Review: Apple Thunderbolt Display

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Review: Apple Thunderbolt Display

Glance at Apple’s new Thunderbolt Display and you might mistake it for an iMac. Look a bit closer, and you might still be fooled – the display is the same as the panel used in the current 27-inchers.

Even if you were to take it apart, the sheer volume of chips, ports, fans and assorted gubbins inside it might not convince you that this is just a monitor. But it’s more than just a monitor!

Let’s start with its performance as a straight display, though. It’s entirely as we’ve come to expect from Apple: a glossy panel (no option for matte) with a high resolution and gloriously wide viewing angles. As usual, colours are good – if perhaps no more than good in the eyes of demanding creative professionals – and the general feel is rewarding.

27-inches can dominate many desks, but it’s undeniably lovely to have so much space in which to stretch out. So far, so utterly predictable for an Apple monitor: an entirely competent display.

While it can be bettered in price by Dell’s UltraSharp U2711 which uses the same panel (and is available online for as little as almost half) and bettered in image quality from high-end displays from NEC and Eizo, it’s still an object of lust for many folks who own other Apple kit.

The clue to the Thunderbolt Display’s uniqueness, however, is in its name; it connects not with VGA, DVI, HDMI or even Mini DisplayPort, but using the new Thunderbolt connector. While this means that you have to have a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac in order to use this, it brings some terrific benefits.

The reason there’s so much circuitry inside the Thunderbolt Display’s case, you see, is that it connects a whole host of functions to your Mac with just a single cable.

The display itself has a FaceTime HD camera, mic, surprisingly capable speakers, three USB ports, one FireWire 800 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a Thunderbolt port on the back. (The presence of FireWire and Ethernet is especially important for MacBook Air owners, whose notebooks lack these ports.)

What’s more, the Thunderbolt cable splits: one end is an up-to-85W MagSafe connector so you can charge your laptop at the same time. And the fact that there’s a Thunderbolt port on the display, coupled with its daisy chain capability, means you can add one or more Thunderbolt peripherals to the chain (though these are currently scarce). You can even daisy chain two of these Thunderbolt Displays to a single port (except on MacBook Airs) for a mindboggling number of pixels.

You can’t – in this current generation at least – connect Mini DisplayPort monitors to this Thunderbolt port, either natively or adapting, say, a DVI connector to Mini DisplayPort; that’s a little irritating.

This, then, is an oddly tricky product to sum up. The panel itself is typical Apple fare: very good if not stellar, and when judged in isolation, dizzyingly overpriced.

If you have a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac, however, especially if it’s a notebook, the sheer convenience of the display is beguiling. Plugging in a single cable to connect a wide range of high-speed and legacy peripherals is something we could definitely get used to.

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Review: Alienware M18X

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Review: Alienware M18X

The latest release from Dell-owned Alienware, the M18X, is a behemoth with enough power to run any game under the sun without so much as a flicker. But you’ll have to have deep pockets to get your hands on one.

Even getting the M18X out of the box is a challenge, thanks to its 438 x 311 x 52mm dimensions and a back-breaking weight of 5.7kg. This machine was designed to dominate your desk. As expected, it sticks to the Alienware design, which we love, but probably won’t be to everyone’s taste.

The entire machine is a slab of moulded rubber and brushed metal, and that ever-present Tron-style neon backlight.

Unsurprisingly, the focus of the Alienware is gaming. Our review sample came with an AMD Radeon HD 6900M and scored a mind-blowing 19,056 during our intensive gaming benchmark test.

While the sheer power of the machine keeps games running perfectly, it is the 18.4-inch screen that made playing on the M18X a truly immersive experience. The Super-TFT screen is like a window into your games. It’s extremely bright and the 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution keeps the most complex graphics razor sharp.

But it’s the sheer size that is the winner here and you really notice the difference between this and a standard 15.6-inch machine.

Mixed keyboard

Alienware m18x

Although we like the keyboard on the M18x, there is a degree of flexing towards the centre and some might not appreciate the tightly packed keys, but the customisable backlight looks great.

As any gamer knows, you’re going to want a mouse, game controller, joystick, or any number of other peripherals to get the best from your laptop. So Alienware has gone big on connectivity. There are five USB ports, upgradable to USB 3.0 if you want, along with an Ethernet port, eSata port, VGA Out and audio jacks for your headset and microphone. On top of that, you get two HDMI ports for connecting extra monitors or an HDTV.

Despite our praise, the M18x is not without its faults. At 87 minutes, the battery life is woeful. The charger, like the laptop itself, is huge, and you certainly won’t be leaving the house without it.

The other problem with the M18x is that to play big, you have to spend big and, being custom-built, it costs a small fortune to get the best spec. Every model runs on a Sandy Bridge Core i7 processor, but there are different variants available.

Alienware

Our review sample was powerful, but other laptop components such as RAM and storage space were poor. This was disappointing and, although you can customise the amount of storage, we would expect more than 250GB and 4GB of RAM for £1699.

TechRadar Labs

Benchmarks

Battery Eater ’05: 87 minutes
Cinebench: 16967
3DMark 2006: 19056

Essentially, if you’re not a hardcore gamer, there is no reason to spend this kind of money. But if you want the best mobile gaming experience around, this is what you should be looking at.

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