienware m18 R2 review: Big battlestation with clicky keys

The $50 for the mechanical keyboard is worth the splurge.

Alienware m18 R2
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The Alienware m18 R2 is an 18-inch laptop that's heavy even for its size, but boasts a quality chassis, tons of storage upgrade opportunities, and strong gaming performance.

Pros

  • +

    Solid build quality

  • +

    Lots of upgrade and repairability options

  • +

    Strong gaming performance

  • +

    Cherry keyboard option feels great

Cons

  • -

    Display is dimmer than the competition

  • -

    Heavy, even for its size

  • -

    Touchpad feels cheap

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For those who want a massive desktop replacement that mostly lives on their desk, 18-inch notebooks are in vogue. And if a behemoth of a portable PC is the best gaming laptop for you, you have some choices. There are often downsides, including price for the most powerful models. The Alienware m18 R2 ($1,899.99 to start, $3,449.99 as tested) can get pricey, but also offers powerful performance, plenty of upgrade opportunities down the line (don't pay full price for storage upgrades!) and strong build quality.

The m18  is a bit heavy, even for its size, but that's not necessarily a huge problem if you're leaving it on your desk all of the time. You'll have to decide if you can deal with the fact that the 18-inch display is useable, but not as bright and vivid as some of the competition.

Otherwise, a mix of fit and finish and configuration options — including a mechanical keyboard that is worth the added expense — make the m18 R2 a strong choice for a gargantuan laptop for your gaming needs.

Design of the Alienware m18 R2

Alienware's flagship 18-inch laptop is a behemoth. They don't call these desktop replacements for nothing. That being said, as far as massive obelisks go, the Alienware is about as smooth and inoffensive as they come. The lid is a solid, gray slab of anodized aluminum (Alienware calls this color "dark metallic moon") with an 18 embossed in the corner and a glowing, RGB alien head on top.

The back of the laptop has a protrusion (a bit of a "butt," if you will) with a majority of the ports, as well as an RGB light ring and some honeycomb-shaped venting.

That rear shelf has a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, and a full-width SD card slot. On the left side, there is an Ethernet jack, two more USB-A ports, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, while the right side has a single USB Type-C port.

With the lid open, the 18-inch screen looks massive. The bezel is a bit thick on the bottom but otherwise isn't terribly intrusive. The honeycomb theme follows through to fans positioned near the keyboard. The deck is covered in a soft-touch material that felt pleasant against my wrists and the bottoms of my hands. 

At 8.63 pounds, the Alienware m18 R2 is certainly the heaviest of the bunch. It's also quite large, at 16.15 x 12.59 x 1.05 inches. The weight is noticeable, as is the size — I couldn't close my backpack over this laptop. The MSI Titan 18H HX is 7.93 pounds (though thicker at 1.26 inches), the Asus ROG Strix Scar 18 is 6.61 pounds (1.21 inches thick), and the Lenovo Legion 9i Gen 8 — a 16-inch laptop —  was comparatively svelt at 5.51 pounds and 0.89 inches thick.

Alienware m18 R2 Specifications

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CPUIntel Core i9-14900HX
GraphicsNvidia GeForce RTX 4090 laptop GPU (16GB GDDR6, 175 W max graphics power, 1,950 MHz boost clock)
Memory32GB DDR5-5600
Storage2TB M.2 PCIe SSD
Display18-inch, 2560 x 1600, 165 Hz
NetworkingIntel Killer Wi-Fi 7 BE1750, Bluetooth 5.4
Ports2x Thunderbolt 4 (USB Type-C 4 Gen 2), USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 1, 3x USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1, HDMI 2.1, Mini DisplayPort 1.4, SD card slot, Ethernet jack, 3.5 mm audio jack
Camera1080p, IR
Battery97 WHr
OtherCherryMX ultra low-profile keyboard
Power Adapter360 W
Operating SystemWindows 11 Home
Dimensions (WxDxH)16.15 x 12.59 x 1.05 inches (41.3 x 319.9 x 26.7 mm)
Weight8.63 pounds (3.91 kg)
Price (as configured)$3,449.99

Gaming and Graphics

With a 175-watt Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 and an Intel Core i9-14900HX, we expected plenty of power out of the Alienware. The 32GB of RAM our system came with should be plenty, and 2TB of storage can store a handful of games.

