Friday, September 16, 2011

Alienware M18x (GTX 580M SLI, 2920XM) Notebook Review

Alienware M18x is one of gaming laptops largest and most powerful available, and we have already tested the model with two AMD Radeon HD 6970M units (CrossFire). Is now the alternate version with 2x GeForce GTX 580 in SLI mode has reached us, and seems to reach new heights of performance with the SSD and integrated CPU Core i7-2920XM.

As with the display and input devices in this model has not changed since before the new version, we only look at the components that have changed, some additional research and readings.

Specifications Alienware M18x (GTX 580M SLI, 2920XM) :
  • Processor : Intel Core i7 2920XM 2.5 GHz @ 4 GHz
  • Mainboard : Intel HM67
  • Memory : 8192 MB, 2x 4096 MB DDR3 RAM (1333 MHz), max. 32 GB, four slots
  • Graphics adapter : NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M SLI - 2x2048 MB, Core: 620 MHz, Memory: 750 MHz, GDDR5-VRAM SLI, 280.26
  • Display : 18.4 inch 16:9, 1920x1080 pixel, SEC5448, FHD, WLED, glossy: yes
  • Harddisk : Samsung SSD PM810, 256GB
  • Soundcard : IDT 92HD73C1 / 92HDW74C1 / 92HDW74C2 @ Intel Cougar Point PCH - High Definition Audio Controller
  • Connections : 1 Express Card 54mm, 3 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, 1 VGA, 2 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, 1 Kensington Lock, 1 eSata, Audio Connections: 2x outputs, 1x line-out/headphones (incl. S/PDIF), 1x line-in/microphone, Card Reader: SD, SDIO, SDXC, MMC, MMC+, MS, PROxD, SDHD, SDHC
  • Networking : Atheros AR8151 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller (10/100/1000MBit), Killer Wireless-N 1103 (Atheros AR9300) (abgn), 3.0 Bluetooth
  • Optical drive : HL-DT-ST DVDRWBD CA30N
  • Size : height x width x depth (in mm): 54 x 436 x 322
  • Weight : 5.64 kg Power Supply: 1.54 kg
  • Battery : 96 Wh Lithium-Ion, 12 cells
  • Price : 5084 Euro
  • Operating System : Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit
  • Additional features : Webcam: 3.0 Megapixel, Mains adaptor: 330 Watts, handbook, mousepad, cap, velvet case, sticker (alien head), recovery DVD, resource DVD, resource media DVD, applications DVD, Roxio Creator Starter, PowerDVD 9.6, 12-48 Months Warranty
The M18x offers many options for connecting external storage media USB 3.0 and eSATA. We have tested both with an Intel SSD 510 (AsMedia ASM10510 for USB, eSATA for SATALink SPIF215A) with 250 GB. ESATA connection was the fastest at an average of 180.8 Mb / s. The USB 3.0 connection followed shortly behind at 165 Mb / s. As expected, came USB 2.0 port to last somewhat to 28.1 MB / s.

AR8151 Gigabit LAN Integration came to 851 Mbit / s in our tests (direct connection to a desktop computer with Sandy Bridge DP55KG motherboard). However, a machine with Intel Bridge AR8151 sand tests were able to achieve data transfer speeds up to 940 Mbits / s.

We tested the N1103 WLAN Card Killer, against our old Trendnet TEW-633GR, and achieved about 49 Mbps at a distance of 3 meters. For comparison, an Intel 1030 WLAN card only goes to 37 Mbit. The 2010 MBP13, however, came to 63 Mbit / s, which is a little better.

Input Devices
Power supplies are the same model Radeon HD 6870M CF, and has made a great impression on us. In addition, we tested the keyboard ghosting. Unfortunately, the result was a bit 'disappointing, for example, a combination of s + d + space bar will not be recognized. In order for this gaming notebook expensive, it is a shame.

In the opinion of this reviewer, the keyboard is not perfect, do not feel completely firm, which makes writing feels a bit spongy. However, the touchpad is a good size and comfortable to use.

View Our review model is the same as the version of the 6970M CF, so we have to refer again to the previous review. But in addition, we have noticed some flickering horizontal striped pattern (as in this page).

