Dell Alienware 18 & MSI GT70 Dragon Edition 2
Dell Alienware 18
Processor: Intel Core i7-4900MQ (2.8GHz)
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M x 2 (SLI) 4GB GDDR5
Storage: 750GB HDD (7200rpm) + 80GB SSD cache
The Dell Alienware 18 is by far the largest and bulkiest notebook in the shootout, coming in at slightly over 57mm thick and weighing a titanic 5.6kg. Dell has also gone to great lengths to ensure that plastics are kept to a minimum. The front lid is aluminum, whereas the rest of the chassis has been given a slightly rubberized finishing, which gives the entire notebook a very matte and stealthy look. It is also the only other notebook (apart from the Razer Blade Pro) to not have a removable battery. A removable battery can help reduce some weight if you know you are going to somewhere with power.
While that might appearing boring to some, know that Dell has stealthy decorated the Alienware 18 with LED lights around the chassis. They are not apparent when the notebook is shutdown, but once it powers up, the notebook takes on a more aggressive and 'gamer' type of look. Furthermore, these LED lights are categorized into zones and they are entirely customizable, so users can switch colors to suit their preference and mood.
As its name suggests, the Alienware 18 features a 18.4-inch display - the largest here - and uses an IPS panel. It goes without saying then that amongst the others notebooks, it offers the best viewing angles and visual quality.
Given its bulky dimensions, its not surprising to find that Alienware 18 is not short on features. Though it does not have a Thunderbolt port, it is the only notebook in this shootout to support Wireless 802.11ac connectivity. In addition, it has a Mini-DisplayPort for easy video output to high resolution (above 1080p) external displays and Killer Ethernet connectivity. It is also the only notebook with a hard disk drive that has its performance augmented by a smaller 80GB flash drive, which acts as a cache for quick boot-ups and frequently used applications.
Unusually, Dell has opted for more a more traditional style keyboard instead of the now popular chiclet-style keys, and the Alienware 18 also features 10 dedicated macro keys. The position of these macro keys need to be revised however, as we found ourselves hitting the fifth macro key by mistake whenever we wanted to hit the Control key. The trackpad is also not clickable, but then it is the only one that features backlights on a trackpad, and that is really cool.
In terms of audio performance, we found the Alienware 18 to be really loud. The volume can be easily raised to the near maximum without any significant signs of hissing or cracking. Bass is also surprisingly punchy for a notebook.
MSI GT70 Dragon Edition 2
Processor: Intel Core i7-4700MQ (2.4GHz)
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 4GB GDDR5
Storage: 750GB HDD
In our review of the MSI GS70 Stealth, we mentioned that MSI has recently refreshed their entire G-series lineup and that their latest offerings have stepped it up a notch in terms of value and build quality. This was clear in the MSI GS70 Stealth, which has an all-aluminum chassis and was actually quite attractive.
These improvements in build quality has been brought over to the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition 2 too. Although the notebook is built using a combination of plastics and aluminum, it feels and looks well put together, worthy of a flagship product. The front lid is bright red brushed aluminum as is the palm rest area, which is very striking. Equally eye-catching are the dragon motifs on the aluminum panels, which might not be everyone’s tastes.
As for dimensions and weight, the GT70 Dragon Edition 2 comes in as one of the bulkier and heavier notebooks, with a thickness of around 55mm and a weight that approaches 4kg - 3.9kg to be exact.
The 17.3-inch Full-HD display uses a TN panel and viewing angles are actually pretty decent for what it is.
As a G-series notebook, the GT70 Dragon Edition 2 is choke full of useful and nifty features. For example, a row of touch-sensitive buttons above the keyboard activate functions such as "airplane mode" and a turbo fan mode that ramps the notebook’s cooling fans to maximum speed for no-compromise gaming if you're into tweaking or in a gaming competition (such as the MSI Beat It tournament that used the GT70 Dragon Edition 2). It is also one of the few notebooks to have a Mini-DisplayPort. And finally, it features Killer network connectivity for Ethernet and wireless connections.
The trackpad is of a good size and is accurate to use. The SteelSeries keyboard is a bit odd in terms of layout because the "Windows" key has been relocated to the right. MSI says this is because gamers often hit it unintentionally during games. The keys themselves are large and are tactile to use. Additionally, the keyboard features anti-ghosting technology and customizable backlights, which we think its cool.
The Dynaudio speakers provide plenty of oomph and are quite bassy (relatively speaking of course), are loud and give vocals a light, airy quality. Overall, the GT70 Dragon Edition 2’s audio performance ranks amongst the best we have heard from a notebook.