Ever seen the Alienware 13? It’s really something you know. We have to admit that we were a bit skeptical of the 13-inch variant of the famous Alienware gaming lineup, but we were dead wrong. Well, it has some of its downsides, but it’s still pretty balanced… ultrabook, laptop, everyday multimedia? Whatever it is, it’s pretty good almost in every aspect. The Alienware 13 inherits the impeccable design and build quality along with the customizable LED lights and high-performance GPU.
Speaking of which, we have the strange notion that the CPU, which is Core i7-6500U ultra-low voltage chip, will appear to be a bottleneck for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M GPU. And it turns out to be true because we’ve seen some better performance from a 15-inch mid-ranger like the ASUS ROG G552VW or the Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition. Still, we have to give credit to the engineers of cramming such powerful GPU inside a 13-inch form factor. Aside from the bottlenecking issue, the laptop aced almost all of our tests regarding battery life, screen quality and cooling capabilities. In the end, the Alienware 13 will be your perfect everyday work/business companion without sacrificing too much performance for the occasional gaming every now and then when you are on-the-go. Keep on reading to find out more.
You can find out more about the price and availability here: http://amzn.to/1RdrPyY
The laptop comes in a standard black box with Alienware’s logo. The box contains the usual service manuals, the notebook itself along with the AC adapter and charging cable.
Design and construction
As we already said, the Alienware 13 doesn’t lack the looks and premium materials. It’s basically a much smaller version of the conventional 15-inch and 17-inch Alienwares and it looks kind of cute. It’s noticeably lighter and slimmer than the Alienware notebooks we are used to seeing but not compared to the similarly priced 13-inch ultrabooks. Although, this isn’t a normal ultrabook, is it? We like to think that the Alienware 13 falls in a category of its own.
Identically to its larger siblings, the laptop uses anodized aluminum plate for the lid with curved edges near the hinges and LED lights illuminating the logo and three stripes on the back. The plate feels really solid and a lot of pressure needs to be applied for the material to give in. Similarly, the hinge also feels absurdly solid, even taking things too far because it’s impossible to open the device with one hand. You will have to hold the base because the hinges are really tightly pulled. The bottom of the machine uses the same aluminum base on the edges combined with hard plastic. The main exhaust vents are easy to spot (they have metal grills standing between the surface and the cooling fans). There’s also a big service lid giving access to the most commonly upgraded parts – HDD, SSD, RAM etc.
The notebook, of course, is a bit bigger than most 13-inchers in order to give enough headroom for the hardware to “breathe”. There’s a GTX 960M GPU inside after all. Yet, the notebook is nowhere near to what we are used to seeing from the 15-inch and 17-inch variants from Alienware. This unit weighs approximately 2.058 kg and it’s 27.9 mm thick at its thickest point. Anyway, the sides use the same hard, black plastic as the one at the bottom of the base. The left side holds one USB 3.0 port along with the DC charging port and two 3.5 mm audio jacks for an external microphone and a headset. The right side has the other USB 3.0 port, USB 3.1 Type-C connector (with Thunderbolt support) and the LAN port for more secure connection while gaming. There are also the loudspeakers placed on the left and right side. Quite typically for Alienware machines, there are two more ports at the back right between the main heat dispersing grills – the HDMI port and the Alienware Amplifier connector.
The interior looks even more familiar with absolutely the same keyboard design as before. We also have a hard time telling the difference in size between the 13-inch, 15-inch, and the 17-inch models’ keyboards. Kudos to the designers fitting this keyboard in the 13-incher. The keys have the same key travel, ergonomics and feel. It’s good for gaming and for typing, although the media player buttons are missing, unfortunately. The touchpad is totally revamped in order to fit the smaller interior. It uses a whole trackpad ditching the mouse buttons, but we assure you, the input device feels really natural and comfortable to use. It’s quite big, giving you the extra working space, and registers all touches, clicks, swipes and gestures with great accuracy. No wobbling issues as well. We do have concerns about the surface around the keyboard, though. It uses a soft-touch matte finish that’s prone to smudges and fingerprints, yet they are not as visible as we anticipated. Be careful because it’s a fragile surface.
We are mostly amazed by the craftsmanship demonstrated here. The notebook is relatively light and thin (for a gaming 13-inch notebook) probably because it uses rigid and light materials like aluminum, carbon fiber base, and high-quality polycarbonate. We honestly don’t have anything bad to say about the machine. You get exactly what you’ve paid for with those $1 200 bucks (the price in Europe is considerably higher, though – £1 000 or €1 200 is the starting asking price).
