Software & First Boot
Armed with a pair of speedy Samsung 830 Series SSDs configured in RAID 0, this Alienware system simply flies, which becomes evident the moment you press the power button. Starting from a cold boot took just 24 seconds to get into Windows, and around 46 seconds to completely load all the modules in the taskbar. Powering down took just a hair over 10 seconds.
Alienware, once a boutique system builder that stood on its own two tentacles, is now Dell's premium brand, beamed up to the bulk OEM six years ago. The Alienware subsidy maintains its own portal on the Web and continues to cater strictly to gamers and enthusiasts with high-end systems. Keeping with that spirit, Alienware rigs like the one reviewed here are almost completely devoid of third-party software. A handful of utilities are scattered about, none of which are filler programs, but essential to hardware they're tied to or the feature-set of the M18x.
One of those software items is Qualcomm's Atheros Killer Network Manager. An optional upgrade on the M18x R2 is a Killer Wireless-N 1103 network adapter, an $80 up-sell with 3x3 MIMO and various technologies designed to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your wireless connection. The network manager isn't essential, but it does provide a graphical overview of your network.
CyberLink's PowerDVD software is also included. It supports the playback of Blu-ray discs, DVDs, VCDs, and a number of video and audio file formats. By default, M18x R2 systems ship with a slot-loading DVD burner, though you can upgrade to a Blu-ray reader (as ours came configured with).
One of the unique features of the M18x, and several Alienware systems in general, is the ability to customize the lighting scheme. There are nine different lighting zones, each of which can be individually configured. The included FX software allows you to preview your funky color scheme before committing to them, as well as create and save themes. You can even set up a lighting scheme for system events, like when a new email arrives.
What you see in the picture above are the macro keys. There are five macro keys along the left side of the keyboard, plus a profile toggle switch that cycles between three profiles. All this is customizable via the included software as well.
If you're in need of a time waster, the bundled webcam software provides plenty of fun and silly filters to play with. As is usually the case with these things, once the novelty wears off, you might never cycle through the effects again, but in the meantime, well, the above speaks for itself.
As for the hardware, the M18x sports a 2.1-megapixel Full HD webcam with dual digital microphones.