Shrinkage isn't always a bad thing. Take the Alienware 13 R2 ($949 starting, $1,699 configured), for instance. The 13-inch gaming rig is the spitting image of its larger brethren and has the same customizable backlighting. Although it doesn't have the same high-end specs as the Alienware 17, the 13 R2's Intel Core i7 Processor and Nvidia GPU still pack a potent punch. It's an aggressively affordable option for gamers who want a truly portable gaming rig, but the short battery life may make gamers hit the pause button.
As the smallest Alienware, the 13 R2 is still as cute as a button. The fun-size laptop still follows all the design conventions of its bigger brothers. The Epic Gray lid is still constructed from a durable mixture of plastic and carbon fiber with the two LED strips accentuating the glowing alien head in the center.
The palm rest is a sumptuous font of black soft-touch finish that helps create a comfortable typing experience. The glowing backlit keyboard rests between the large touchpad and the power button, which masquerades as another glowing alien head.
Along the right side of the Alienware 13 R2, 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.
At 4.6 pounds, 12.9 x 9.3 x 1.0~1.1 inches, the Alienware 13 R2 is the slimmest of Alienware's suite of laptops. That's slightly heavier than the Razer Blade (4.4 pounds, 13.6 x 9.3 x 1.0~1.1 inches) and the Aorus X3 Plus v3 (4 pounds, 12.9 x 10.3 x 0.9 inches).
The Alienware 13 R2's ultrahigh-resolution display looks so good you could touch it -- and you should. The 10-point capacitive touch screen is agile and responsive -- perfect for those Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja sessions. After you're done swiping, do take time to drink in the beauty of the 3200 x 1800 panel.
The 4K trailer for Suicide Squad was stunning, with details so sharp that I could see the fine lines in actress Viola Davis' steak as she cut through to reveal the pinkish-red flesh -- a shock of color in a muted scene. The blacks were especially deep, which made the scene where Killer Croc is wheeled in Hannibal Lecter-style from the shadows all the more ominous.
Who knew a desert could be beautiful? At least it is in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's interpretation. The sepia-toned earth was a perfect foil for the clear blue sky and hazy white sun above. Vegetables brave enough to grow in the unforgiving heat showed their rebellion in dark green petals and hardy purple plants. When I used my binoculars, the details were so sharp that I could see the heat waves rising off the scorched horizon before me.
The Alienware 13 R2 hit 106.4 percent on the sRGB gamut test (measures color reproduction), which corroborated my initial findings. It's slightly above the minimum 100 percent and the 79 percent ultraportable average. It's slightly better than the Plus v3's 106.3 percent and the Blade's 102 percent.
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On the color accuracy test, the Alienware 13 R2 hit 3 on the Delta-E scale (0 is perfect), which is better than the 5.8 average, but not as close to perfect 0 as I'd like. Still, it was much better than the X3 Plus v3, which notched 10.7, but no match for the Blade's 1.2.
The Alienware 13 R2's future is bright, at least according to our brightness test, where it averaged 317 nits, topping the 254 nits average. It's not as bright as the Blade's 337 nits, but it's enough to outshine the Plus v3's dismal 203 nits.
How Alienware managed to squeeze a pair of high-quality, Klipsch speakers into the Alienware 13 R2's tiny frame is beyond me. Paired with Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software, the side-firing speakers filled my medium-size testing area with clear, buoyant audio.
Drake's pleading monotone sailed across a bed made from light synth and gentle bongos with just a dash of brushed cymbal. Out of the three available software settings (Music, Movie and Gaming) I found that Music was indeed the best option for listening to songs no matter the genre.
Making my way toward an enemy base in MSG V, I could hear my body scraping across the barren rock as I crawled toward an unsuspecting guard. A hawk screeched in the background as I slowly rose to my feet and crept closer. A campfire crackled cheerfully to my left as I moved closer, finally grabbing my enemy. A few quick taps and a sickening, yet satisfying crack signaled that the hostile's neck was broken, and I could move on to the next objective.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Say hello to supercomfortable typing. The Alienware 13 R2's full-size traditional TACTX keyboard delivers cushy feedback. I hit 62 words per minute on the 10 Fast Fingers Typing Test, which is slightly above my usual 60 wpm.
The 4.25 x 2.75-inch touchpad offers plenty of real estate to two-finger scroll, pinch-zoom and three-finger swipe. Performing gestures on the large surface was nice and responsive.
Alien Command Center
What's an Alienware without a massive dose of showmanship? In order to elicit the optimal amount of oohs and ahhs, the Alienware 13 R2 comes preloaded with the Alien Command Center control panel, which lets gamers tweak the lighting, power configurations and create shortcuts.
Those with an eye for flair will appreciate the included AlienFX application, which allows you to create your own custom color profiles for the allotted eight zones on the laptop. The software offers 20 colors and three effects to help your laptop stand out from the crowd.
The Alien 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.
It's not a DSLR, but the Alienware 13 R2's integrated camera will do when you want to video chat or broadcast your latest gaming glory. Despite the copious visual noise, the 2-megapixel camera did a great job of accurately capturing my skin tone and my bright blue dress. I could also make out some of the many rubber bands holding my hair in place.
Whether you're gaming or watching video, the Alienware 13 R2 can get hot under pressure. It started out well enough, with the touchpad measuring 87 degrees Fahrenheit after 15 minutes of streaming full-screen videos from Hulu. The space between the G and H keys hit 93 degrees, which is 2 degrees below the 95 degree Laptop Mag Comfort Threshold. The bottom vent was the warmest at a balmy 109 degrees.