The Alienware 13 R2 uses a Samsung IPS panel with model number PVFF5-133HL having a Full HD (1920×1080) resolution, packed in a 13.3-inch diagonal with a pixel density of 166 ppi and 0.153 x 0.153 mm pixel pitch. The screen can be considered as “Retina” if viewed from a distance equal or greater than 53 cm.
We were able to record a maximum brightness of only 248 cd/m2, which is a bit dim for a notebook at this price range. The maximum deviation, however, is just 7% while the average color temperature is 7050K – pretty close to the optimal 6500K (D65). Images will appear slightly colder than they should, but it will be hardly noticeable.
To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction of the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. Starting with the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy. Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that has been used by millions of people in HDTV and the Web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used by professional cameras, monitors and etc. used for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy.
The display covers merely 59% of the sRGB gamut – poor result. Nonetheless, the native contrast ratio is high – 980:1 and becomes 840:1 after calibration.
Below you will see practically the same image before calibration. Color circles represent the reference colors and white circles being the result. You can see main and additional colors with 100% and 50% saturation inside the sRGB gamut. The profile has been set to 140 cd/m2 and optimal white point – D65 (6500K).
Below you can see the results from the accuracy color checker with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange etc.
Pulse-width modulation (PWM, Screen flickering)
Despite the underwhelming screen properties, the Alienware 13 uses a perfectly user-friendly display with no signs of PWM whatsoever. There’s no screen flickering across all brightness levels.
Screen response time (Gaming capabilities)
We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and reverse.
Of course, the matrix isn’t the fastest we’ve measured with Fall Time + Rise Time of about 34 ms. This is understandable given the nature of all IPS panels.
We are puzzled once again why Dell has put an unsatisfying display on its high-end gaming device, such as the Alienware 13, 15 and 17. That’s for the Full HD versions, of course. We are unhappy with the maximum brightness of only 248 cd/m2, which will prove insufficient in outdoors or near a strong light source. Also, a significant portion of the sRGB gamut is missing resulting in less vibrant colors and this is essential for a good gaming or multimedia experience. But the display still has its upsides like good contrast ratio, excellent viewing angles and even better – no PWM across all brightness levels. This means that you can use the notebook for longer periods of time without feeling tired.
Buy our display profiles
Since our profiles are tailored for each individual display model, this article and its respective profile package is meant for Alienware 13 R2 configurations with 13.3″ Samsung PVFF5-133HL (FHD, 1920 × 1080) IPS panel, which can be found at Amazon: http://amzn.to/2aYhpIz
*Should you have problems with downloading the purchased file, try using a different browser to open the link you’ll receive via e-mail. If the download target is a .php file instead of an archive, change the file extension to .zip or contact us at [email protected]
Read more about the profiles HERE.
In addition to receiving efficient and health-friendly profiles, by buying LaptopMedia's products you also support the development of our labs, where we test devices in order to produce the most objective reviews possible.
Office work / Web design
If your field is office work or web design, or you just want your monitor's color set to be as accurate as possible for the Internet color space, this profile will prove to be useful.
Gaming or Movie nights
We developed this profile especially for occasions on which you spend a lot of time in front of your monitor with some games or watching movies – it will be easier for you to discern fine nuances in the dark.
This profile reduces the negative impact of pulsation and the blue spectrum, securing your eyes and body. You still get a pitch-perfect color image, albeit slightly warmer.
The stereo loudspeakers appear to be perfect for a good multimedia experience. All frequencies sound really nice and the maximum volume is high enough for pleasant playback.
The specs sheet provided below is for the model used in this review. Hardware specification may vary depending on your region.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6500U (2-core, 2.60 – 3.10 GHz, 4MB cache)|
|RAM||8GB (1x 8192MB) – DDR3L, 1600 MHz|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M (2GB GDDR5)|
|Storage||256GB 2280 PCIe NVMe SSD + empty 2280 PCIe NVMe SSD slot|
|Display||13.3-inch (33.02 cm) – 1920×1080 (Full HD), IPS matte|
|Connectivity||LAN 10/100/1000 Mbps, Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2 (Killer 1525), Bluetooth|
|Battery||4-cell Lithium Ion (51 Wh)|
|Thickness||26.34-27.9 mm (1.04-1.098″)|
|Weight||2.058 kg (4.537 lbs)|
Alienware 13 R2 configurations
The Alienware 13 R2 came with pre-installed Windows 10 with all the drivers needed for it to work properly. Also, Dell has included a cool software called Command Center that lets you monitor the performance of the machine, control and customize the LEDs on the chassis and, of course, set up your macro keys on the keyboard.
