Slick design with customizable lighting; Powerful Intel Haswell processor; Outstanding graphics performance; Comfortable keyboard; Great audio quality
Relatively dim display; Runs hot while gaming
The Alienware 14 is a portable gaming notebook with a slick redesign and graphics might, but it runs hot under pressure.
So you're looking for a serious gaming laptop, but don't want to have to lug around an 18-inch, 10-pound monster. Alienware may have what you're looking for in its new Alienware 14. Packing a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and one of Nvidia's latest graphics chips, the Alienware 14 (starting at $1,199, $2,049 as configured) is a monster on the inside but is compact enough to throw in a backpack. Add to that a drool-worthy design, and you've got the makings of an impressive gaming rig that can go with you.
The old design's soft-touch lid has been replaced by anodized aluminum, which gives the chassis a reflective quality, further accentuating the spaceship motif. At the front of the lid is the trademark Alienware alien-head logo, while the bottom portion plays host to two diagonal LEDs.
Pop open the lid, and you're struck by the luxurious soft-touch finish that covers everything from the keyboard deck and keys to the display bezel and wrist rest. Just below the display is a large, backlit Alienware logo. A thin speaker cover sits above the keyboard, to the left of which is the Alienware 14's large, backlit power button. The underside of the system is made of magnesium alloy, though the rear portion of the panel is carved up into a series of mesh-covered grates to allow for better airflow.
The Alienware 14 measures a bulky 13.2 x 10.2 x 1.57-1.62 inches and weighs a hefty 6.6 pounds, making it one of the heaviest 14-inch notebooks on the market. Still, for a serious gaming system, that's fairly light.
On the notebook's lid are two strips of LEDs that angle inwards from the corners. Another strip of LEDs wraps around the lower portion of the chassis from the edges, terminating at the front of the notebook. Naturally, you also get backlighting behind the keyboard and the touchpad, as well as the large power button in the top left corner of the keyboard deck.
You can change all of the aforementioned LEDs by using the Alienware Command Center software. From here you can choose from a long list of pre-loaded lighting themes, let the system continually cycle the lighting, or even create your own custom profiles.
Creating a profile is fairly easy; users can assign 20 colors to each of the notebook's 10 zones. Even cooler is the Morph effect, which cycles between two designated colors, or the Pulse effect, which makes the lights flash on and off at a set tempo. You can make your profile as basic or complex as you want.
Alienware has also partnered with several developers who have agreed to create custom profiles for specific games. Currently, there are 60 available titles with custom profiles, including "Metro: Last Night," "Orcs Must Die! 2," and "Hotline Miami."
Games, such as "BioShock Infinite" looked stunning on the Alienware's display. Particle and lighting effects shown brightly as we ran through the cobblestone streets of the game's floating city of Columbia, while details such as the small splashes of water from a nearby fountain looked crisp and inviting.
It wasn't all good news for the Alienware 14's display, though. The screen's brightness averaged just 161 lux on our light meter, well below the mainstream notebook category average of 245 lux. By comparison, the MSI GT60's 15.6-inch display registered 247 lux. Such a dim display made watching particularly dark videos, such as a trailer for "Pacific Rim," less pleasurable. We also experienced somewhat shallow viewing angles. When seated to the far left or right of the screen, videos and images washed out.
While listening to Big Boi's "War," the lyrics seemed to pour out of the Alienware 14's speakers. The bass produced a satisfying thump, while the synth-heavy interlude was crisp without being overly tinny.
Alienware includes two audio programs with its systems. The first, Alienware Audio, allows you to change the notebook's basic sound settings. The real fun, though, comes in the included Dolby Home Theater software. From here, you can switch between multiple audio profiles, including Movie, Music and Game, or create up to six custom profiles. We tended to stick with the Music profile, as it offered the richest-sounding audio. Alienware's audio took a serious hit with the Dolby software turned off, so we strongly suggest you leave it on.
We also appreciated the soft-touch material the company used on both the keys and the wrist rest. However, the front edges of the system pushed into our wrists during prolonged periods of typing.
As part of Alienware's new design scheme, the keys are no longer outlined in bright LEDs. Instead, they have use more traditional backlighting, but can still be customized to any color you want via the Alienware Command Center.
The Alienware 14's 4 x 2.25-inch touchpad provided accurate movements and excellent feedback. The pad's relatively large size means that users won't have to constantly reposition their hands when gaming on the go. The left mouse button didn't always detect fast clicks, but if you're a serious gamer chances are you'll wind up using a dedicated mouse.
