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Alienware 13 – Review

Alienware 13 – Review

There aren’t many names in gaming laptops bigger than Alienware. The Dell-owned brand has been at the top of the tree since 1997, and the firm has earned a reputation for producing expensive, extravagant machines.

Its latest small laptop, the 13, is expensive – but its designers have reigned in the excess compared to previous models. Can the Alienware compete when the gaming laptop market is fiercer than ever?


The key gaming component is the GeForce GTX 1060. It’s the mid-range option from Nvidia’s latest mobile range, which means near-desktop performance and an impressive specification: 1,280 stream processors clocked to 1,404MHz use GPU Boost to rise to 1,670MHz. There’s 6GB of memory – more than most desktop cards from the last generation.

The GTX 1060 isn’t just a good choice for 1440p gaming – it’s got enough power to output to VR, too, and it’ll run well on external monitors as long as they’re not 4K screens.

The Alienware’s sensible graphics chip is paired with a familiar processor. The Core i7-7700HQ is a quad-core chip that’s found in most gaming laptops at the moment – no surprise given this Kaby Lake part runs at 2.8GHz with a peak speed of 3.8GHz. It’s paired with 16GB of 2,400MHz DDR4.

The storage is a misstep. We’ve no qualms about the 256GB Toshiba SSD, but there’s no hard disk. That’s unusual for a gaming laptop, where a capacious second drive is important for storing games.

There isn’t an option to add a hard disk, either – only to upgrade the SSD. And that’s hardly cheap, with a 512GB drive costing an extra £140 and a 1TB drive arriving at £510. It’s possible to add a second SSD, but that costs at least £390.

None of the other upgrades are cheap. Jumping to 32GB of memory is largely pointless and costs £122, and doubling the length of the warranty to two years costs £329.

Three alternative specifications are also available. The cheapest costs £1,249 and uses a Core i5 processors and GTX 1050 graphics but has just a 1,366 x 768 display, while the next model upgrades to a 1080p screen and costs £1,349. The £1,499 version upgrades to a Core i7 processor and a GTX 1050 Ti.

Our model is the priciest of the four, then, and it’s also the most capable. The price is undoubtedly high when compared to the rest of the market: British builders and retailers sell small gaming laptops with Core i7 processors and GTX 1060 graphics cards for around £1,500.

You don’t get 1440p OLED touchscreens or the various Alienware bells and whistles with those machines, but you will get similar gaming performance.

Full Specification

CPU: 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ
Memory: 16GB 2,400MHz DDR4
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
Sound: On-board
Screen size: 13.3in 2,560 x 1,440 OLED touchscreen
Hard disk: 256GB Toshiba THNSN5256GPUK SSD
Weight: 2.6kg
Ports: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x Thunderbolt, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x mini-DisplayPort 1.2, 2 x audio, 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x Graphics Amplifier Port
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 330 x 269 x 26mm
Extras: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi
Warranty: 1yr RTB


Alienware has traditionally shone in the design department – or, at least, shouted very loudly – and that pedigree continues to this small machine.

The exterior is made from anodised aluminium and magnesium alloy and is finished in a combination of black and gunmetal grey – the latter using a shade that Alienware describes, with some hubris, as “Epic Silver”.

A slab of metal covers the lid, with three slashes and an illuminated Alienware logo near the top, and there’s another swathe of the metal on the underside. The keyboard and the area around the trackpad are finished with a matte material, while the area around the screen is glossy.

The 13 has a more subtle shape than previous generations of Alienware. Its main section has no vents or wild angles, while the rear rises up with industrial slats and vents. This is where Dell has put most of the cooling gear, pitching the screen further forward and trying to make the bulk of this laptop slimmer.

There are numerous lights, although fewer than many previous Alienware machines. There’s a smart Alienware logo beneath the screen, and the power button is a tiny, illuminated alien head. The keyboard and trackpad are both backlit. They’re RGB LEDs, too, so they can be fully customised. The AlienFX software divides the machine into four zones, with discreet lighting across each, and different patterns possible. The machine can look as subtle or as gaudy as you like, and Alienware includes numerous themes so you don’t even have to go fiddling. It’s also possible to use different themes with different games.

The ports are well spread around the machine, with USB on both sides and many of the connections around the back to make it easier to keep cables tidy. This machine has a Thunderbolt 3 socket, and it also has a slot to fit the Alienware Graphics Amplifier Dock.

It’s a rock-solid bit of kit, too. There’s no give in the wrist-rest and the base, and the screen barely moves when it’s flexed.

The price for that is this machine’s bulk. Its 26mm thickness is a little chunky for a smaller gaming laptop, and it weighs 2.6kg – about half a kilo more than many rivals. The Alienware is easy to slip into a bag thanks to its compact design, but it’s a little heavier than many other small notebooks.

The base metal comes away to reveal the memory sticks, SSD and wireless chip, but there’s no further expansion room. It’s also hard to get proper access to the cooling gear and the battery.

As usual, the Alienware’s various features are controlled with its Command Centre application. The tool is divided into three sections: the first controls the lighting, the section navigates power settings, while the third can be used to edit system and performance settings for different games, and to monitor the machine’s hardware.

It’s intuitive, but Command Centre isn’t as impressive as it used to be. Most big-brand gaming laptops come with similar tools, and many have more to offer.


Alienware is one of the only companies in the gaming laptop world to rely on traditional keyboards, and that helps lift this machine above many of its rivals.

