I have seen the future of laptops, and it is OLED. Alienware is the first gaming laptop manufacturer to embrace this truth, updating the company's small, but powerful 13-inch laptop with a jaw-dropping 2560 x 1440 panel. It truly has to be seen to be believed. But the Alienware 13 (priced and reviewed at $1,299) is about more than its tear-inducing display; it also offers impressively loud audio, lightning-fast transfer speeds and serious graphics performance. This is the laptop to beat in the woefully underserved $1,000-$1,500 gaming laptop market.
Editors' Note: The version of the Alienware 13 review had a bug that prevented screen dimming, which didn't allow us to properly run our battery test. We will update this review once that issue is resolved.
The OLED panel Alienware promised in January has finally arrived, and it was worth the wait, because it is simply sublime. Colors on the 2560 x 1440 panel are so vivid I could almost see them with my eyes closed. OK, maybe not that vibrant, but you get where I'm going with this.
Watching the 4K version of the film Tears of Steel on the Alienware 13, I saw almost every joint, divot, gear and wire in the woman's robot hand. Her auburn hair popped thanks to the emerald-green trees in the background. The sapphire blue on her jacket and neon pink accents on the pants seemed to glow.
As I played Rise of the Tomb Raider, I took a long time just walking around the hidden village. Individual blades of yellow-green grass shifted realistically as Lara waded through to the top of a cliff. Crystal-clear water flowed over the zenith, sending out a fine spray of mist and culminating as a tempest of white froth at the bottom.
The display's color reproduction is just ridiculous, covering an insane 206 percent of the sRGB gamut (100 percent is excellent). This performance far surpassed the 87 percent category average as well as the Nitro Black (97 percent) and GL552 (93 percent).
As incredibly vivid as the Alienware 13's screen is, the color accuracy is a bit off. The panel measured 2.2 on the Delta-E benchmark, with zero being ideal. The Nitro Black had a much better score of 1, and the GL552 registered 0.7.
The panel is seriously bright, averaging 292 nits, which outshines the 243-nit mainstream average. The Nitro Black was a close second, with 289, nits while the GL552 emitted 273 nits.
Design: Sci-Fi sleek but beefy
Clad in silver anodized aluminum with a sturdy carbon-fiber frame, the Alienware 13 looks like a small scout ship from an intergalactic armada. Like its larger brethren, this laptop features two customizable LED strips on the lid intersecting with the midline that draws the eye with the company's trademark glowing alien head.
The notebook's interior is awash in black, soft-touch finish that surrounds a glowing keyboard. Positioned right above the keyboard is the power button, disguised as another alien head.
Along the laptop's right side, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet and a USB-C port, which is a new addition to the lineup. Another USB 3.0 port resides on the left with a security lock slot and jacks for a microphone, a pair of headphones and the power adapter. HDMI and Alienware's proprietary port for the Graphics Amp sit in the rear, waiting to kick things up a notch.
Measuring 12.9 x 9.3 x 1.04~1.1 inches and weighing 4.5 pounds, the Alienware 13 is currently the lightest system in the company's lineup. However, this laptop is massive and thick compared to the slim proportions of the Razer Blade (4.25 pounds, 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches) or Aorus X3 Plus v3 (4 pounds, 12.9 x 10.3 x 0.9 inches).
Audio: Big bark
Man, this little laptop can pump out some big sound. The side-mounted speakers filled my medium-size testing space, with crisp, loud audio. Jazmine Sullivan's powerful vocals washed over me during "Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)", accompanied by the gentle, yet insistent strum of a guitar, buoyed by the rhythmic clapping of the audience.
As I fought through a squad of religious zealots in Tomb Raider, I could hear the tightening of my bowstring before I released my poison-gas arrow. Once the arrow hit its intended target, I was rewarded with the gentle hiss of the vapor being released and the heavy thud of my targets hitting the ground.
Graphics and Gaming: Bigger bite
When you're going to battle against marauding demons or hostile militiamen with the Alienware 13, you'll be doing it with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M GPU with 4GB of RAM. The laptop churned out a steady 38 frames per second as I made my way through the opening level of Rise of the Tomb Raider on high. The rising snowstorm whipped Lara's hair into a frenzy as she searched for shelter, her jagged breaths rising in small white wisps that barely had time to form before they were scattered to the winds.
The laptop hit an impressive 96 fps on low at 1080 during the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege benchmark, coasting past the 85-fps mainstream average. Powered by Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPUs, the Asus GL552 and Acer Nitro Black scored 84 and 82 fps, respectively. Cranking the settings to high dropped the Alienware 13's showing to 68 fps, which is well above the 49-fps average. The Nitro Black and GL552 missed that mark, at 45 and 42 fps. Switching the Alienware 13 to its native resolution (2560 x 1440) netted 61 fps on low and 43 fps on high.