I played the demanding Alan Wake 2 on the Alienware m18, on a "quality" render resolution of 1707 x 1067, using DLSS upscaling (but not frame generation) and the game's high quality preset and ray tracing set to medium. The game ran between 42 and 50 fps as I navigated as Saga Anderson through some dense woods in Bright Falls. The game ran slightly faster in the main stretch of town, which isn't filled with tons of detailed plants.

All of our competitors here are using RTX 4090 laptop GPUs. The Alienware, MSI Titan, and Asus ROG Strix Scar all pack the Intel Core i9-14900HX, while the Lenovo Legion 9i Gen 8 has a Core i9-13980HX in a significantly smaller chassis. The Alienware and Asus both have 2560 x 1600 screens, but with the Titan going up to 3840 x 2400 and the Legion's uncommon 3200 x 2000 resolution, 1920 x 1080 is still the great equalizer for comparisons.

On Shadow of the Tomb Raider's highest settings, the Alienware hit 170 fps at 1080p and 116 fps at its native 2560 x 1600. It was competitive with the Scar (167 fps / 118 fps), though the Titan was the fastest at 1080p at 190 fps.

Cyberpunk 2077 on ray tracing ultra is challenging, but at 1080p, each system played over 60 fps. The Alienware and Asus both hit 61 fps, but dropped down to 36 and 37 fps, respectively, at 1600p. The Legion and Titan both tied at a higher 69 fps at 1080p.

The Alienware and Strix continued their tangle in Red Dead Redemption 2 on medium settings. The Alienware hit 122 fps at 1080p and 80 fps at 2560 x 1600. The MSI won out here, with 135 fps at 1080p and 42 fps at 3840 x 2400.

On Far Cry 6 (ultra settings), the Alienware stumbled, playing the game at 105 fps at 1080p and 95 on 1600p. That's plenty playable, but more than 10 frames behind the Strix in each case.

Lastly, on Borderlands 3's "badass" preset, the Alienware beat the Asus at 1080p, with 159 fps compared to 141 fps. At 1600p, though, they were more similar. The Titan continued its domination.

We stress-tested the Alienware by running Metro Exodus on the RTX preset for 15 runs, which takes about half an hour. The game ran at an average of 114.27 frames per second, dipping from an initial 122 fps as the test started and leveling out in later runs. The CPU's performance cores ran at an average of 3.85 GHz, while the efficiency cores averaged 2.39 GHz. The CPU package measured an average of 79.1 degrees Celsius. The GPU ran at an average of 2,139.62 MHz and 60.68 degrees Celsius.

Productivity Performance on the Alienware m18 R2

Intel's Core i9-14900HX along with the 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage in the Alienware m18 R2 we reviewed proved to be a potent mix for productivity. When an 18-inch laptop is taking over your desk, you're going to use it for some work eventually.

We compared the Alienware to two other laptops with the same CPU and RTX 4090 GPUs - the MSI Titan 18 HX and Asus ROG Strix Scar 18. The Lenovo Legion 9i Gen 8 is a smaller, 16-inch notebook that also houses a 4090, but with a last-gen Core i9-13980HX.

On Geekbench 6, the Alienware achieved a single-core score of 2,868 and a multi-core score of 18,035. Its single-core score was in line with the Titan and Legion, but the Strix Scar was slightly higher. On multi-core, the Alienware took the crown at 18,035.

On our 25GB file transfer test, the Alienware copied files at a rate of 2,304.52 MBps, coming in just ahead of the Strix Scar. Both the Titan and Legion proved ever so lightly speedier.

When we used the systems to transcode a 4K video to 1080p on Handbrake, the Alienware and Titan tied at 2:32. The Legion took 2:44, while the Scar took last place at 2:48.

Display on the Alienware m18 R2

The 18-inch screen on the m18 is good, but it's not using the high-end mini-LED tech we've seen on some other high-end (but pricier) notebooks. Still, the 2560 x 1600 resolution and 165 Hz refresh rate should be flexible enough for most gamers' needs.

I used the Alienware to watch the trailer for The Penguin, which is a challenging one, as it's dark. Even though the Alienware doesn't have the brightest screen (see below), I didn't need to have it boosted to 100% brightness, but it didn't hurt. The reds in the trailer, including a ruby ring, fiery explosions, and red text were all quite vibrant, as well as a few flashes of characters in blue lighting.