I spent 15 minutes infiltrating a Russian base in the middle of the dry, arid Afghanistan desert. At the end of my session, the Alienware 13 R2's touchpad measured 88 degrees. However, the space between the G and H keys rose to 100 degrees, while the middle vent underneath the laptop jumped to a blazing 133 degrees. It's lucky I play with a little space between my legs -- otherwise things might have gotten crispy. In other words, don't put this laptop directly on your lap.
Gaming and Graphics
You can expect some solid frame rates with the Alienware 13 R2's midlevel, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 2GB -- particularly on games played at 1080p. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain ran at a steady 32 frames per second (30 fps is playable) at 1080p with every setting pushed to high. It made my time skulking amongst the surprisingly dense foliage of the Afghanistan desert a lot more pleasurable, such as discovering a few tarragon plants, with their hardy yellow petals growing defiantly against the bleak backdrop.
When we ran the Bioshock Infinite benchmark, the Alienware 13 R2 produced 36 fps at 1080p on high, just missing the 38 fps average. The Razer Blade and the Aorus X3 Plus v3 with their Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPUs were neck and neck at 71 and 72 fps, respectively.
During the Metro: Last Light test, the Alienware 13 R2 hit 57 fps on low settings at 1080p, smashing the 15-fps average. The Plus v3 and Blade delivered 29 and 28 fps for a distant second and third.
The Alienware 13 R2's 960M GPU is nice, but sometimes you want to crank things up to 11. On those occasions, you pull out the graphics amp. The $299 device is an external enclosure that houses a desktop graphics card that adds a noticeable performance boost, depending on the GPU. The device can support both AMD and Nvidia GPUs, including those powerful enough to support 4K gaming and multiple displays.
When connected to the Alienware 13 R2, the amp will bypass the laptop's 960M GPU and use the desktop graphics card instead. Depending on the card inhabiting the enclosure, your frame rates should get a sizeable increase.
Keep in mind that the graphics amp is a bring-your-own-GPU kind of deal, which means you'll have to find some extra dough to get a card. Alienware offers several chips, including the GeForce 970 card ($329), the 980 ($599) or the Titan X ($1,000). The company also has a few AMD cards, such as the Radeon HD R9 290 GPU ($529) or the Radeon HD R9 290X ($599).
Say hello to Skylake. The Alienware 13 R2 is one of the company's first laptops to ship with Intel's 6th Generation Core Series CPUs (aka Skylake). Intel claims that Skylake CPUs will deliver longer battery life, quicker performance and the ability to overclock the processor. That should come in handy for gamers who want to squeeze every bit of performance from their systems.
In my real-world stress test, I ran MGS V in one window, while I streamed an episode of The Awesomes on Hulu with eight open tabs in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. The Alienware 13 R2 and its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U CPU with 16GB of RAM shrugged it off, keeping everything running without a stutter or hiccup.
The laptop continued to hold its own on our synthetic benchmarks, scoring 6,864 on the Geekbench 3 test, easily topping the 4,340 ultraportable average. However, both the Aorus X3 Plus v3 (2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ CPU) and the Razer Blade (2.6-GHZ Intel Core i7-4720HQ CPU) beat the Alienware 13 with scores of 12,863 and 10,915.
The Alienware 13 R2's 256GB PCIe SSD completed our File Transfer Test in 28 seconds, for a transfer rate of 181.7MBps, passing the 152.7MBps average. The Blade, which has a 256GB SSD (SATA m.2) did marginally better at 182MBps, while the Plus v3's dual 256BG SSD stole the show with 299MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Alienware 13 R2 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. That's much faster than the 8:32 average, but not as fast as the Plus v3 or the Blade, which clocked in at 3:52 and 3:46, respectively.
The Alienware 13 R2 is light enough to take anywhere, but you'll need to carry the power brick with you. The notebook lasted 3 hours and 16 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous streaming over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness. The Razer Blade and the Aorus X3 Plus v3 had significantly better times of 5:52 and 5:38 on the same test. However, if all you're doing is streaming video, the system will last longer: It endured for 5 hours and 10 minutes when we played Netflix on it.
Similar to most gaming laptops, the Alienware 13 R2 is blissfully free of bloatware. Outside of Flipboard and Microsoft's standard Windows 10 apps (Calendar, Mail, Cortana and Groove Music), the notebook is a blank slate, waiting to hold your library of games.
When it ships, the Alienware 13 R2 is covered by a 1-year premium support warranty, which includes 24/7 tech support and at-home repairs.
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I reviewed the $1,699 model of the Alienware 13 R2, which has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U processor with 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, an Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 2GB of VRAM and 3200 x 1800 touch screen.
The $949 base model offers a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 2GB of VRAM and a 1366 x 768 display.
Just because it's the smallest, that doesn't mean that the Alienware 13 R2 can't play with the big boys. It's the perfect size to curl up with on the couch or stow in a book bag for a long trip. The lovely superhigh-res display and powerful speakers make the 13 R2 a veritable multimedia powerhouse. Thanks to its Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GPU, you'll have no problems laying waste to wyverns in Witcher 3 or enemy soldiers in Metal Gear Solid V. And at $1,699, it's a cheaper entry point into legitimately mobile gaming laptops that typically start at $2,000.
Still, I wish Alienware would consider offering an Nvidia GeForce 970M configuration, as the 960M doesn't provide some extra graphical oomph. Yes, you can definitely purchase the graphics amp, however, that's strictly a desktop solution. The short battery life is a cause for concern, because the 13 is meant to be used on the road, and the warm temperatures make this a device you won't want on your lap.
If your main concern is performance, there's the Razer Blade ($2,399) and the Aorus X3 Plus v3 ($2,499), but you'll pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. If you don't mind staying close to an outlet, the Alienware 13 provides a great mix of functionality, customization, performance and affordability that will appeal to the thrifty gamer's wallet.