Intel Core i7 overclocked-2920XM main processor, two GeForce GTX 580M high-end graphics cards in SLI mode, a PM810 Samsung SSD and 8 GB of DDR3 RAM all promise a higher total return. This means that the M18x is before us is to establish the highest possible. Only the second hard drive bay is used, and 16 GB of RAM would be possible.

Core i7 overclocked 2920XM had already checked our model, and then up to 4 GHz, Turbo Boost. In the test of Cinebench R11.5, only 5% of the differences between desktop Core i7-2600 model. But because there are other options for overclocking bios, higher speeds are possible. M18x 6970M equipped with a CF 4.2 GHz, for example, has been tested and has achieved the same results as the Core i7-2600.

Easy overclocking, Dell offers three levels of overclocking easy to adjust the BIOS. Turbo Boost factor in these changes in the first place, but also part of the core voltage. This has improved to 12.9% of single-core, and up to 17.6% multi-core performance (Cinebench R11.5). Our review model was supplied and tested in Level 1 (7% and increase performance by 12% compared to the non-overclocking of the CPU).

Two benchmarks, Futuremark PCMark is designed to evaluate the entire system and application performance. The results speak for themselves, to sit on top of the standings together with parents and Clevo M18x X7200 (for example, in XIRIOS W710). This indicates that the M18x is able to handle nearly all scenarios due to the SSD, the high-end CPU overclock and a powerful graphics system.

Only professional 3D applications are professional graphics at a distinct advantage because of their optimized drivers. In SPECviewperf 11, M18x only occasionally performed on par with a single Quadro FX 880 000 000 mid-range graphics cards. Business users can find what they want with Schenker Xirios (Nvidia Quadro 5010M) for example.

With graphic organizers and synthetic Futuremark Unigine Heaven, we first want to integrate the theoretical performance of GTX 580 million rig.

In Unigine test Heaven GTX 580 SLI takes a clear lead of 22% before CrossFire 6970M in the same machine (with a slightly faster processor overclocked). GeForce 6990M in the mix in the crossfire also 6% behind the Alienware machine, despite its most powerful desktop CPU.

For comparison, the $ 580 million in SLI X7200 could claim the top spot again with about 12% thanks to its powerful six-core processors (which makes the graphics card fastest mobile). In 3DMark 11 test GPU SLI graphics system is only 2% faster than 6970M FC. FC 6990M is still a loan to 13% faster, while 580 million in SLI Barebone Clevo add 9% thanks to its desktop processor.

In 3DMark Vantage GPU test, 580 000 000 SLI has a clear advantage over FC 6970M (17% slower). In the older 3DMark (2001-06), however GeForce 6970M FC won - again with the CPU overclocked a bit faster.

Integrated SSD, Dell still relies on the old Samsung PM810 (PM830 recently). This is the part of parents, SATA 3 Gb / s generation, and therefore can not keep today's top-of-the-range models such as the OCZ Vertex 3 or 510 compared to Intel processors, Intel 320-series (also still a SATA 3 Gbit / s), solid-state drive PM810 welcomes the fact that only 5% behind.

However, the Intel 510 series of SATA 6 Gb / s, the OCZ Agility 3, and vertex 3 are significantly in advance of 37%, 58% lead and 76% respectively (average of all results of the HD Tune benchmark reading , AS, SSD, and CrystalDiskMark).

But compared to traditional hard drives and RAID systems composed of hard drives, the PM810 still rate very highly. This can also be felt in everyday use, with an impressive depth starting time and a faster Windows starts (30 seconds with a fully installed with all games and benchmarks).

Gaming Performance
Modern control is necessary, with SLI and CrossFire systems, in particular. We could not find the 275 series drivers delivered a laptop convincing. Therefore, the latest version of the 280.26 (modded drivers, as the official Alienware is not quite out yet, and Green Nvidia driver would not allow to be installed).

In addition to testing the game listed in our database, also look at the laptop performance in the following games:

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
The new demo of this 3D action game in the world of Warhammer 40K is compelling, with fast action in the third person in a family atmosphere. The first level of "fight" in the demo was quite soft in our test with the settings at maximum (height) and resolution 1920 x 1080, with 144 frames per second.

There is room to save the settings for AA. In comparison, the HD 3000 integrated graphics (switchable) was completely out of their depth, with a maximum of 16 fps (CPU overclocking, setting at least).

