They might look just like the same Alienware gaming laptops that went on sale last year, but the M14x, M17x, and M18x are getting some pretty major additions for 2012. Each laptop now has an mSATA slot for a solid state drive for a variety of new storage configs, and Bluetooth 4.0 now comes standard on every model. Klipsch speakers aren't the only audio perk this time around: now, all three laptops have a dedicated Creative Sound Blaster chip on the board, and THX TruStudio software. And of course, they're getting some serious gaming firepower in Nvidia's new GeForce 600 and AMD's Radeon HD 7000 series GPUs.
The new 14-inch M14x R2 will have a bona fide 28nm GeForce GT 650M GPU with up to 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory, up to 16GB of RAM, an optional slot-loading Blu-ray drive, and an mSATA port for a solid state drive. If you just want a fast boot and a responsive machine, you can get a 64GB boot drive with 500GB of magnetic storage, but if you've got the cash, Alienware tells us you can set up a 512GB RAID 0 array of solid state storage for maximum speed. Needless to say, that's a pretty impressive set of features for a 14-inch laptop.
If you're looking for a desktop replacement, though, the 18.4-inch M18x R2 and 17.3-inch M17x R4 are ready to tempt: the 17-incher now comes standard with the 28nm Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M, with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5, and you can upgrade to a a GTX 675M or a Radeon HD 7970M, up to 32GB of RAM, as well as a wide variety of storage options since you'll have dual hard drive slots and an mSATA slot to play with. You'll start with a 1600 x 900 screen there, but there's a 1080p, 120Hz WLED 3D-ready screen available for an extra fee. The new M18x is much the same, but there you can buy two graphics cards to drive its 18.4-inch, 1080p display: a pair of GeForce GTX 675M in SLI at launch, or two Radeon HD 7970M in CrossFire when they become available. Both have 3x3 MIMO wireless cards for more reliable Wi-Fi connectivity too.
They look the same and weigh the same, and by today's standards that means fairly heavy and thick, but until gaming ultrabooks become the norm, they could be your best bet for a LAN party desktop alternative.
Update: All three laptops are available to configure now, but only with current-generation Sandy Bridge chips. All three show preliminary ship dates of May 17th. The Alienware M14x R2 starts at $1,099 with a 1366 x 768 screen, current-gen 2.5GHz Core i5-2450M CPU, and 500GB HDD. A 32GB caching SSD costs $75, a 64GB boot drive costs $150, and the Blu-ray drive option is $200. The M17x R4 starts at $1,499 with a 1600 x 900 panel, though there's a 1080p screen for $150, a Radeon HD 7970M for an extra $200, and the Blu-ray costs only $100 to add there. Last but not least, the M18x R2 starts at $1,999, but you won't get dual graphics chips for less than $3,099 for the time being.
Update 2: Dell has now officially announced Ivy Bridge availability for all three laptops, which are available now for configuration, and have an estimated ship date of May 28th. The M14x R2 can now be configured with either a Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge chip, while the M17x and M18x now only come with Ivy Bridge options. The entry level Alienware M14x R2 with Ivy Bridge starts at $1,371.02 with a 2.3GHz Core i7-3610QM CPU, and the same base specs as the Sandy Bridge version listed above. The M17x R4 Ivy Bridge model now starts at $1,469.02, and the M18x R2 at $1,959.02, and otherwise look the same as their recently retired Sandy Bridge predecessors.
Vlad Savov contributed to this report.