If you want to perform a clean install of the Windows, you will find all the needed drivers here: http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/19/product-support/product/alienware-13-r2/drivers
We were quite amazed by the battery runtimes, to be honest. The Alienware 13 R2 doesn’t strike use like the best business/portable everyday solution, but the results from the battery tests suggest otherwise. The laptop was even able to surpass a lot of ultrabooks in the same price range with its 13.3-inch Full HD IPS panel, energy-efficient Core i7-6500U CPU, and huge 51Wh battery. As usual, the test includes settings like Wi-Fi turned on, power saver switched on and screen brightness set to 120 cd/m2.
In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for to automatically browse through over 70 websites.
Outstanding Wi-Fi browsing result – 526 minutes (8 hours and 46 minutes).
For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.
Slightly lower, but still an excellent result – 500 minutes (6 hours and 20 minutes).
We recently started using F1 2015’s built-in benchmark on loop in order to simulate real-life gaming.
It’s not likely that you will start a gaming session away from a power source but if you do so, you will get about 136 minutes (2 hours and 26 minutes) of play time.
Intel Core i7-6500U is part of the Skylake generation processors and it’s entitled to the ULV lineup (ultra-low voltage) with 14nm FinFET manufacturing process. It has two cores that support Hyper-Threading technology resulting in up to 4 threads. The chip is a direct successor to the Core i7-5500U Broadwell CPU expecting slightly better performance with emphasis on the power efficiency features.
The CPU is clocked at 2.5 GHz and can go up to 3.1 GHz for one active core or 3.0 GHz for two active cores. Also, the silicon includes an Intel HD Graphics 520 iGPU that sports 24 Execution Units ticking at 300 MHz and can go up to 1.05 GHz. The whole SoC supports DDR4-2133/DDR3L-1600 memory in a dual-channel array. So the whole chip is rated at 15W TDP including the memory controller and the integrated graphics thus making it suitable for 11-inch notebooks or bigger. It also supports the cTDP down feature and the OEM can lower the TDP to 7.5W.
You can browse through our top CPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-cpu-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this processor: http://laptopmedia.com/processor/intel-core-i7-6500u/
Results are from the Cinebench 15 CPU test (the higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Fritz chess benchmark (the higher the score, the better)
Results are from our Photoshop benchmark test (the lower the score, the better)
Fritz is a chess benchmark that tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Core i7-6500U reached 6.322 million moves per second. By comparison, one of the most powerful PCs, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.
The GeForce GTX 960M (2GB GDDR5) is located in the high-end graphics card niche, but is used mostly in budget gaming laptops. It is part of the Maxwell family of GPUs. It features 640 CUDA cores or simply – shading units, along with 32 ROPs and 53 texture units. It has 2GB of dedicated VRAM (GDDR5 in this case). The bandwidth of the memory is 80.2 GB/s and the bus is 128-bit wide.
The GTX 960M uses the same GM107 GPU core that we saw in last year’s 860M, but this one is mainly aimed at bumping the notebook’s battery life and adding some extra performance, but that’s not stressed as much. However, the GM107 is clocked a bit higher than last year’s model – 1097MHz of base clock and boost up to 1176MHz. It also supports a resolution of 2048×1536 through the VGA port and 3840×2160 with DisplayPort and HDMI.
You can browse through our top GPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-graphics-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook with this GPU that we’ve tested: http://laptopmedia.com/video-card/nvidia-gtx-960m/
Results are from the 3DMark: Fire Strike (Graphics) benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 3.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Superposition benchmark (higher the score, the better)
|Tomb Raider (1080p, Low)||Tomb Raider (1080p, Medium)||Tomb Raider (1080p, Max)|
|126 fps||63 fps||32 fps|
|F1 2015 (1080p, Low)||F1 2015 (1080p, Medium)||F1 2015 (1080p, Max)|
|50 fps||40 fps||23 fps|
|Thief (1080p, Low)||Thief (1080p, Medium)||Thief (1080p, Max)|
|45 fps||37 fps||25 fps|
|GTA 5 (1080p, Low)||GTA 5 (1080p, Medium)||GTA 5 (1080p, Max)|
|80 fps||37 fps||2 fps|
|Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Low)||Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Medium)||Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Max)|
|70 fps||48 fps||26 fps|
|Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (1080p, Low)||Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (1080p, Low)||Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (1080p, Low)|
|129 fps||103 fps||85 fps|
The usual two-staged temperature test isn’t exactly the best method to represent real-life usage, but it does excellent job in determining the stability of the system and cooling capabilities in the long run.
