Alienware 14 review:

PC gaming in a semiportable package

Our reasonably high-end configuration performed excellently in our benchmark tests, falling a little behind the full-size 17-inch Qosmio X75 -- a hulking desktop replacement gaming/multimedia laptop, and pulling ahead of the Razer Blade, which manages to be thinner, but at the cost of a lower-power CPU. Of course, at this level it hardly matters in practical real-world terms, and even the entry level Alienware 14 includes the same Core i7 4700MQ processor (more expensive configurations can trade up to a Core i7 4800 or beyond). It's hard to imagine any nongaming task you're going to be involved in that this configuration will find itself underpowered for.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, for gaming laptops, the GPU is the real prize. Here, we're topping out at the Nvidia GeForce 765M, about halfway up the latest Nvidia 700M series of mobile GPUs (the entry level Alienware 14 comes with a GeForce 750M, which is more of a casual gaming part). Unlike some smaller gaming laptops that get away with a lower-end GPU by pairing it with a lower-res screen, the GeForce 765M here has to push a full 1,920x1,080 display (or more, if you output it to an even higher-resolution display).

In our gaming tests, the Alienware 14 ran BioShock Infinite at 35.7 frames per second at high settings and 1,920x1,080 resolution, while the very challenging Metro: Last Light ran at 11.3 frames per second (same as the Razer Blade). These are excellent scores for a laptop, especially a 14-inch one, but a full-on no-compromise gaming desktop with a GeForce 780 can quadruple that performance. Anecdotally, we turned down some of the detail setting in Skyrim to get a very smooth frame rate in the expansive outdoor environments, so some compromise is needed, but playing on the smaller screen also makes games look crisp and detailed, even if you turn some of the eye candy off.

While gaming, however, the internal fans in our review unit cranked all the way up and were distractingly loud. Be prepared to turn up the volume to mask it, or wear headphones.

Battery life, never a strong suit for gaming laptops of any size, ran for 3 hours, and 53 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's better than a 17-inch system such as the Toshiba Qosmio X75, but about half what the Razer Blade did on the same test. For moving from room to room, or even some casual couch gaming, it's adequate.

Smaller gaming laptops that don't require your entire desk are rare, but are experiencing a bit of a surge right now. The Razer Blade 14 has by far the best industrial design of the models we've seen, but falls short as an actual mobile gaming product. The Alienware 14 picks up the performance and component slack, but the new design is not going to mesh with your presumably sophisticated aesthetic sense. Plus, the extremely thick chassis has a throwback feel to it.

Despite that, the system performs as advertised, and doesn't cost a fortune, although I wish higher-end GPU options were offered.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
iTunes and HandBrake

Bioshock Infinite (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Metro: Last Light (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations
Alienware 14
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M; HDD No. 1: 256MB Lite-On SSD HDD No. 2: 750GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital

Razer Blade 14
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 4702HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M; 128GB Samsung SSD

Dell XPS 27
Windows 8 (64-bit) 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 4770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Razor Blade 14
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 4702HQ; 8192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB (Dedicated) Nvidia Geforce GTX 765M; 256GB SSD

Toshiba Qosimio X75-A7298
Windows 8 (64-bit); Intel Core i7 4700MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 770; 256GB SSD+ 1TB 7200 HD

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch w/Retina Display (June 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M + 512MB Intel HD 4000; 256GB Apple SSD

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