The Alienware 13 continued to dominate on Metro: Last Light, our most grueling graphics test, scoring 69 fps on low at 1080p, matching the category average. The Nitro Black was a couple of frames short, at 67 fps, while the GL552 was a full 10 frames short, at 59 fps. The Alienware 13 kept dishing out the win on high with 52 fps, easily clearing the 18-fps average as well as the 19 fps and 16 fps posted by the GL552 and Nitro Black.
When you decide to take a break from banishing Hell's denizens or snagging the Play of the Game, the Alienware 13 switches over to its integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU.
Keyboard and Touchpad: Seriously comfy
Bouncy, comfortable typing awaits on the Alienware 13's full-size traditional TactX keyboard. Buoyed by the keyboard's 2.2 millimeters of key travel and 60 grams of actuation, I easily hit 65 words per minute on the 10FastFingers typing test, which is well above my typical 60-words-per-minute average.
My fingers glided across the 4.2 x 2.6-inch touchpad as I navigated web pages and highlighted passages without ever encountering an edge. Performing multitouch gestures like two-finger scroll and four-finger tap was a breeze with speedy response. The bottom corners of the touchpad perform their function as right and left buttons with a healthy amount of feedback and an audible click.
Alienware Command Center
What's a mini battle station without its war paint? Alienware's Command Center suite allows gamers to configure the backlighting and power settings, and set unique software profiles. AlienFX continues to be one of my favorite color configurators, since it offers a wide variety of colors and effects to create a mean, lean, glowing machine. When this is paired with AlienAdrenaline, you can create a unique profile for each of your games while monitoring system performance.
I was surprised to see that Alienware equipped the 13 with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor with 8GB of RAM, instead of the speedier 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU I've grown accustomed to seeing on competing laptops. However, the Alienware 13 can juggle multiple tasks with ease, streaming an episode Gunslinger Girl while running a system scan with 10 additional tabs open in Google Chrome.
The Alienware 13 stumbled a bit when we ran our synthetic benchmarks. For example, it notched only 6,816 on Geekbench 3, missing the 7,531 mainstream average. Both the Nitro Black and GL552 outdid that, with 12,577 and 13,554, respectively.
When we tested the Alienware 13's 256GB PCIe SSD, it transferred 4.97GB of multimedia files in 28 seconds. That's a transfer rate of 179.6 megabytes per second, which tops the 129.8MBps category average. The GL552's 1TB and 7,200-rpm hard drive was a distant second, at 98.5 MBps, while the Nitro Black (1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive) mustered only 33.9MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Alienware 13 paired 20,000 names and addresses in 2 minutes and 12 seconds, decimating the 5:38 category average. The GL552 and Nitro Black were way ahead, with times of 3:44 and 3:46.
As pretty as that display is, if you're planning on using the Alienware 13 without keeping it plugged in, you might want to turn down the brightness. The laptop lasted about 3 hours and 35 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi) at full brightness.
After I spent 15 minutes fighting my way through a nest of hostile enemies in Tomb Raider, the Alienware 13's undercarriage measured a crotch-roasting 139 degrees Fahrenheit. (We consider anything above 95 uncomfortable.) The space between the G and H keys reached 104 degrees, while the touchpad stayed cool, at 89 degrees.
After letting the laptop cool down, I switched to watching a video. Another 15 minutes later, the bottom of the laptop registered a hot 114 degrees, while the keyboard and touchpad hit 95 and 82.
The integrated 1080p webcam serves up sumptuous color with a solid amount of detail. My midnight-blue blanket and shamrock-green shirt helped accent the reddish tones in my brown complexion. The camera even caught my purple-dyed locks. Details were sharp enough to capture the lines in my top, but there was a lot of visual noise, so much so the lights looked like misshapen blobs.
Software and Warranty
The Alienware 13 is nearly bloatware-free aside from Candy Crush Soda Saga, Twitter and Flipboard. You also have your typical Windows 10 fare, including Microsoft Edge, OneNote, Skype and Cortana.
In addition to the OLED screen, the $1,299 configuration of the Alienware 13 has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCI SSD, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M with 4GB of RAM and an Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU.
If you've been using a regular display for your laptop gaming and entertainment, I'm here to tell you that you're doing it wrong. The $1,299 Alienware 13's OLED screen is a vibrant revelation of where gaming notebooks are going. But once I stopped peering into the panel trying to see my future, there was the rest of the notebook to consider.
While I would love for Alienware to outfit this baby with beefier Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M graphics, the 965M is a powerhouse in its own right. The speakers and colorful keyboard also impress. I just wish the bottom of this rig ran cooler.
The only other thing I would change about the system is the processor. I want a beast whether I'm gaming or writing a review. Overall, though, the Alienware 13 is a great choice for gamers who want an unparalleled viewing experience for a midlevel price.