MMORG started the Rift for a short time with the setting of "ultra" and a maximum of anti-aliasing. Section Cathedral early in the game can be played smoothly at 50 fps. At some point you have to activate anti-aliasing settings a bit more if you want to go through the major battles later in the game without problems.

Bullet Storm
The shooter Bulletstorm brutal first-person is based on the Unreal Engine 3.5, and ran perfectly in our tests with maximum detail and 8x AA (level one of the demo). Fraps gave a constant framerate of 60-62 fps (apparently a limit in the game).

And the Grand Theft Auto 4 is constructed in reference, also addressed the full configuration (including the viewing distance). Fraps recorded 32 fps here, but we saw some mild stuttering. Therefore, it would be advisable to reduce the value to detail.

Age of Empires Online
Age of Empires Online, free-to-strategy game in real time, ran continuously for more than 100 images per second in our test (first mission) to establish the highest level of detail. Plenty of room to spare for the great battles later.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Old ET: Quake Wars is still dependent on OpenGL, and up to 16x AA and no more detail is able to summon the liquid 55-60 fps during the test.

Verdict game
As expected, this gaming notebook, full of high-quality components for outstanding gaming performance. Apart from some exceptions (like GTA 4, The Witcher 2 or Crysis 2) it can run all the latest games smoothly at the highest level of detail and with anti-aliasing.

If you close the FIFA 11 demo for analysis (because it does not seem to use SLI) in the M18x 6970M is about 8% slower on average (-3% FIFA 11 only). 6970M really shines in Crysis 1, 2033 Metro and also Call of Duty Black Ops (although Clevo X7200, SLI is a combination of faster). However, it can also be the oldest M18x 2920XM, overclocking is a bit 'higher level, which was able to make fun of the performance a little' more.

Otherwise, the Radeon HD 6990M Clevo barebones laptop influential CrossFire, a desktop CPU, could be obtained only 3% in advance. 580M GTX SLI, however, is 11% faster than the notebook itself. Thus the 580M GTX SLI, the installation of the latest driver could be faster graphics system Alienware M18x.

HD video performance
As we expected, because of the HD video does not mean that all problems M18x. The Intel integrated graphics HD 3000, and of course the GeForce GTX 580 SLI offers two video decoding formats currently used in hardware. If the resolution or the codec is not supported, the processor has enough power on his own smoothly run 4K Flash videos (YouTube).

Big Buck Bunny (1080p H.264) was played with an average CPU usage 1% of the Intel graphics card and Nvidia graphics cards similar. Intel HD 3000 graphics processor were even significantly faster in reference with 192 fps DXVAChecker NVIDIA PureVideo HD unit with 83 fps.

2K with videos, however, neither unit interferes with so Sintel (2K, H264) CPU handle with use of 21% (DXVABenchmark, 173 fps). But there was no danger to reproduce or drops stuttery part in any of our tests, the M18x is very suitable to handle HD video of any kind.

Last year saw more and more portable, which could not always summon the maximum performance of integrated components. Cooling systems that were too low, or the transformer that were too small, forcing manufacturers to compromise. But when it comes to portable gaming expensive, not acceptable.

The Alienware M18x with 580M GTX SLI Core i7-2920XM 55W is the most powerful model in the series. Thanks to the well-designed cooling system, reducing the speed of the CPU or GPU in normal programs and games can not be observed. Graphics cards remain relatively cool even with a maximum of 72 ° C. The processor is not heated to 94 ° C at first, but then stabilized in the range of 77-85 ° C safely (HWiNFO32 approximate values).

Interestingly, we still managed to find the instance of limitation. When Furmark races, graphics cards do not always run with their maximum speed of 620 MHz as soon as the video drivers were about 65-67 ° C, the vertical speed to 73 MHz, until the temperature is back up to 54 ° C.

As the GPU was still far from the critical temperature range, could be a form of protection for the AC adapter, or a special routine Furmark. The stress test is the final Battlefield BC2 and Prime95 runs without problems (and then used to measure temperature and energy consumption as well).

DPC latencies
Bars DPC Latency Checker program almost always stayed in the green zone. However, the argument seems to show a peak at 5600 microseconds, which would have caused a disruption in real-time audio and video applications.


System Noise
Noise emissions with the GTX 580 million system was slightly lower than the previously tested version Radeon. BIOS updates and optimizations could be a reason for it and the various graphics systems. But when the surface temperature was also slightly higher, it is likely that Dell has not optimized the BIOS.

