Alienware 13 vs. 15 vs. 17: Which One Should You Buy?

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Funky interstellar design, customizable lighting and show-stealing displays ─ dude, you're getting an Alienware. But Alienware's gaming laptops are more than just portable light shows. These are hard-core machines crammed with powerful specs that can take your gaming experience to the next level.

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OK, now that you've chosen an Alienware, which one is it going to be? Available in 13-, 15- and 17-inch laptops starting at $899, $1,199 and $1,499, Alienware offers several configurations in each size factor that can be further customized at purchase. After a while, all that choice can become intimidating.

But never fear, this guide will show you the ins and outs of purchasing an Alienware laptop that suits your tastes in size, display, power and portability. Whether it's the 13-inch and its extreme portability, the slightly beefier and considerably more powerful 15-inch, or the mother of all battleships, the massive Alienware 17, there's a gaming notebook out there with your name on it.

 Recommended Configuration
  Alienware 13 Alienware 15 Alienware 17
Price $1,599 $1,968 $2,199
Display 2560 x 1440 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Processor 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U  2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ  2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ
RAM 8GB 16GB 16GB
SSD 512GB PCIe SSD 256GB PCIe SSD 128GB M.2 SATA SSD
GPU Nvidia GTX 965M Nvidia GTX 970M Nvidia GTX 980M
Dimensions 4.5 pounds, 12.1 x 9.3 x 0.7 - 1 inches 7.1 pounds, 15.1 x 10.6 x 0.9~1.3 inches 8.3 pounds, 16.9 x 11.5 x 0.9~1.4 inches

Best Portability and Screen: Alienware 13

Gamers who want on-the-go fragging will prefer the tiny terror that is the Alienware 13. Measuring a petite 12.0 x 9.3 x 0.69~1.1 inches and weighing 4.5 pounds, it's the perfect size to stow away in a backpack or a large purse. Despite its diminutive size, the laptop doesn't skimp on the glowing Alienware accoutrements.

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MORE: Alienware 13 OLED - Full Review and Benchmarks

But the hands-down best thing about the Alienware 13 is its mesmerizing optional 13.3-inch OLED display.

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The glossy 2560 x 1440 touch panel is stunningly vivid with precise detail. In our tests, the screen reproduced an astonishing 206 percent of the sRGB color gamut with a dazzling 292 nits of brightness. Whether playing games, watching movies or looking at pictures, the Alienware 13 is truly a sight to behold.

The Alienware 13 also comes in 1080p and 1366 x 768 varieties, but if you can't spring for the OLED screen, go for the 1080p option. Under no circumstances should you even consider the 1366 x 768 model unless you like looking at lackluster color and muddy graphics.

Best Gaming Bang for Your Buck: Alienware 15

Not too big, not too small, the Alienware 15 is just right. Gamers that want a gaming laptop that's smaller than the massive 17, but bigger than the relatively tiny 13, should consider the 15-inch.

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MORE: Alienware 15 - Full Review and Benchmarks

The midsize laptop packs a bunch of win under its chassis with great gaming and overall performance, thanks to its 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M graphics card.

If that weren't enough, gamers can expect excellent audio quality, an extremely comfortable keyboard and over 7 hours of battery life when web surfing. Another plus: The Alienware 15's dimensions (15.1 x 10.6 x 0.9~1.3 inches, 7.1pounds) still make it plausibly portable.

Best for Sheer Speed and Power: Alienware 17

Cue up the screaming townsfolk because the alien has landed. Decked out in its glowing, customizable lighting, the massive Alienware 17 looks every bit like an alien mothership. Similar to its smaller brethren, you can expect a cushy keyboard and stellar audio. And depending upon the configuration, your new space station can have a gorgeous 4K display.

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MORE: Alienware 17 - Full Review & Benchmarks

But when it comes to gaming and overall performance, the 17-inch behemoth can crank things up to 11 depending on whether you prefer Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980M GPU or AMD's Radeon R9 M395X GPU. And if you're really feeling fraggy, there's the overclockable Intel Core i7-6820HK processor. The notebook can also be outfitted with a 512GB PCIe SSD for blistering boot and transfer speeds, which definitely comes in handy when it's time to play. Trust me, no one wants to be waiting more than 30 seconds to start dishing out digital beatings.

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When we ran the resource-taxing Metro: Last Light benchmark on the Alienware 17's Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M GPU at 1920 x 1080 on low settings, it ran at a rate of 124 frames per seconds. However, the Alienware 15 and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU weren't too far behind at 112 fps. The Alienware 13's GTX 965M GPU produced 69 fps.

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On the Geekbench 3 synthetic performance test, the Alienware 17's 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK CPU helped it score 13,906. The Alienware 15 (2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU) and the Alienware 13 (2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U) achieved 13,494 and 6,816, respectively.

On the File Transfer Test, the Alienware 17 (512GB PCIe SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive) had a transfer rate of 508.8 megabytes per second. Equipped with 256GB PCIe SSDs, the Alienware 15 and the Alienware 13 notched 201.1 and 179.6 MBps, respectively.

Best Battery Life: Alienware 15

In addition to their out-of-this-world design, beautiful displays and booming audio, Alienware laptops are known for having impressive battery life ─ for gaming rigs at least.

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MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

The Alienware 17 lasted 6 hours and 7 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), while the Alienware 13 with the OLED display clocked in at 5:38. But the Alienware 15 ran 7:13, which is practically unheard of for gaming notebooks.

MORE: Alienware 15 - Full Review & Benchmarks

Should You Get the Gaming Amp?

Alienware's Graphics Amplifier ($199) can transform any of the company's current fleet of gaming laptops into a powerful desktop. Depending on which desktop graphics card you put in, your Alienware 13, 15 or 17 can go from awesome to kick-ass in a flash. When we plugged a Nvidia GeForce GTX 980Ti GPU ($499) into the little black box, the Alienware 17's Metro: Last Light scores jumped to 62 fps at 1080p on ultra. That's a big improvement over the 37 fps the laptop obtained on its own.

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In addition to producing better frame rates for your traditional PC games, the graphics amplifier is also the gateway to virtual reality. Provided your laptop has at least an Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor with 8GB of RAM, all you need to start is the right desktop graphics card (minimum: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290) and either an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and you're good to go.

If you've got your eye on the Alienware 13, I'd highly recommend checking out the amp. Having a superportable gaming system is great when you're traveling. However, when you get home you're going to want something with a bit more oomph. Alienware 15 and 17 owners should check out the amp if they want to do VR without spending too much money.

Overall Recommendations

It pretty much goes without saying that when it comes to power, the Alienware 17 is the cock of the walk. However, don't underestimate the smaller rigs, as they beat systems with similar specs in their weight class. The Alienware 13 is a great choice for gamers who want to play Doom or Rise of the Tomb Raider while they're on the road. The Alienware 15 takes some of the best aspects from the 13 and 17 and combines them into a midsize gaming dynamo that is my top pick for an all-around gaming laptop.

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