So we start off with 100% CPU load for about an hour and interestingly, the CPU’s frequency gradually went down from 3.1 to 3.0 GHz, which is still in the Turbo Boost range, but most laptops are able to keep up with the frequency. Anyway, temperatures are relatively low with only around 72-74 °C under heavy 100% load. The green line on the graph below represents the load and the red line stands for the temperatures.
After an hour had passed, we continued with a typical GPU stress test so at this point we are witnessing 100% CPU + 100% GPU load for another hour. Results are excellent as the CPU was running at around 85 °C – still far away from the maximum allowed temperature of 100 °C – while the GPU got pretty hot – 78 °C. Yet, this is quite normal for a notebook, especially for a GTX 960M chip fit inside a 13.3-inch chassis. No thermal throttling occurred on either chip (CPU or GPU), but the CPUs frequency went down to 2.8 GHz and still maintaining the Turbo Boost frequency.
On the outside, the laptop performed just as good. The outer temperatures were pretty low even in extreme conditions such as this test, so there is no place to worry about overheating.
You’d probably expect top-notch performance in a tiny 13-inch form factor with the label Alienware on it and you are probably right to do so but in reality, the Alienware 13 is everything but a gaming powerhouse. Yes, we are once again met with impeccable build quality with excellent choice of materials – typically for an Alienware product – slightly bulky and a bit hefty for a 13-incher but nothing too alarming, especially for a gaming machine that is. We are still pretty impressed by the horsepower, storage options, and battery that the engineers were able to stick inside the small chassis. For example, you can get a hold of two M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD slots along with a 51Wh battery that will last for nearly a day with normal usage. That’s more than some other premium notebooks and ultrabooks can offer. And to be honest, that was the last thing we were expecting from a gaming-oriented notebook. Oh, and the touchpad and keyboard are pretty comfortable as well.
However, the laptop has its major downsides as well. For starters, the Full HD display version appears to be a huge miss, again, with merely half of the sRGB gamut covered and low maximum brightness that might obstruct normal usage outdoors or near a big light source. Both are essential if you are planning to use it for games and multimedia, which seems to be the main purpose of the machine, of course. At least, the display is flicker-free and will not put any unnecessary strain on your eyes. And the last thing we would like to address here is the configuration itself. The dual-core Core i7-6500U is just excellent choice for an energy-efficient chip for your daily tasks without drawing too much power, but falls short in terms of gaming performance and our tests indicate as high as 25% and as low as 5% lower frame rates compared to another gaming laptop with the same graphics (GTX 960M) and more powerful processor (Core i7-6700HQ or Core i5-6300HQ). This means that the CPU serves as a bottleneck to the GPU and raises a really good question whether the Alienware Graphics Amplifier is really worth pairing with the 13-inch machine as the CPU will drag down the desktop-grade GPU even more. But if you think of yourself as a casual gamer, you won’t probably notice the so-called bottleneck because paired with the Amplifier and a GeForce GTX 980 GPU, the set will provide smooth gameplay at Ultra settings. The good news, however, is that the machine can handle some beating without breaking a sweat as the cooling design allows really heavy workload without any signs of thermal throttling or overheating at all.
So at the end of the day, it’s really hard to compare the Alienware 13 to anything out there on the market, because the form factor, hardware and features put this machine into a category of its own and only a selected number of users will actually need a notebook like this one.
You can find out more about the price and availability here: http://amzn.to/1RdrPyY
- Impeccable design and build quality
- Good keyboard and touchpad experience with customizable LED illumination
- Relatively portable considering the powerful hardware inside
- Extraordinary battery life
- Two M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD slots avaialble
- No PWM across all brightness levels
- Low sRGB gamut coverage and low maximum brightness
- The CPU appears to be a bottleneck in terms of gaming performance
- Only two full-sized USB ports