Alienware has never been afraid to march to the beat of its own drum. Measuring just an inch thick, the Alienware 13 ($1,699, starting at $999) is the company's thinnest gaming laptop to date, and retains many of the things we love about Alienware notebooks -- customizable lighting, impressively long battery life and fast gaming performance.
However, the company kicked things up a notch by adding a mesmerizing 2560 x 1440-pixel touchscreen and a new external graphics amplifier ($299 without graphics card) that allows your notebook to tap into the power of bleeding-edge Maxwell desktop graphics. Does this notebook have the ideal combination of power and portability?
Editor's Note: Due to issues with a pre-release driver, we were unable to fully test the Alienware 13's graphics amplifier. We will re-test this component after the issue is resolved, and reserve the right to change the rating.
Cue up the baby talk, because the Alienware 13 is one of the most adorable gaming laptops I've had the pleasure of reviewing. But don't let the cute looks foolyou, because beneath itsdainty dimensions lies a furious beast that would put a honey badger to shame.
While it looks similar to the much larger Alienware 18 and 17, down to the gray lid accented by black soft-touch material -- it does so in a relatively tiny 4.5-pound 12.9 x 9.3 x 1.0~1.1 inch frame.
The Alienware 13's Epic Silver lid is made from plastic mixed with carbon fiber that's sturdy, yet attractive. The lid also features two slanted LEDs and a backlit alien head logo that makes this laptop undeniably Alienware.
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Similar to its bigger brothers, the Alienware 13's interior features a backlit keyboard sandwiched between the glowing alien head power button and the large touchpad.
The smallest Alienware features lighting configurations similar to those of its larger brethren. However, it lacks the side-mounted lights wrapped around the front lip of the laptop, dropping the number of customizable zones from 13 to 11.
By Alienware's standards, the 13 is the thinnest of the series. However it's still on the thick side compared to the Razer Blade (2014)'s 4.4-pound, 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.7-inch chassis as well as the Lenovo Y40's 4.4-pound, 13.7 x 9.8 x 0.9-inch frame.
Alienware Command Center
Alienware's Command Center, the company's proprietary control panel, helps personalize the gaming experience. The AlienFX option is the star of the show, tricking the Alienware 13 out with custom lighting profiles.
The Fusion feature lets you create custom power profiles for the laptop while Adrenaline assists in creating a set of conditions to run for each game. This is also where you can monitor your laptop's performance or access settings for the optional Graphics Amplifier.
AlienAutopsy (diagnostics and maintenance) and AlienRefresh (system restore) have been removed from the Command Center and now live with the other apps in Windows 8.1.
Welcome the latest member of the ultra-high-resolution club. The Alienware 13's 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1440p display is even more beautiful than Alienware's usual 1920 x 1080p offerings. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel served up plenty of cel-shaded goodness.
I couldn't deny the subtle beauty of an enemy lunatic being consumed by bright green corrosive goo.
Although it was a little gory, I couldn't deny the subtle beauty of an enemy lunatic being consumed by bright green corrosive goo. The magma-spewing Kragons looked like living fire as their thick skins glowed with an undulating orange and red, signaling an onslaught of flesh-searing fireballs.
The Alienware 13 averaged 327 nits on our brightness test, outshining the 258-nit ultraportable average and the Y50-70's dreadful 190 nits. The Blade 14 fared somewhat better with 261 nits, but it wasn't enough to dim the Alienware's shine.
On the sRGB gamut test, which measures color reproduction, the Alienware notched 103.4 percent, topping the 77.4 percent average. The Blade 14 yielded a comparable 101.5 percent.
During the Delta-E test, which evaluates color accuracy, the Alienware 13 scored 3.7 (0 is considered perfect). It beat the 7.7 average, but was upstaged by the Y50-70 and Blade 14, which registered 2.7 and 1.5 percent respectively.
Unlike most Alienware laptops, the 13 features a touchscreen, but only for the 2560 x 1440p configuration. I found it effortless to swipe between apps or initiate pinch-zoom gestures.
Little notebook, big speakers. It's a wonder that Alienware managed to cram its customary Klipsch speakers into such a relatively dainty frame. Buoyed by the pre-installed Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi MB3 software, the laptop blanketed my medium-size testing space in loud, crystal-clear audio.
The speakers delivered the necessary thump for Nicki Minaj's booty-shaking anthem "Anaconda." The trumpets blasted triumphantly as the rapper voraciously attacked the track. Conversely, the two-piece harmony on Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass," were light and airy,allowing me to hear the percussion in the background while letting the aforementioned bass shine.