Because of the Alienware SSD is almost silent when the fan is not running. Unfortunately, the cooling system starts, even in response to the use of light while you surf the web (although this was lower than the summer temperature at time of testing). It is not particularly high, but the fluctuations of the noise can be a bit distracted.

M18x heavy use to be very loud and annoying level was 46 dB (A) during the game. The same sound is a hiss of air (and quiet, a lot of undercurrent of high stress), so it's still a nice quality, but the amount is sufficient to cover some of the quiet sounds of battle during the games.

We have not reached 54 dB Radeon system during our tests, but the 580M display drivers, mostly was just a speed of 50 MHz Furmark the test, so it is impossible to compare them with exactly the same reasons.

M18x put a slightly worse performance of the temperature readings from a CF version of the 6970M. But these temperatures can be explained by the higher temperature and less amount of water on the screen. So it is not necessarily due to the 580M GTX SLI graphics cards.

Standby use, would also be further reduced if you use an integrated graphics processor (measured by the CF model 6970M). But since the launch of Windows that requires replacement, the user often does not.

For this hardware configuration, however, the result is very good. But a lot of stress on the machine, the areas of greatest importance palm rest to remain calm, and is more likely to be the weight of the machine you can not use on your lap, instead of temperature inactivity.

Notepad passed the stress test with Prime95 for several hours and Battlefield Bad Company 2 (as the GPU does not work at full speed with Furmark) without any problem with the internal temperature. Processor cores reached 94 ° C briefly as HWiNFO32, but then remained in the range of 77-85 ° C is not critical at all (NB - The temperature values ​​estimated by HWiNFO32).

The graphics are kept at temperatures relatively safe, with a maximum at 74 ° C and 72 ° C and reaching 61 ° C and 66 ° C.

Battery Life
The M18x powerful hardware means that energy is not his strong point. Alone, without the stress and graphics turned off (reboot with the graphics processor) could be a respectable 18W.

Under extreme stress energy fluctuates between 161 and 305 watts (depending on the graphics card running at minimum speed 580m full or only). As the temperature of the card is still very low at this time, it can be done to protect the adapter 330 W.

Crysis 2 for our instrument showed an average of 210 W in comparison (266 W with Prime95 on). So you can see that Furmark produced significantly more stressful for the GPU, and thus may force this protective function (?) Must be displayed.

Since the model types Radeon 580M SLI version with a high range of up to six hours. This represents a decrease of the optional use of integrated graphics after a reboot (not possible with SLI Optimus). In practice, you can wait a little over 3 hours browsing or watching videos WLAN.

With the maximum load of the system, running from the battery 12 cell of breath after only one hour. Unfortunately, the two graphics cards running at a speed of only 50 MHz, when the laptop is on battery, so you can not enjoy any game during that hour. The performance of the GeForce underclocked in this situation is down to the same level as the integrated graphics, so it would be wise to switch to graphics processors.

It turns out that Alienware M18x is also an excellent mobile gaming when it is equipped with two GeForce GTX 580 in SLI mode. Weighs over 5.5 kilograms, is severely limited its portability, but at least it can be easily moved from one office to another.

Its aggressive design helps to differentiate from the competition, the black version is slightly narrower than the other red. The use of aluminum and rubberized plastic also offers a high-level vision. Input devices also give a good impression, but it is very annoying to find the ghost images in a portable keyboard game. But the series of doors gave no reason to complain. USB 3.0, eSATA and HDMI are among the highlights.

Performance scores are impressive, thanks to high-end components, and is only narrowly beaten by Clevo X7200 model is equipped desktop processors. The SLI system was better able to configure more than two CrossFire 6970Ms with a net advance of 8%.

Compared to the 6990M FC, the benefit should be small. And then you can really only criticize something outdated Samsung SSD in the M18x. We now recommend a manual update (from a cheap hard drive) to a new Intel SSD OCZ Vertex 510 or 3 black.

The cooling system was a little quieter than our review model 6970M FC. Second, we measure the surface temperature slightly higher. This corresponds to a compromise a little better in our opinion.

The only major drawback is the terrible price of just over € 5000 in this model review. It means that the M18x is very likely to remain a niche product - but very good.

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