Alienware 13 Review
I have never had the opportunity to review a gaming laptop before, so I have been quite excited to test out the new Alienware 13 with the runs a GTX 1060.
Alienware has to be the most famous gaming laptop brand out there, and their 13 models, in my opinion, is their flagship product. Not because it is the highest spec but there are very few gaming laptops on the market in this form factor. In fact, as far as I am aware there are only really 3 laptops that come close to this in terms of dimensions and specification. These include the Aurus X3 Plus R7-CF1 which has a 13.9″ screen the MSI GS43VR which has a 14″ and the Gigabyte AERO, also with a 14″ screen
I have been sent the top model to review which costs £1,849.00 and its specifications include:
- Intel® Core™ i7-7700HQ Processor (Quad-Core, 6MB Cache, up to 3.8GHz w/ Intel® Turbo Boost)
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5
- 13.3-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) OLED Anti-Glare 400-nits Display with Touch Technology w/ Alienware Head
- 16GB DDR4 at 2400MHz
- 256GB M.2 SSD (Boot)
- Killer 1435 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1
- Average weight: 2.6kgs
- Dimensions H22mm W330mm D269
All 4 laptops I have mentioned have very similar dimensions, but the weight of the Alienware is actually quite a bit more than the other three, at 2.6KG. The other three models come in at under 2KG, however, I don’t know how precise the other companies are, but the Alienware I have weighs just 2.4KG, so a little lighter than reported. At this weight there is a noticeable amount of heft to it compared to an ultra-portable, I don’t think I would want to carry it around whilst walking all day but at the same time this is a laptop that is more than powerful enough to replace most people’s desktops, so 2.4KG is pretty light really.
While this is significantly smaller than my old 15.6″ laptop, it is much bigger than the ultra-books I have been reviewing recently. The thickness and weight of the unit were a given, due to the GPU and powerful CPU, but one of the first things I noticed was that the 13″ screen takes up a lot more space than your typical ultra-portable. There is a very large bezel at the bottom of the screen where you have an Alienware RGB logo, and coming from the XPS 13 2-in-1 with its InfinityEdge it took a little getting used to and at first, I thought there was an issue with the screen resolution itself. Looking at the competing models, they all have a similar bezel, so this is obviously just a trade-off you must make if you want a powerful gaming laptop.
If you are wanting to ditch the desktop but want something more powerful than the GTX 1060 you can buy the Alienware Graphics Amplifier which is basically an external housing for a full-sized graphics card. It only costs £195 but you will have to supply your own GPU.
The pricing of the Alienware 13 appears to be competitive, it is only £50 more than the AORUS for example, and it is actually only £100 more than the far lower specced but ultra-portable XPS 13 2-in-1. I do have one big issue here though, the default specification of the model I have been sent includes a 256GB NVMe drive. This may be enough storage in an ultra-portable but it is certainly not in a gaming laptop. You can buy it with more storage which costs £139 for 512GB, and there is a second M.2 slot which you can add another drive in as you are buying it, or you could upgrade it yourself at a later date.
Design & Build
The design of the laptop is typical Alienware, it is not overly gaudy, but it is designed with gamers in mind, and now that RGB has become fashionable you have a light up Alienware logo, RGB backlit keyboard and an RGB touchpad. You can control all of these within the custom software that comes supplied, so you can tone it down (or up) as you require. On the model I have, I did find that the touchpad had a noticeable issue with the uniformity of the illumination. Light seemed to be bleeding out between the edges of the mouse keys and touchpad. It doesn’t use chicklet style keys so there is no spacing between them, typing on it for long periods of time was quite comfortable, and while I prefer a full-sized desktop keyboard, it was perfectly usable during gaming. The touchpad has 2 dedicated keys, this is obviously important for gamers, and I personally just prefer them for day to day use too, they are evenly sized with decent travel and I never had any issues with hitting the wrong button. The touchpad itself was very responsive too with browsing and office work being quite comfortable. Gaming with a touchpad is not ideal, but I did manage a few encounters in XCOM War of the Chosen without any issues.
Apart from the touchpad issue, the overall build quality is superb, the screen as a nice firm hinge and there is no wobble when I am gaming on my lap.
