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Alienware 13 with Graphics Amplifier review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £1294
inc VAT

A well-built, thin and light gaming laptop with great battery life, while the optional Graphics Amplifier is a fascinating addition


Processor: Dual-core 1.7.GHz Intel Core i5-4210U, RAM: 8GB, Size: 328x235x28mm, Weight: 2.1kg, Screen size: 13.3in, Screen resolution: 1,920×1,080, Graphics adaptor: Nvidia GeForce GTX 860, Total storage: 256GB SSD

UPDATED: Our original review, published in April 2015, Nvidia’s drivers still weren’t working correctly with the Alienware 13 connected to the Graphics Amplifier with an Nvidia desktop card on board. These issues appear to have been resolved, so we’ve updated our review.

The Alienware’s 13 replaces the old 14in model as the smallest laptop in the companys range. Its a mid-range gaming laptop with dinky proportions, and the option to upgrade its graphics power using an external GPU.

Alienware’s signature design works very well on this small scale, although dark grey with LED lighting may not be to all tastes. AlienFX software lets you customise eight backlight zones, including four on the keyboard and the alien head logos on the front and back. Things are even better when you open the lid, with a soft-touch, grippy black plastic coating the palm rest. It picks up greasy marks easily, but it’s comfortable and looks attractive enough.

The keyboard, meanwhile, is up there with the best we’ve used. The keys are large, with plenty of grip and a lot of travel, which makes them equally suited to gaming and typing. The touchpad is extremely responsive, with buttons that don’t interfere with the cursor as some Dell devices have in the past.

Alienware 13 - right side portsAlienware 13 - rear portsAlienware 13 - left side portsWhile far from being the most portable 13in laptop on the market, the Alienware 13 is slightly lighter and also 5mm thinner than our favourite 13in gaming laptop, the Chillblast Defiant 2 Mini, although it must also be said that Chillblast’s machine is much cheaper and somewhat better specified. Still, Alienware’s build quality trumps most off-the-shelf models.

Of the three models in the range, two use Intel Core i5 processors and the third has a Core i7. We tested the mid-spec model, which has a Core i5-4210U dual-core processor and 8GB of RAM. Its hardly the most potent processor around, running at a base clock speed of just 1.7GHz. It managed an overall score of 33 in our benchmarks, peaking at 62 in our image editing score but dropping to a leisurely 19 in the extreme multitasking test. It’s perfectly snappy when using Windows 8.1, but it may prove to be a slight bottleneck with the latest games.

Alienware 13 - lid openWhere this lack of power does help the Alienware 13 is in its battery life; it managed a staggering 7h 18m in our moderate usage battery burn test, which is almost unheard of for a gaming laptop. Of course, expect battery life to be significantly reduced if you plan to play games on the move.

You can save a little over £100 if you switch out the 256GB SSD our review unit came with for a 1TB hard disk, but unless you have a huge collection of games we’d probably stick with faster solid state storage.

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M dedicated graphics card has 2GB of memory and is still a great GPU despite its age. Considering the newly announced 960M is essentially the same GPU with a slightly bumped clock speed you arent missing out on any extra performance. It managed a respectable 32.8fps in Dirt Showdown at 1,920×1,080 resolution, Ultra settings and 4x anti-aliasing. Metro: Last Light was more of a struggle: it could only manage 15.5fps at 1080p, although all but the most powerful desktop GPUs find this test tough so its still a reasonable result. Disabling Supersampling aAnti-aliasing and tessellation resulted in a much more playable 37fps average.

Alienware 13 openNoise while gaming isn’t extreme and the exhaust fans maintain a steady whooshing noise that is easily overcome by headphones or speakers. The quality of the built-in speakers is actually reasonably good, too: there’s a degree of stereo separation and a small amount of bass presence, so if you don’t have any alternative you won’t be left with poor quality audio.

The Full HD screen is decent enough. While 88.8% sRGB colour gamut coverage won’t set the world alight, the 1182:1 contrast levels and very bright 309cd/m2 whites mean this screen is a competent overall performer. It’ll do your games and movies justice, particularly in darker scenes.

You get three USB3 ports, two 3.5mm audio jacks and a gigabit Ethernet port on the side of the laptop, and a Mini DisplayPort and full-size HDMI port at the rear. This is also where youll find a connector for the optional Alienware Graphics Amplifier.

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Core specs
ProcessorDual-core 1.7.GHz Intel Core i5-4210U
Memory slots (free)2 (0)
Max memory16GB
SoundRealtek HD Audio (3x 3.5mm audio ports)
Pointing deviceTouchpad
Screen size13.3in
Screen resolution1,920×1,080
Graphics adaptorNvidia GeForce GTX 860
Graphics outputsHDMI, mini DisplayPort
Graphics memory2GB
Total storage256GB SSD
Optical drive typeNone
Ports and expansion
USB ports3x USB3
Networking802.11ac Wi-Fi, gigabit Ethernet
Memory card readerNone
Other portsAlienware Graphics Amplifier port
Operating systemWindows 8.1
Operating system restore optionRecovery USB
Buying information
Parts and labour warranty1-year collect and return
Price inc VAT£1,087
Part numberN00AW309

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