A dark forest in Alan Wake 2 appeared beautiful, but not as lush, with darker leaves than I'm used to seeing in this game.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Alienware's screen covers 111.5% of the sRGB gamut and 79% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, putting it just ahead of the Asus ROG Strix Scar 18 (which does use Mini-LED). But the MSI Titan and Lenovo Legion 9i Gen 8's mini-LED panel were on another level when it came to color reproduction.

Unfortunately, the Alienware is the dimmest of the bunch at 260 nits. The Scar reached 402 nits, the Titan measured 559 nits and the Legion hit an astounding 667 nits.

Keyboard and Touchpad on the Alienware m18 R2

The Cherry MX low-profile mechanical keyboard is worth the extra $50. The keyboard is amazing both to type on and has keys that pop right back up for repeated pressing while gaming. It's noisier than a membrane, but for comfort, I'm willing to make that trade-off. On the monkeytype test, I hit 114 words per minute at 98% accuracy, which is about as good as I tend to do.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Every key on the keyboard is mechanical, which is a better implementation than what MSI did on its Titan, which used membrane keys on modifiers and number keys. I much prefer to have the unified feel. The right shift key is a little short and the right arrow key juts into the number pad, but that's nothing I couldn't get used to.

The touchpad is big enough for work when you aren't gaming, though I am starting to feel like it's time for Alienware to make the switch to haptics. The mouse works fine and it recognized my gestures as I worked in Windows 11, but it's easily the cheapest feeling part of the experience, with bits of friction here and there and a click that doesn't feel totally satisfying.

Audio on the Alienware m18 R2

When I used the m18 R2 in one of our lab testing rooms, Death Cab for Cutie's "An Arrow in the Wall" filled it with sound. The song's vocals, steady drumbeat, synths and maracas were all clear, but the bass was slightly lacking. Playing around in the Dolby Access settings didn't do much good, so I left everything at the defaults.

Alan Wake 2 is heavy on dialogue, which sounded nice and clear as I talked to witnesses to a crime as Agent Saga Anderson. While much of the game is quiet, small musical flourishes were appropriately quiet under the talking. The fans will blast over this, though, so you may want to invest in one of the best gaming headsets.

Upgradeability of the Alienware m18 R2

One of the benefits of big gaming PCs is that they have room for customization and repair after the fact.

The Alienware m18 R2's bottom has eight Philips head screws (Dell's maintenance manual recommends a size 0 driver, which works great). Six of these are removable, and the other two — at the corners of the palm rest — are captive and only need to be loosened. From there, use a pry tool starting at the bottom left and work your way around, until you can lift off the base cover, including the ring that allows air through the vents.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

With that off, you'll notice that the m18 has four fans inside, which might explain some of the fan noise. 

After that, you'll see a wide array of repairable and replaceable parts. The battery can be removed, the RAM is slotted (underneath some protective shielding), and you can remove the Wi-Fi card and the SSD.

There was a single m.2 2280 SSD in our review unit, but the system has room for three more drives. Two of those slots are shorter 2230 SSDs, which have grown increasingly common as the Steam Deck and other handhelds have launched. (Many of the best SSDs for the Steam Deck would work great here, too.) The other slot is labeled 2230, as that's what would fit directly on the board, but a further post labeled "2280" will support a full-length drive.

We expect to see at least a replaceable drive and RAM in a system this big. Having all the extras is a welcome bonus.

Battery Life on the Alienware m18 R2

You didn't expect an 18-inch desktop replacement to last long on a charge, did you?

The Alienware m18 R2 ran for 3 hours and 17 minutes on our test, which browses websites, runs OpenGL tests, and streams video, all with the display set at 150 nits.

While that's shorter than both the Asus ROG Strix Scar 18 and Lenovo Legion 9i Gen 8, which tied at 4:23, it's longer than the Alienware m18 R2 (2:40).

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Heat on the Alienware m18 R2

We took some heat temperatures while running Metro Exodus on the m18. The system kept the spots you touch relatively cool.

The keyboard, between the G and H keys, reached 97 degrees Fahrenheit, while the touchpad was a cooler 73 F. The hottest spot was on the bottom, at 104 F.

Webcam on the Alienware m18 R2

The 1080p webcam on the Alienware m18 is usable, but it's not excellent. Some details, like my hair and beard, were a bit blurry. Color accuracy wasn't perfect, and my red and blue flannel-checked shirt appeared to show paler hues than it did in real life.

The webcam has infrared sensors that support Windows Hello, which allows you to log in with facial recognition.