This model uses an OLED screen at 2560 x 1440 which is one of the few laptops on the market with an OLED and can help justify the small markup compared to competing models. OLED is great on a gaming laptop as you get great response times with superb colour reproduction. As always with OLED screens, the black levels are fantastic and you can really tell the difference between other IPS or TN based laptops I have reviewed. The screen is also touched sensitive, which is handy for when browsing long pages, but personally, in a none convertible laptop, I just use the keyboard. It is always nice to have though.
On some of the models, including mine, there is Tobii eye tracking, which is compatible with certain games, and Dell also use it to help control your battery life and overall system power. I didn’t test this extensively, and personally, I found the little red light randomly flashing a little annoying. You can switch it off though.
Thankfully, because this is a lot chunkier than the XPS range, you get plenty of ports to use, which includes
- RJ-45 Killer Networks e2400 Gigabit Ethernet Port
- 1 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Type-A Port
- 1 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Type-A Port with PowerShare technology
- 1 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Type-C Port
- 1 Thunderbolt™ 3 Port (USB Type-C™ with support for SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps, 40Gbps Thunderbolt, and DisplayPort)
- 1 Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port
- 1 HDMI 2.0 Output
- 1 Mini-Display Port 1.2 (certified) Output
- 1 Audio Out 1/8″ Ports (Compatible with inline mic headset)
- 1 Headphone 1/8″ Port (re-taskable for Microphone/Line-In analogue audio input)
The Killer Network WiFi and Ethernet is not loved by a lot of people, but I found it to perform very well. WiFI speeds using the D-Link DIR-895L were superb, and I never had any issues with the wired performance. The Killer software is good too, you can customise various aspects of the network, and also see specific data regarding your connection.
When it comes down to it, the only thing that really matters with a gaming laptop is its raw performance. The i7-7700HQ is one of the top mobile CPUs Intel has and includes 4 cores, 8 threads running at 2.8GHz with a boost to 3.8Ghz. The GTX 1060 is the sweet spot in the gaming laptop market, it is the most powerful GPU you can get in a portable frame. Once you get to the GTX 1070 you are forced into a 15.6″ chassis and generally looking at over 3KG.
The model I was sent included a 256GB NVMe drive and using CrystalDiskMark it tested at 1720MB/s read and 739MB/s write. Not the absolute fastest NVMe on the market but still 3 times quicker than a normal SSD, and many times quicker than an HDD.
The combination of the powerful CPU and NVMe made using the Alienware 13 a pleasure to use on a daily basis, everything loaded quickly, there was never had slowdowns or hanging processes.
Testing the GPU I achieved a Firestrike Ultra synthetic score of 2668 and playing games like Ghost Recon in 1080p ran at a reasonable 36+FPS at max settings. Dropping the setting a little will get much better frame rates obviously. While you won’t be able to game on ultra-settings and the full resolution, this laptop will comfortable handle mode AAA game you throw at it and run them at high settings.
The laptop is surprisingly quiet even when gaming, my old Acer 15.6″ cheapo laptop is much louder. While you can hear it, especially during gaming, Dell seems to have implemented the cooling system really well.
Battery life is also surprisingly good, though I don’t have any reference to other gaming laptops, general office work I could get 6+ hours out of it, gaming dramatically reduced this obviously. It will never compete with the low power ultra-portables, but in today’s connected world it is rare that we are away from a plug socket for more than a few hours.
Apart from 2 minor gripes, the small SSD and the odd backlit touchpad, this is a fantastic laptop, it can handle every possible task you throw at it while still being portable, which is exactly what I would want from a gaming laptop. Looking at the competition, nothing particularly stands out better as a superior alternative, other laptops have a larger SSD and come in weighing a little lighter, but none have the OLED screen which adds a significant premium to the price tag.
One of the advantages of Dell and Alienware is that if the price is a little steep for you there are plenty of other options and this laptop has options ranging from £1,249.00 to £1,849.0 for all the base models. If you are happy with a little tinkering you can upgrade things like the RAM and SSD afterwards, which could potentially save money.
Dell also regularly do discounts on their laptops, and at the time of righting you can get 12% off, so the model I reviewed dropped from £1,849.00 to £1,627.12 which in this case actually makes it the most affordable gaming laptop with these dimensions and specifications. You can even bump the SSD to the 512GB and the final price will come in at £1750, so £50 cheaper than the AORUS but with a much better screen.
Alienware 13 Review