GAMING LAPTOP Alienware 13 /£
Alienware’s big-selling machines are often criticised for being garish, heavy and expensive, but while the firm’s latest 13in model isn’t cheap, Alienware has reined in the excess. Its exterior is hewn from anodised aluminium and magnesium alloy in black and a shade of gunmetal grey that Alienware describes, with hubris, as ‘Epic Silver’.
Metal covers the lid and underside, and the lid has an illuminated Alienware logo and some subtle slashes. Matt material surrounds the keyboard, while the screen has a glossy finish. Meanwhile, the cooling gear is shoved into a large section at the rear that rises with industrial-looking vats. This design pushes the screen forwards, closer to the keyboard, making the 13.3in panel appear larger in front of you.
The 13’s bottom half sports clean lines, while lighting is comparatively subdued; the Alienware logo and power button light up, and there’s keyboard and touchpad backlighting, but that’s it. The usual USB 3.1 ports sit around the exterior, and on this machine, they’re joined by a Thunderbolt socket and a connector for Alienware’s external Graphics Amplifier. The RGB LEDs can also be fully customised in software, with different zones and patterns.
Build quality is stunning too. The wrist rest and base don’t move, even when you apply pressure, and the screen is almost as sturdy. The 2.6kg weight and 26mm thickness are both high compared with other small gaming laptops, but the Alienware is stronger than many of its competitors. Its key components are a GeForce GTX 1060 6GB, a 2.8GHz quad-core Core i7-7700HQ and a solid 16GB stack of 2400MHz DDR4 memory. Storage is a little disappointing though. There’s a 256GB M.2 NVMe Toshiba SSD, which is fine for Windows and few apps, but you ideally want more storage to accommodate today’s large game installs.
You can add more solid state storage with Alienware’s online configuration options, but it isn’t cheap, and there’s no room for a hard drive either.
Moving beyond the internals, Alienware is one of the last companies to rely on traditional keys for its gaming laptops. The Alienware’s keys are larger than most chiclet keys, and they have more travel. The keys are fast, with a consistent action, which makes them better for gaming than shallow chiclet keyboards, although they’re a little soft. The Return and Space keys are large, and the cursor keys are full-sized and set apart from the rest of the keys. The touchpad suffers from softness too though. The surface is fine, but the buttons feel spongy in action – you’ll want to use a USB mouse where possible.
We’ve reviewed the priciest Alienware 13 model, but there are three other SKUs. The cheapest is a £1,249 model with a Core i5, GTX 1050 and a meagre 1,366 x 768p screen – an extra £100 will get you a 1080p screen. Meanwhile, the midrange £1,499 model boosts the internals with a Core i7 and a GTX 1050 Ti. All these machines are all covered by a one year return to base warranty as standard, which isn’t particularly generous compared with the two or three year deals from some British system builders.
It’s near-silent when idle, and not loud when running games
The GTX 1060 handled most games at the Alienware’s native 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, though only just. Its minimum frame rates of 29fps and 28fps in Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 are borderline playable, although it dropped to 23fps in Deux Ex: Mankind Divided. Our game tests are very demanding, though, and dropping Deus Ex down to High settings saw its minimum rise to 30fps. The 13 runs games fine at 1080p though.
CPU performance is decent for this machine’s size too. The 13’s overall application result of 95,488 shows it has enough power to run most of today’s demanding software and avoid serious bottlenecks in games. Likewise, the Toshiba M.2 NVMe SSD hit read and write speeds of 1,391MB/sec and 864MB/s, which is much faster than any SATA drive, although faster M.2 drives are available.
Meanwhile, the 76Wh battery lasted for around 90 minutes in a gaming test, which is much better than many gaming laptops, but you’ll still want to be near a mains socket for gaming where possible.
The 13 is really quiet too – it’s near-silent when idle, and not loud when running games. In these tests, the CPU and GPU delta Ts of 63°C and 56°C are fine, and the exterior remained cool. Running a stress test, though, saw those delta Ts jump to 68°C and 64°C. The noise didn’t change, but the base of the machine become almost too hot to touch. Of course, no one will be stress-testing this machine on their
lap in the real world, but larger laptops can cope with this level of work without getting so hot – it’s a compromise you make if you want a small, powerful laptop.
One big plus point, though, is the 13’s sharp and glossy OLED screen – a rare technology in a gaming laptop. OLED panels effectively use pixels to produce light, rather than a backlight, so the pixels can create a broader range of colours – including true blacks, vivid tones at the top of the scale and subtler variations than normal backlit screens. The perfect contrast is bolstered by a solid brightness level of 249cd/m2, and the OLED impact is immediate – we’ve rarely seen a gaming laptop with a screen this vibrant. Its uniformity is good, with less than 10 per cent brightness variation across the panel, and we recorded 100 per cent sRGB coverage.
The colour temperature of 6,797K is also solid, and the middling delta E measurement of 4.47 is our only complaint. Even then, the Alienware’s panel remains one of the best on any gaming laptop. The speakers are good too. They’re loud, and the sound is consistently clear – especially at the high end, where voices are defined and not tinny.
Alienware’s 13 has smart looks and solid build quality, and its high price is justified by the OLED screen and internal components, rather than just by its branding. That panel delivers a superb gaming image, and the GTX 1060 can just about handle 2,560 x 1,440 gaming.
The keyboard is good, battery life is fine and the speakers are punchy. It’s possible to get this performance for less cash, of course, but not with this level of sheen. The 13 is expensive, sure, but its quality is superb.