The tiniest terror returns -- this time, with a 7th-generation Intel Kaby Lake processor. Now that Intel has finally launched the new chip for gaming laptops, the Alienware 13 (starting at $999; reviewed at $2,099) is that much more powerful. Paired with its Nvidia 10 Series GPU, the laptop retains the crown as the smallest VR-ready laptop on the market. If that's not enough, the laptop's backlighting and audio also got an overhaul while keeping the oh-so-captivating optional OLED display. In short, if you want a portable, powerful, VR-ready gaming rig for a reasonable price, your buck should stop here.
The baby of the bunch is growing up. The laptop that I once called "cute as a button" has shed its baby fat in favor of a leaner, more elegant profile, making this machine 21 percent lighter than the previous Alienware 13. At 5.4 pounds and 13 x 10.6 x 0.87-inches, it's currently the smallest and lightest VR-ready notebook in the world. However, non-VR rivals like the Razer Blade (4.3 pounds, 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches), Aorus X3 Plus (4 pounds, 12.9 x 10.3 x 0.9 inches) and even 15-inch MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro (4.2 pounds 14.9 x 9.8 x 0.69 inches) are slimmer.
In addition to sporting a new, svelte frame, the Alienware 13 has undergone a makeover of sorts. The lid is still constructed from Alienware's Epic Gray anodized aluminum, while the remainder is made of magnesium alloy. Unlike with previous generations, Alienware has toned down the light show on this machine, for a more mature take on the company's galactic theme. Instead of a pair of glowing, intersecting LED lights on the lid, there's only the center-mounted, illuminated alien head.
The Alienware 13's interior is all about the lighting. The glimmering, backlit keyboard and touchpad are swimming in a sea of luxurious black, soft-touch material.
The keyboard now resides at the top of the deck, forcing the glowing power key disguised as an extraterrestrial's head to a spot over to the top right of the deck.
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Looking at the rear of the laptop, I discovered the Alienware 13 has grown a bit of a caboose. In order to slim down the system, the company added a protruding edge to house some of the specs and ports, including a Thunderbolt 3 port, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, the power jack and Alienware's proprietary port for the Graphics Amplifier. On the right, you'll find a USB 3.0 Type-C port, which is primarily used for fast transfers, and a single USB 3.0 port. There's another USB 3.0 port on the left with and a secure lock slot and a pair of jacks for headphones and mic.
Prepare to be mesmerized. The Alienware 13's optional OLED display continues to offer the most vibrant output of any laptop on the market. The color on the 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1440 touch panel is glorious to behold. Bright green plants were slowly encroaching upon the ruined red brick wall in a breathtaking shot during the 4K film Tears of Steel. Details were sharp enough that I could clearly see the aged brown watermarks etched into a dingy gray wall.
Battling against a troublesome noonwraith in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was at once thrilling and disturbing. As I dodged and struck at the shrieking specter, the unfortunate creature's bones, green with age and algae, peeked through her shredded wedding gown. Aside from a few desiccated flaps of skin, the only tissues left were from her long gray tongue, which she used to try to poison me.
While OLED technology is known for its exquisitely vivid shades, nothing prepared me for the screen's ability to reproduce an incredible 220 percent of the sRGB gamut. That's well above 100 percent, which we consider excellent, and it also tops the 89 percent average for thin-and-light notebooks. The Blade (115 percent), Stealth Pro (111 percent) and P55W (110 percent) seem pale by comparison.
Scoring 5 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal), the Alienware 13's color accuracy fell well short of the 1.98 category average. The Stealth Pro hit 1.96, while the Blade and the P55W notched 1.5 and 1, respectively.
Tallying 254 nits on our brightness test, the Alienware 13 is definitely bright. It beat the 246-nit average as well as the Stealth Pro's 242 nits. However, both the Blade and the P55W were brighter, at 289 and 321 nits, respectively.
The Alienware 13's 10-point touch-capacitive display offered fluid responses as I made random squiggles in the Paint app.
The Alienware 13's 10-point touch capacitive display offers fluid, accurate response as I discovered by using the Google Halloween doodle. Scribbling the prompts on the screen helped me keep the attacking ghosts at bay and get a high score of 75,150.
