Pros : Slimmer, sleeker chassis; Gorgeous OLED display; Super-comfortable keyboard; VR-ready
Cons: Runs a bit hot; Short battery life
Verdict: The Alienware 13 R3 OLED offers VR-ready power in a leaner, redesigned chassis with a showstopping OLED display.
The Alienware 13 R3 OLED (starting at $1,199, reviewed at $2,099) is primed and ready for a knock-down, drag-out brawl. The smallest member of the Alienware armada is back and better than ever. Now with a lean new profile and an Nvidia 10-series GPU, making this machine one of the smallest VR-ready laptops in the industry. If that’s not enough, the Alienware 13’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. This machine is now 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.
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.
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.
Display 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.
While OLED technology is known for its exquisitely vivid shades, nothing prepared me for the screen’s ability to reproduce 210 percent of the sRGB gamut. That’s well above 100 percent, which we consider excellent, and it also tops the 82 percent average for thin-and-light notebooks. The Razer Blade (120 percent), Stealth Pro (111 percent) and P55W (110 percent) seem pale by comparison.
At 4.5 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal), the Alienware 13’s color accuracy was a bit off, falling short of the 1.98 category average. The Stealth Pro hit 1.96, while the P55W and Blade notched 1 and 0.95, respectively.
Tallying 271 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 P55W and Blade were brighter, at 321 and 388 nits.
The Alienware 13’s 10-point touch capacitive display offers fluid, accurate response as I discovered by using the Google Halloween doodle.
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. The Alienware 13 has 1.8 millimeters of key travel with 60 grams of force actuation.
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. Additionally, 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 latest gaming laptop outfitted with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, making this machine one of the smallest virtual reality-ready systems available. Yep, you read that right: This machine just needs an Oculus Rift or HTC, and you’re set for on-the-go VR.
When tested for VR readiness, the Alienware 13 notched 6.8 on the SteamVR performance test, matching the thin-and-light average. 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.
Testing the Alienware 13’s gaming prowess, I ran across a nest of ghouls as I made my way through Witcher 3. I started on High Settings with 2560 x 1400 at 56 fps . Then the frame rate rose to 61 fps when I dropped the settings to Medium.
The Alienware 13 performed well during our gaming benchmarks. It started with a score of 60 frames per second at Very High and 1080p on tests. That was enough to beat the Stealth Pro and P55W, which scored 48 and 33 fps, respectively.
We saw even better results on the Hitman test, with the Alienware 13 delivering an impressive 76 fps, besting the Stealth Pro and P55W, who were in a near dead heat, at 58 and 57 fps. During the Metro: Last Light test, one of our more graphically taxing benchmarks, the Alienware 13 hit 44 fps. However, the Stealth Pro and P55W notched out the victory, with 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 530 GPU.
Like most of its competitors, the Alienware 13 is equipped with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM. That meant the rig had no problem streaming a TV show with 15 additional tabs open in Google Chrome while running a system scan. I encountered lag only when I launched a game in another window,
On the synthetic overall performance test, Geekbench 3, the Alienware obtained 13,159, nearly doubling the 6,871 thin-and-light average. But that showing wasn’t enough to top the other Core i7-6700HQ-equipped systems like the Blade (13,268), Stealth Pro (13,454) or P55W (13,530).
The Alienware 13’s 512GB PCI-e SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 16 seconds, which translates to a transfer rate of 318.1 megabytes per second. This laptop absolutely torched the 146.6MBps category average as well as the P55W’s (128GB M.2 SSD) 124.1MBps. But the Blade (256GB PCI-eSSD) and Stealth Pro (256GB M.2 SSD) outpaced the competition, with 359.2MBps and 565.5MBps each.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Alienware 13 paired 20,000 names and numbers in 3 minutes and 50 seconds, which is much faster than the 5:40 average.
As powerful as Nvidia Pascal GPUs are, they can put a hurting on your system’s battery life. The Alienware 13 lasted only 3 hours 46 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi.
This time is well short of the 7:59 thin-and-light average, but longer than the Stealth Pro’s 2:54. The Blade was the last laptop running, with a time of 5:42.
Moving a character 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, The center of the keyboard hit 107 degrees. That’s 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 noticeably cooler on less resource-taxing tasks like streaming a full-screen HD YouTube video. Fifteen minutes later, the touchpad and the space between the G and H keys reached 91 and 96 degrees, respectively. However, the bottom of the laptop hit a hot 108 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 exact coloring. Details weren’t as precise unfortunately.
In addition to taking inordinately vivid images, the Alienware 13’s webcam is also Windows Hello-compatible.
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, FarmVille 2: Country Escape, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Netflix.
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.
I had a blast reviewing the $2,099 model of the Alienware 13, which includes a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCI-e SSD, an Intel HD 530 Graphic GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM and a 2560 x 1440 OLED display. Alienware also offers a Core-i5 model with a 256GB PCI-e SSD, all for a more wallet-friendly $1,749.
The $1,199 base model has a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 180GB M.2 SATA SSD, an Intel HD 530 Graphic GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM and a 1366 x 768, non-OLED display.
When it comes to sheer power, the Alienware 13 proves that size doesn’t matter. As one of the smallest VR-ready systems available, the lightweight system makes a portable Oculus Rift and HTC Vive a reality. If that’s not enough, the Alienware 13 is stunning with its slimmed-down dimensions and a supervivid OLED display. You also get a comfortable keyboard, an impressive audio system and respectable transfer speeds.
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.