The past claims that PC gaming was on its last legs have been put to rest, with online streaming and groundbreaking hardware making it more likely than ever for avid gamers to seek out a means of putting in play time even when on the go. To answer that demand, Alienware has rolled out a new lineup of laptop gaming rigs ranging from 14" to 18". We've already given our thoughts on the Alienware 18 - affectionately referred to as "The Beast" - but it's the Alienware 14 which aims to be a more suitable portable machine, with hardware every bit as impressive delivered in a more compact form factor.
For casual observers of the high-end gaming PC market, the shift from the Alienware of old to the new breed is a subtle one: gone are the outrageous angles, chromed metal, and blinding neon. The Alienware 14 and its brethren still possess a design fitting the extraterrestrial name (with low lighting intact) but there's no question that under Dell's custody (since 2006) the designs have improved.
It's clear from a single image of the Alienware 14 that while it may not rival the colossal Alienware 18 in terms of bulk, compact or 'slim' design is nowhere near a priority for the manufacturer. Weighing in at just over 6 lbs, it is still unrealistic to refer to the laptop as one user might actually lay on their laps. But what the 14 lacks in compact size it makes up for in build quality. Every surface of the laptop is finished with a softened charcoal rubber, which paired with the sleek (and fully customizable) exterior lighting shows the company is intent on making their hardware something to be coveted in public, not just noticed. Don't even get us started on the backlit touchpad.
The design improvements continue on the interior of the laptop as well, with Alienware happily adopting matte, anti-gloss screens across the entire new line. With our review unit upgraded to the 1920 x 1080 resolution (a no-brainer for any gamer serious enough to be considering the hardware), the visuals are truly impressive for a 14" monitor, and while it may not be flawless when playing high-end games with intense action or high visual demand, the contrast and blacks make the 14 just as suited for watching a movie as playing a game.
As for the general build quality, Alienware has continued to impress. While the 14 may be bulky, it feels nearly indestructible. With a magnesium alloy frame and anodized aluminum shell, you'll never hear a creak or crack while handling, which (despite the laptop's overall size and thickness) does help it to feel like a compact piece of tech. Of course, without getting into the hardware powering the system, there are still some design choices which could prove divisive.
As is usually the case with blockier latops, the sheer thickness of the 14 means some maneuvering of the wrists will be required to avoid strain or discomfort (especially if playing on a hard surface). User know what they're getting just by looking at the laptop, but even after our weeks-long time with the review unit, wrist placement was a nagging issue.
Dimensions & Highlights:
- Dimensions: 13.3" x 10.7" x 1.6"
- Weight: 6.12 lbs
- Intel Core i7-4700MQ quad-core processor
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750M graphics card with 2GB GDDR5
- 8GB RAM (2x 8GB; max. supported)
- 256GB mSATA SSD boot drive
- 750GB 7200RPM secondary hard drive
- 14-inch matte display (up to 1920x1080 resolution)
Accessibility and ease-of-use is no concern with the Alienware 14 coming equipped with two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, 7-in-1 card reader, mini-DisplayPort, an Ethernet jack, one microphone input, one headphone input and even a separate port designed for gaming headsets. Although disc-based games are rare these days, there’s also a slot loading DVD drive (which can be upgraded to Blu-ray).
Unsurprisingly, the Intel Core i7-4700MQ quad-core processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 750M graphics card performed admirably in a wide variety of games, from League of Legends to Far Cry 3 and beyond. The intensive visuals of the evergreen benchmark test Crysis 2 caused some issues with smoothness and anti-aliasing, but was largely an isolated incident. Outside of gaming, the 14 performed with impressive speed, both in managing multiple applications at once and boasting a speedy boot time.
Unfortunately, the drawbacks of powering hardware this impressive are hard to avoid. Part of the reason behind the Alienware 14's thick profile is to allow greater airflow, and the system works beautifully when browsing the Internet or using a word processor. But once the priorities shift to gaming, the laptop's impossible-to-ignore fans kick in. They're not quite as loud as those of the original Xbox 360, but they are much closer than expected. And much, much louder than their competitors.
The potent airflow means only a mild transfer of heat from the user's laptop to their lap, but the noise may or may not be an issue for those pleased with the system's performance. As for the battery life, well... it's not easy powering the Alienware 14's innards. It's certainly not a disaster by any means, but if users plan on gaming for a number of hours, a power socket can never be too far away. On standard use, the battery lasted close to four hours, but required a full hour of charge to reach just 50% once fully drained.
If prospective buyers know the many issues and challenges faced by any 14" laptop, than the Alienware 14 has massive upside. However, as impressive as the performance while gaming and display may be, the $1,500 price tag for our review unit will be difficult to justify for some.
Those even considering buying an Alienware product are looking for more than just specs, of course, and the manufacturer won't disappoint past buyers looking for an upgrade. But with a price above several of the laptop's similar competitors, it's hard to say that the Alienware 14 is the best buy for the money. Yet its style and build quality may be enough to win over many.
The Alienware 14 is available in a wide range of models, so be sure to check out the details on Dell's official website here.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.