From the pew, pew from my Inflamator laser, to the big measured blasts from my Investment Sniper Rifle, Borderlands was a symphony of destruction. Although the explosions were nice and hefty, my favorite sound was the sharp crack from my Lawbringer's whip as she delivered justice in her own sadistic way.
Whether you're typing or gaming, the Alienware 13' TACTX keyboard is a joy to use. The full size traditional layout upholds the company's sterling record for comfortable keyboards with firm, bouncy feedback. I hit 65 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, which is much better than my usual 55 wpm.
The 4.27 x 2.67-inch touchpad is large and easy to use. I quickly cycled between images using three-finger swipe and pinch-to-zoomed and rotated pics 90 degrees with no problems. Although the touchpad lacks discrete mouse buttons, the corners of the device were springy enough to provide loud clicks.
After streaming a fullscreen episode of "Ugly Amercans" on Hulu for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys matched our 95 degree comfort threshold. The vents at the bottom of the laptop blew a hot 109 degrees.
During a 15-minute playthrough of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the touchpad's temperature hit 79 degrees, while the space between the G and H keys dropped to 85 degrees. The undercarriage was still a little on the warm side at 113 degrees.
The Alienware 13's 2-megapixel webcam captures images and stills in 1080p. I was pleased with the level of detail in my test shot, as it showed off my sweater's intricate pattern. Even though I was working with a decent amount of ambient natural light, my shots had a noticeable yellow tinge, which distorted my chocolatey complexion and washed out my otherwise turquoise sweater.
The Alienware 13's smaller frame means that it doesn't have as much room for ports as larger notebooks do. On the right side, you'll find two USB 3.0 ports and gigabit Ethernet. There's another USB 3.0 port on the left along with jacks for headphones, microphone and power. Along the rear of the computer, you'll find HDMI, Mini DisplayPort and a proprietary port to connect the graphics amplifier.
Gaming and Graphics
It's easy to underestimate the power of a laptop this size, but the Alienware 13's Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM delivers strong performance.
The laptop scored 3,268 on 3DMark Fire Strike, decimating the 513 ultraportable average. However, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M GPU-powered Lenovo Y50-70 Touch and Razer Blade 14 hit a higher 3,617 and 4,203 respectively.
As I blasted my way around Elphis, Pandora's moon in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the Alienware 13 moved at a brisk clip averaging 60 frames per second at 2560 x 1440p with everything jacked up to ultra.
On the BioShock Infinite test, the Alienware 13 notched 76 fps on low at 1080p, beating the 63 fps category average. Neverthless, this rig was easily surpassed by both the Y50-70 (96 fps) and Blade 14 (120 fps). At maximum settings, the Alienware 13's frame rate dropped to 38 fps, which is playable but still worse than the Blade 14 (51 fps) and Y50-70 (42 fps).
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The Alienware performed fairly well on Metro: Last Light on low at 1080p scoring 45 fps. The Blade 14 and Y50-70 beat the 13's number however, posting 70 fps and 63 fps each.
Still the Alienware 13 kept chugging its way through the benchmarks at native resolution(2560 x 1440p), achieving 36 fps on low. That's enough to beat the 30 fps playability average and the Y50-70's (3840 x 2160p) and Blade 14 (3200 x 1800p), which scored a respective 22 fps and 35 fps.
The party came to a screeching halt at maximum settings, with the Alienware 13 hitting a stuttering 10 fps. Sure, it beat the Blade 14 and category average of 8 fps, but that rate isn't playable.
By itself, the Alienware 13 is a serviceable gaming laptop with solid graphics performance, thanks to Nvidia's last-gen Kepler GPU. However, Nvidia wanted gamers to experience the dizzying power of its new Maxwell series cards, so the company teamed with Alienware to create a graphics amplifier.
When it's connected to the Alienware 13, the amp overrides the notebook's 860M GPU and integrated graphicswith a more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 GPU. From there, the peripheral transforms the Alienware 13 from a mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll to an unbridled Mr. Hyde.
However, this added power doesn't come cheap: The amp costs $299, and that's without a GPU. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 card in my review unit costs an additional $689 through Dell.
Even though Alienware outfitted ouramp with a 900 series card, it can support cards as far back as the GTX 600 seriesthanks to its PCI Express port. The device also supports AMD cards starting from the Radeon HD 5000 series.
Clad in a Stealth Black plastic chassis with vents on all sides, the device cuts a rather imposing figure at 7.7 pounds and 16.1 x 6.8 x 7.3-inches. Similar to other Alienware products, the amp features a backlit alien head power button. And just in case you were wondering, yes, you can totally customize the color using AlienFX in the Alienware Command Center.