Software and Warranty on the Alienware m18 R2

Alienware has a fair amount of software preinstalled on the m18 R2. Parent company Dell may want to consider slimming it down.

Alienware Command Center is the go-to application for system performance, game launching, and adjusting RGB lighting effects. This app, which is useful, shouldn't be mixed up with My Alienware, a separate piece of software that has some warranty information and easy access to your service tag, but otherwise doesn't do much. This should be built into Command Center. Alienware Customer Connect is designed to feed customers surveys, and Alienware should just get rid of it.

Alienware Update and Alienware Digital Delivery round out the list with ways to, well, update your system and download software that came with your machine.

Software from IntelliGo is on board for AI acoustic adjustment, including making sure certain sounds like doorbells or baby cries don't go through your microphone.

Of course, Windows 11 still comes with some app shortcuts in the Start Menu, including Grammarly, Luminar Neo, and Spotify.

Dell sells the Alienware m18 R2 with a one-year warranty that can be extended to four years for an additional cost.

Configurations on the Alienware m18 R2

We tested a mighty $3,449.99 version of the Alienware m18 R2, with an Intel Core i9-14900HX, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090, 32GB of RAM, 2TB of storage, an 18-inch, 2560 x 1600 display at 165 Hz, and a Cherry MX low-profile mechanical keyboard.

The cheapest you can get the m18 R2 is for $1,899.99, which gets you a Core i7-14650HX, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, a standard membrane keyboard and the same display as our review unit.

Dell, Alienware's parent company, has quite a few customization options in between (and beyond). If you prefer a faster screen to a high-res one, a 1920 x 1200, 480 Hz display is a $50 upgrade. If you want to switch from the standard keyboard to the excellent Cherry mechanical option, that's also an extra $50. (in this price range, the keyboard is $50 well spent).

RAM goes up to 64 GB, and the jumps up are a bit rough ($100 from 16GB to 32GB, another $200 to get to 64GB), but since the RAM isn't soldered down, you could replace it yourself with aftermarket kits for less. Storage goes up to 8TB, and can also be replaced later.

Bottom Line

The Alienware m18 R2 is a tank of a gaming laptop meant to live on your desk. It's built solid, and the large chassis allows for plenty of upgrade and repairability options down the line, including a ton of storage.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The gaming performance with the RTX 4090 laptop GPU we tested offered powerful gaming performance, on par with the Asus ROG Strix Scar 18. Sure, the MSI Titan 18 HX did better, but that machine is over $5,000. As of this writing, the Alienware is a few hundred bucks more than a Strix. My recommendation is to get whichever is cheaper unless you want to ensure a brighter display, which Asus offers or a mechanical keyboard, 1080p display and solid audio which Alienware has.

If you do get the Alienware, opt for the Cherry mechanical keyboard. This thing is expensive, and the extra $50 is worth it.

The Alienware m18 R2 is a strong pick if you want an 18-inch machine. It's pricey, for sure, but also powerful, and I appreciate how much you can update later on. If you can deal with the fact that the screen is merely usable, not beautiful, it makes it an easier pick.

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Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Threads @FreedmanAE and Mastodon @FreedmanAE.mastodon.social.

  • derekullo
    Clicky keyboards are terrible because everyone who uses them refuses to use push to talk in discord.
    Reply
  • Notton
    RTX Voice should remove keyboard clacking from mic, but I bet most people don't bother to set that up.

    I find it interesting that it comes with 2x 2230 slots. It's better than nothing, but I wonder if they couldn't have crammed in a 2280 into the same space by rotating it 90 degrees. It's easier and cheaper to find 4TB 2280 drives compared to a 2TB 2230.
    Reply
  • leoscott
    The SD slot in the rear is a mistake. It's not something you plug in and leave in like the other plug ins.
    Who wants to reach around the back every time to plug and unplug your memory card.
    Reply
  • das_stig
    Pay almost $3500 and you get 1 year warranty, no thanks, It's Dell quality after all !
    Reply
  • 35below0
    That price isn't extreme when i look at the performance. A desktop PC around ~$3500 could match it, and would have the benefit of cherry-picked components (and longer warranty). But it don't move. And the bigger screen it's hooked up to is bought separately.

    This is probably overkill for most laptop needs, but if serious gaming credentials are a requirement this is a good product. And the keyboard and screen upgrades are definetly worth it.

    I doubt it would die after 1 year. That warranty is there mostly to replace DOA or flawed units.
    Reply