Somehow, Alienware found a way to improve on its already stellar audio quality. Thanks to the extra space provided by the hinge-forward design, the company had more room to revamp the speaker design. As a result, the side-mounted speakers delivered audio that was more than loud enough to fill the test lab, but clear enough that I could hear the synthesized strings, crisp percussion and full bass on Bruno Mars' "24K Magic."
That full-bodied sound also carried over to my Witcher 3 play-through, letting me enjoy the grisly pleasure of hearing metal hitting flesh against a backdrop of frantic tambourines, yelping women and a lively fiddle. When gaming, I found that the Role Play setting in the Alienware Audio control panel gave me the best-sounding result for Witcher 3, but the multimedia-centric Music setting delivered the dynamic audio effects best suited to listening to music or watching movies.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I could type on Alienware's steel-reinforced TactX keyboard all day, every day. Every key felt like a springy mattress against my fingers, thanks to the 2.1 millimeters of key travel with 53 grams of force actuation required. The bounciness helped me achieve 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, topping my usual 60 wpm.
When I wasn't typing, I was gawking at the keys. The font is larger and easier to read, and Alienware added a new lighting-diffusion system for a sharper, brighter keyboard. It's not as bright as the Blade's Chroma keyboard, but man, does the Alienware 13 look pretty in the dark. The backlighting is capable of producing 20 different colors that can be programmed with the AlienFX software.
The 3.8 x 2.1-inch touchpad glows when you touch it, like a happy, futuristic pet. My fingers glided along the surface effortlessly, performing three- and four-finger flick and swipes with ease. My actions were met with quick and accurate responses.
Alienware Command Center
Alienware's proprietary settings suite has been streamlined down from five apps to three . The remaining apps include AlienFX, which lets you create custom backlighting profiles for your system. You can tweak the power settings with Alien Fusion, while AlienAdrenaline allows you to create custom shortcuts, monitor performance and adjust the Graphics Amplifier if you have one handy.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The Alienware 13 is the smallest VR-ready system on the market, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. Yep, you read that right: This itty-bitty rig is a lean, mean VR machine. Just add an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and you're set for on-the-go VR.
When tested for VR readiness, the Alienware 13 notched 6.9 on the SteamVR performance test, beating the 6.4 average for thin-and-light notebooks. Compared against other systems equipped with GTX 1060 GPUs, Alienware's machine narrowly edged out the P55W's 6.6, but not the Stealth Pro's 7.4.
To test the Alienware 13's gaming prowess, I ran across a nest of ghouls as I made my way through The Witcher 3. In a four-on-one fight, I deftly avoided brutal swipes by quickly rolling behind the beasts and connecting with a heavy sword strike. It wasn't long before a sickly pink arm went flying through the air at 2560 x 1400 at 56 frames per second on High settings, only to land on the forest floor with a thud. The frame rate rose to 61 fps when I dropped the settings to Medium and finished the battle with a well-placed Dancing Star bomb.
The Alienware 13 put on a hell of a show during our gaming benchmarks, starting with a score of 49 fps at Very High and 1080p on the Grand Theft Auto V test. That was enough to beat the Stealth Pro and P55W, which scored 48 fps and 33 fps, respectively. When we switched the resolution to 2560 x 1440, the Alienware 13's frame rate dropped to 29 fps.
We saw even better results on the Hitman test, with the Alienware 13 delivering an impressive 63 fps, besting the Stealth Pro and the P55W, which were in a near dead heat at 58 fps and 57 fps. At 1440p, the Alienware 13 saw a score of 45 fps.
There are occasions when you won't need the awesome power of discrete graphics. For those moments, the Alienware 13 switches over to its Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU.
The Alienware 13 is the latest laptop to make the jump to Intel's 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor, which Intel claims will deliver noticeable performance gains and power efficiency. Equipped with a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, the Alienware had no problem streaming an episode of "Voltron: Legendary Defender" on Netflix with 20 additional tabs open in Google Chrome while running a system scan in Windows Defender. I finally hit a bit of lag when I started playing The Witcher 3 in another window.
On the synthetic overall performance test Geekbench 3, the Alienware 13 obtained 14,658, demolishing the 7,691 average for thin-and-light notebooks. Outfitted with Intel's 6th- gen Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPUs, the Blade, Stealth Pro and P55W posted scores of 13,262; 13,454; and 13,530, respectively.