The amphas four USB 3.0 ports, a AC jack and a proprietary port to connect the amp to the laptop. The GTX 980 GPU in my configuration also has three DisplayPorts, one HDMI port, and a DVI port for connecting up to four monitors.
The Graphics Amplifier that Alienware sent us was using a pre-release graphics driver, which unfortunately did not offer the expected level of performance. In our initial testing, we saw gaming frame rates from the Amplifier that were higher than what the notebook offered by itself but lower than what 17-inch gaming rigs with Maxwell graphics offer.
We will revisit this issue, and reserve the right to change our rating.
Customary to any notebook featuring Nvidia graphics, the Alienware 13 comes preloaded with Nvidia's GeForce Experience, a suite of apps designed to enhance your gaming experience. Just made a cool kill shot or nailed the top score? ShadowPlay lets you record your triumph and instantly share it via Twitch.
Shield Mobile and Shield Tablet owners can make use of GameStream, which lets gamers stream PC games to their mobile devices over a local network.
BatteryBoost, designed to extend your notebook's battery life, has undergone an upgrade. The feature now has an Optimize button that adjusts a game's settings for optimal visual and battery performance.
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While not as powerful as a Core i7 processor, the Alienware 13's 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-4210U CPU with 16GB can still get the job done. The notebook effortlessly streamed a full-screen episode of "Ugly Americans" on Hulu while running a full system scan with 10 open tabs in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the Alienware posted 5,261, which is nearly 1,000 points higher than the 4,332 ultraportable average. However, the Razer Blade 14, which has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ CPU, hit 11,497 while the Lenovo Y50-70 Touch (2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ) took the top spot with 12,748.
The Alienware 13's 512GB SSD duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 25 seconds on the Laptop File Transfer test, which translates to a speed of 203.6 MBps. That's well above the 118.4MBps average as well as the Blade 14 (154.2MBps) and the Y50-70 (37.1MBps), both of which use 256GB SSDs.
During the Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Alienware 13 paired 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 21 seconds, soundly defeating the 9:43 average. That's good, but the Blade 14 and Y50-70 breezed past the Alienware with times of 4:15 and 3:59, respectively.
The Alienware 13 lasted 6 hours and 3 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness).
That's a full 2hours less thanthe 8:03 ultraportable average, but this is still one of the longer-lasting gaming laptops. The Razer Blade 14 posted a time of 5:19 while the Lenovo Y50-70 Touch tapped out at 3:40.
Software and Warranty
As usual, Alienware has gone easy on the bloatware, adding several third-party apps such as GeForce Experience, Flipboard and Stagelight, music creation software. Other than that, the Alienware 13 features the usual Windows 8.1 fare such as News, Calendar, Food & Drink and Email.
The Alienware 13 comes with a one-year Alienware Enhanced Support which features a Dell limited warranty, in-home service and remote diagnosis. You also receive 24/7 premium phone support with dedicated Alienware advanced support technicians for hardware and software assistance.
Our review unit of the Alienware 13 costs $1,699 and features a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-4210U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics and a Nvidia GeForce 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM and a 2560 x 1440p touchscreen display.
The base model of the laptop is priced at $999 and includes a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-4210U CPU; 8GB of RAM; a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive; Intel HD Graphics; an Nvidia GeForce 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM; and a 1366 x 768 display.
Gamers looking to get more oomph out of their system should consider shelling out the extra $299 for the optional Graphics Amplifier. However, they'll have to shell out even more for the GPU--as much as $689 for a top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce GTX 980.
While other slim gaming notebooks are aimed at giving players a little bit of power and portability, Alienware promises the best of both worlds. By itself, the $1,699 Alienware 13 delivers solid gaming performance with long battery life and a captivating ultra-high-resolution display. Admittedly, I would have preferred the more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M card, but the 13's G860M GPU gets the job done.
When paired with the optional Graphics Amplifier, the Alienware 13 turns into a certified beast, with the capability of delivering blistering framerates that put other laptops to shame. Plus, you can add up to four additional monitors without adding a huge desktop tower. But, depending on the GPU you choose, it will push the total cost higher than the price of theRazer Blade 14 ($2,399), ASUS G751JY ($2,499) and the MSI GT72 ($2,999).
If you're looking for more oomph in a notebook alone, the Razer Blade 14 is considerably more money, but has a more powerful GPU with a gorgeous display in a sleek, slim chassis. However, combined with is graphics amplifier, the Alienware 13 offers future-proof fun, combining greater portability with desktop-level gaming when you're at home.