To say that the Alienware 14 gets a little hot under the collar during extended gaming sessions is a massive understatement. After we played roughly 20 minutes of "Tomb Raider," the 14's keyboard had reached an uncomfortable 101 degrees Fahrenheit between the G and H keys. The middle of the underside of the system topped out at a disturbing 120 degrees, while the rear vent got as high as 154 degrees on the thermometer. The sole cool spot was the touchpad, which registered at just 88 degrees. In general, we consider temperatures of 95 degrees and lower to be comfortable.
When not gaming, however, the Alienware 14 managed to keep its cool. After streaming a 15-minute video, the notebook's keyboard registered a relatively frosty 91 degrees, while the underside hit 95. The touchpad remained the same 88 degrees as when we were playing "Tomb Raider."
To keep the Alienware 14 from self-immolating, the company had to cut out half of the bottom panel and replace it with a series of mesh vents. That's on top of the large vent on the notebook's rear. All of these vents, combined with the high-end components inside the Alienware 14, result in a system that's not exactly quiet. When the system's fan kicks in, it sounds like a small turbine. In fact, many of our colleagues were surprised to hear how loud the fan became while we were playing "Tomb Raider."
Ports and webcam
Graphics and gaming
When we stepped it up to the Ultimate setting, though, frame rates fell to 22 fps. Still, even high-end desktop machines have trouble playing this game on Ultimate, so this is no big knock against the Alienware 14.
On the 3DMark11 benchmark, the Alienware 14 registered 4,136, which is just above the category average of 3,925. The MSI GT60, with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M, ran roughshod over the Alienware, pulling down a score of 7,926.
On the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, the Alienware 14 scored a sky-high 111 frames per second with the graphics set to Low and the resolution set to 1366 x 768. When we bumped up the resolution to 1920 x 1080, frame rates dropped to a still-impressive 71 fps. Push the graphics to the highest setting and set the resolution to 1366 x 768, however, and frame rates fall to 40 fps. With the resolution at 1920 x 1080, frame rates drop to 24 fps, making the game essentially unplayable. At these same settings, the MSI GT60 maxed out at 49 fps.
On the less resource-intensive "World of Warcraft," the Alienware 14 performed like a champ. With the graphics set to max and the resolution at 1920 x 1080, the notebook pulled in 84 fps, which is less than the category average of 97 fps, but still very respectable. The MSI GT60 put up 116 fps at these same settings.
On the PCMark7 benchmark, which tests a system's overall performance, the Alienware 14 registered a score of 5,325, well above the mainstream notebook category average of 4,193. The MSI GT60 2OD-026US, with its Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor, 16GB of RAM and dual mSATA SSDs, however, scored 6,191.
Thanks to its mSATA SSD, which holds the notebook's operating system files, the Alienware 14 booted Windows 7 Home Premium in a speedy 30 seconds, which is 4 seconds faster than the category average. Still, the MSI GT60 booted Windows 8 in a lighting-fast 11 seconds. It's worth noting, however, that Windows 8 was designed to boot faster than Windows 7.
The Alienware 14 copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in an incredible 25 seconds, a rate of 203.6 MBps, or nearly twice the mainstream average of 107 MBps.
It took the Alienware 14 just 4 minutes to complete the LAPTOP OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which involves matching 20,000 names to their addresses. That's well ahead of the category average of 4 minutes 52 seconds.
Software and warranty
Alienware offers a one-year warranty through Dell.
For the starting config of $1,199, gamers will get a 1366 x 768 anti-glare display with a rated brightness of 200 nits, an Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, Nvidia GeForce GT750M graphics with 1GB of DDR5 memory, 8GB of DDR3L RAM, a 750GB, 7,200-RPM hard drive and a slot-loading 8X SuperMulti DVD+/- R/RW optical drive. We'd recommend the 300-nit display.
Other options include dual 256GB SSDs in RAID 0 plus a 256GB SSD, Intel Core i7-4900MQ and Intel Core i7-4800MQ CPUs.
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|CPU||2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Haswell Core i7-4700MQ processor|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||32GB|
|Hard Drive Size||256GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||mSATA SSD|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size||750 GB|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed||7,200 rpm|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive||BD-ROM/DVDRW DL|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M|
|Wi-Fi Model||5G WiFi Broadcom4352 802.11n/ac network adapter|
|Touchpad Size||4 x 2.25|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0/eSata|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini Display Port|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Microphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Lock Slot|
|Card Slots||3-1 card reader|
|Size||13.2 x 10.2 x 1.58-1.64 inches|