The Alienware 13's 512GB PCIe solid-state drive duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 12 seconds, which translates to a transfer rate of 424.1 megabytes per second. This laptop absolutely torched the 176.1-MBps category average as well as the P55W's (128GB M.2 SSD) 124.1 MBps and the Blade's (256GB PCIe SSD) 212.1 MBps. However, the Stealth Pro (256GB M.2 SSD) outpaced the competition, with 565.5 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Alienware 13 paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 19 seconds, which is much faster than the 5:05 average as well as the Blade (3:47), Stealth Pro (3:38) and P55W (3:37).
Well, this is a shocker. I'm used to most gaming laptops conking out on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi) after 2 to 3 hours. Not so with the Alienware 13; this bad boy lasted an impressive 7 hours and 12 minutes, which is short of the 7:49 thin-and-light average but much better than other gaming systems. The Blade clocked out an hour earlier, at 6:12, while the P55W tapped out after 2:54.
The Blade clocked out an hour earlier, at 6:12, while the P55W tapped out after 2:54.
Moving Geralt around White Orchard in Witcher 3 really raised the Alienware 13's temperature. After I spent 15 minutes adventuring, the touchpad measured 91 degrees Fahrenheit, while the center of the keyboard hit 107 degrees. That latter temperature is well above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The notebook's undercarriage registered an even warmer 110 degrees. However, the blast of cool air coming from the vents allowed me to use the system in my lap without any discomfort.
The system was somewhat cooler on less-resource-taxing tasks, such as streaming a full-screen HD YouTube video. Fifteen minutes later, the touchpad and the space between the G and H keys reached 88 and 98 degrees, respectively. However, the bottom of the laptop hit a hot 112 degrees.
The Alienware 13's integrated 720p webcam is perfect for capturing images and videos with eye-catching color. The test shots I took in the office captured the exact hue of my orange and black sweater dress as well as my complexion. Details weren't as precise unfortunately, which prevented me from reading the text on the box of wireless earbuds on my desk.
In addition to taking inordinately vivid images, the Alienware 13's webcam is also Windows Hello-compatible, so you can log in to your computer with a quick facial scan.
Software and Warranty
Anticipating that the 512GB of storage is better spent on games than bloatware, Alienware kept the unwanted software to a minimum. Outside of the typical Windows 10 suite, the only third-party apps on the Alienware 13 are Twitter, Pandora, Royal Revolt 2, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Drawboard PDF.
The system features Nvidia GeForce Experience, which consists of several game-optimization apps, including Battery Boost and GameStream for streaming games to your Nvidia Shield. There's also the Share feature, which allows you to record or broadcast your gaming exploits. To ensure your games are running on the fastest network possible, the notebook also has Killer Network Manager.
The Alienware 13 comes with one year of Premium support, which includes 24/7 access to Alienware's support techs, in-game repairs and troubleshooting.
I had a lot of fun with our review model of the Alienware 13, which costs $2,099. That gets you a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe SSD, an Intel HD 630 GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, and the 2560 x 1440 OLED touch display.
Our system is the minimum configuration you can buy with the OLED screen. If you're looking for a top-of-the-line system, there's the $2,674 model, which bumps the storage up to a 1TB PCIe SSD.
There's also a $999 base configuration, which has a 2.5-GHz Intel i5-7300HQ processor, 8GB of RAM, a 180GB M.2 SATA 6Gb/s SSD, an Intel HD 630 GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 with 2GB of VRAM, and a 1366 x 768 non-OLED display. The screen resolution seems a bit outdated, but gamers looking for the highest frame rate typically go for this display.
The Alienware 13 maintains its place as the baddest 13-inch gaming rig in the land. Outfitted with an Intel 7th-gen Kaby Lake processor, the system is even more of a productivity monster than before. Its Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU means you can strap on an HTC Vive or Oculus, go on a virtual outing and, when you've had your fill of VR, get great frame rates on even the most taxing titles. And we can't forget to mention its gorgeous 2560 x 1440 OLED touch panel, revamped keyboard and blistering transfer speeds. It's well worth the price.
However, if you're not ready to spend that much money, or you just want a bigger display, consider the $1,449 MSI GS63VR 6RF Stealth Pro, which has a lovely 15.6-inch HD panel, though that display doesn't compare to an OLED panel. You also get powerful overall performance, blistering-fast file-transfer speeds and a VR-ready GPU with shorter battery life. Overall, if you're looking for a gaming laptop that's equal parts brawn and beauty, the Alienware 13 is a no-brainer.