Alienware 13 full, in-depth review

The first OLED gaming laptop has landed

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Alienware 13
  • Alienware 13
  • Alienware 13
  • Alienware 13
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • OLED screen
  • Fast 2D and 3D
  • Portable
  • Looks great

Cons

  • Nice beaches tax when not discounted

Bottom Line

Everything about this gaming laptop looks great. Just be aware that the Australian RRP represents a whopping $600 price hike.

Would you buy this?

Alienware’s 13-inch notebook, the Alienware 13 means mobile gamers can now experience the revelation that comes with gazing upon an OLED panel. Though this technology has had some issues coming to market, it’s been trickling out over the course of this year — and putting LCDs on notice. Once seen as crisp and high-res, LCD panels suddenly seem pixelated, washed out, and nowhere near as vibrant when compared to OLED. The Alienware 13 was my first time experiencing an OLED panel in person, and I assure you it’s stunning—to put it lightly.

Alienware 13 review: This compact gaming laptop is a sight to behold

In addition to the snazzy display, which also supports touch gestures, this surprisingly-small and dense notebook sports top-shelf hardware throughout. Its Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU makes it VR-capable (it’s the first sub-14-inch notebook we’ve seen that is), and it also supports Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier technology, if you decide you need more ponies under the hood in the future.

The display

The basic deal with OLED displays is that they reproduce much richer colors than LCDs, and also deep, dark black, which makes an LCD’s black look gray by comparison. Overall sharpness and saturation are also way beyond what we’ve seen on LCDs over the years. OLED panels are more energy-efficient than LCDs, too, so it makes perfect sense for a notebook to be rocking one of these.

Alienware 13 (2016) backlighting shot Josh Norem

This Alienware laptop has an OLED panel that runs at 2560 x 1440, despite being just 13.3-inches in size. If you’re not in to OLED due to price, its “velvety” look, or what have you, Alienware also offers the 13 with either a 1366 x 768 TN or a 1920 x 1080 IPS panel - both LCD.

I recommend the OLED option, though. Like that line in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off says, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.“

The chassis

Like the display, the Alienware 13’s chassis offers something unique. Instead of being a bland, plastic slab, the Alienware 13 is angular and has the look of chiselled metal. And despite being still mostly plastic (the lid and underbelly are all aluminium, though), it feels incredibly rigid. The overall construction just seems dense, like there’s not a single area inside the notebook that’s hollow.

This feeling of density is also due to the Alienware 13’s weight, which tilts the scales at 2.6KG. That’s significantly heavier than other 13-inch gaming laptops. But the solidity is reassuring, and even things like the display hinge are tight and offer zero flex whatsoever.

Alienware 13 (2016) closed lid shot Josh Norem

Speaking of the hinge, it’s part of a redesigned chassis for this updated model that Alienware calls a “hinge forward” design. The screen sits about an inch forward from the rear of the chassis (instead of flush, like on the previous model), so the laptop looks like it has one of those extra-big batteries installed. Alienware says this design choice allows it to offer more rear ports, larger fans for increased cooling without additional noise, and an improved speaker system.

The company also says that the redesigned chassis is “up to 21 per cent thinner” than the previous model. In my opinion, the new look is much more streamlined and a big improvement over the previous (and chunkier) model. Alienware also improved the finish on the plastic used for the palm rest to prevent fingerprints and smudges, and it works beautifully.

As far as ports go, this 13-inch laptop has almost as many ports as a bigger system. There are two USB 3.0 Type A ports, one Thunderbolt 3 port, a USB 3.0 Type-C port, Gigabit ethernet, HDMI 2.0, Mini DisplayPort 1.2, audio out, a lock slot, and also jacks for a microphone and headphone. There’s also an Alienware Graphics Amplifier port.

Alienware 13 (2016) gut shot Josh Norem

The laptop is also easily upgradeable, though the only components you can really access are the memory and the SSDs. In our test system, one of the M.2 modules was empty, and the RAM was in plain sight after removing the bottom lid.

The hardware

Of course, this laptop has more going for it than its display and chassis. Under the hood you’ll find an Intel Core i7-6700HQ—a quad-core mobile part with HyperThreading, for eight logical cores. Its base frequency is 2.6GHz, but it can boost up to 3.5GHz when it needs to. On the GPU front, the 13 packs a GTX 1060 mobile part, which is designed for high frame rates at 1080p with settings cranked. This version of the 1060 comes with 6GB of memory in case you want to game at the panel’s native res of 2560 x 1440.

Our review model also had 16GB of DDR4 RAM running at 2,400MHz, but you can configure one with as little as 8GB if you’re on a budget. For storage, it ran a lone 512GB PCIe-NVME SSD, but you can also opt for dual 1TB PCIe SSDs: one for the OS and one for data. When we fired up AS SSD, the drive benchmarked about 1.4GB/s in sequential read speeds, and 900MB/s write speeds.

Keyboard, trackpad, and speakers

The RGB lighting on the Alienware 13 deserves special mention, since it’s got more features than you’d normally expect. Not only can you select the colour of zones across the keys, but you can pick the colour of the trackpad, the Alienware logo below the display, and the alien head on the lid of the laptop. All in all, it adds up to eight different lighting zones, which is double what is typically offered.

Alienware 13 (2016) software screenshot PCWorld

The TactX keyboard is superb. Though it’s not mechanical, it has a similar travel and actuation design, with “steel-reinforced” keys (whatever that means). The bottom line is that the keys feel perfect in my opinion. I typed on this machine all day, and it was glorious.

The trackpad is a little skittish for my taste, but reducing its sensitivity helped a lot. Generally, I had no issues using it. It supports gestures, too, and switching from a MacBook Pro’s trackpad to this Alienware’s felt pretty natural.

Alienware 13 (2016) RGB keyboard backlighting shot Josh Norem

The speaker system is surprisingly good for a laptop this small. Alienware includes sound customization software for both gaming and multimedia, and it’s quite effective, allowing you to customize the sound easily. I was impressed with the overall volume and the clarity among vocals, bass, and midtones. I’m not an audio snob, but I thought these speakers sounded better than the sound systems I’ve heard on much larger laptops.

Next: Performance and Conclusion

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