The buttons here have more travel than chiclet keyboards, and the lack of a gap between the keys means the buttons are larger. Both of those are boons for gaming, and will do a better job of sating people who use traditional desktop keyboards. They’re fast to respond, and their action is consistent.

The layout is solid, too. The Return and Space keys are large, and the cursor keys are full-sized and set apart from the rest of the keyboard. There’s no numberpad, but that’s entirely expected on a smaller notebook.

The traditional key design means the Alienware’s keyboard is better than most of the market’s chiclet offerings, but it’s not perfect. The keys are softer than many traditional keyboards, which isn’t great for gaming –many prefer a firmer response.

The trackpad suffers similarly. It’s broadly fine, with a smooth and fast surface, but the two buttons are soft and spongy. Shallower and faster buttons are better for gaming.


The GTX 1060 is an impressive GPU at both of this machine’s key resolutions. At the Alienware’s native 1440p, it never faltered: its poorest average came in Fallout 4, where it still managed 36fps, and its Fallout 4 minimum of 29fps is fine too – certainly quick enough to ensure solid gameplay. It managed at least 44fps in every other game, with its best 1440p result an average of 57fps in Battlefield.

Unsurprisingly, its 1080p results were better. Its 58fps result in Fallout 4 was the poorest here, and it romped past 60fps in every other game.

The Alienware then scored 5,150 points in the 3D Mark Fire Strike Extreme test. We’ve reviewed two other machines with the GTX 1060 – one laptop and one small desktop – and both were several hundred points behind.

This system will have no problems playing games, and it won’t struggle with applications either. Its Geekbench scores of 4,312 and 11,935 are on par with most other gaming laptops, and the Alienware’s SSD delivered read and write speeds of 1,391MB/s and 864MB/s – respectable speeds, even if certain NVMe drives are quicker.

This machine won’t balk at any conceivable task: it’ll play games at its native resolution, output to VR headsets, and handle demanding applications.

The Alienware’s components are good, but its internals struggled with heat in some scenarios. The machine was near-silent when idling, and during a gaming stress-test the noise was middling – a little too loud and high-pitched for our tastes, but no worse than most larger notebooks. Its peak CPU and GPU temperatures of 86°C and 79°C are fine, and the external panels didn’t get too warm.

Adding a CPU stress-test saw the processor and graphics core leap to 91°C and 87°C. The noise didn’t change, but the base of the machine became almost too hot to touch. It’s a niche scenario that most people won’t experience, but we’d be wary about having this machine on our laps if we’re pushing the components to that level.

The Alienware’s 76Wh battery lasted for two hours and 44 minutes in our standard test. That’s about thirty minutes more than many gaming laptops, which is not a bad result – but it’s hardly revolutionary. You’re still not getting more than an hour or so during gameplay.

Screen and Sound

Alienware’s screen marks itself apart from many other gaming laptops in a few key areas. It’s an OLED panel, which is more common in smartphones than in laptops, and it’s a touchscreen – another rarity. It’s also glossy rather than matte, and has no G-Sync.

Those choices have pros and cons. The OLED technology means that the pixels that form the screen produce their own light – so there’s no need for a backlight, like on an LED panel. The lack of a backlight means that pixels can product a broader range of colour – true blacks, for starters – which means contrast is far, far higher. That’s great for truly dark scenes, but the overwhelming colour can also mean that OLED screens look oversaturated.

The touchscreen will be of limited use, with Windows 10 dialling back its reliance on fingertip control, and the glossy finish will only look poorer under bright lights – those reflections could be an unwelcome distraction during games.

The Alienware’s benchmark results were a mixed bag. It’s measured brightness level of 294cd/m2 is huge, and the contrast is immediately impressive – black shades are properly, genuinely deep, and there’s good definition in every other area of the range.

The uniformity levels are good, too, with brightness varying by less than 10% even in the corners of the screen – a better result than most gaming laptops can manage. And the OLED’s pixels can display 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, which bodes well for broad colour reproduction.

The OLED screen’s colour temperature level of 6,797K is good, but its Delta E of 4.47 is average. And, as we expected, it is a little oversaturated – colours are too vivid, no matter which brightness level is employed.

That’s the only issue with this screen, though, and its top-notch contrast and uniformity help lift this panel above other gaming machines. Their IPS panels generally suffer from off-kilter colours and washed-out tones as well as poorer contrast, so this is certainly preferable.

The audio kit is very good, too. There’s ample volume, and sound is clear across the range – especially at the high-end, where voices are well-defined.

The laptop’s Alienware mode is chosen by default, which has a little too much echo for our tastes. That’s easily fixed – the Music mode eliminates the reverb.

These speakers have the punch to handle music, games and movies, and they’re certainly better than the audio kit inside most gaming notebooks.


Alienware’s latest laptop doesn’t fall foul of many of the firm’s previous mistakes – it’s not wildly overpriced and it’s not garish.

Instead, this machine is sturdy and looks the part thanks to a keen balance of metallic design and RGB LEDs, and its core components serve up solid 1440p gaming. It’s got good RGB LEDs, too.

We like the traditional keyboard, and the OLED screen offers huge contrast and more vibrancy than most other gaming notebooks. It’s bolstered with good speakers. Issues are minor: no hard disk, for instance, and middling battery life.

This is, in almost every key department, an excellent gaming laptop: it’s small, potent and well-built. It’s expensive, too, but at least we can see where the quality has gone – it’s a far more competent machine than cheaper rivals with similar hardware on the inside.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Alienware 13
Author Rating

Review Overview

About Author

Mike Jennings

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