Alienware 13 (OLED) review: A brilliant-looking OLED gaming laptop

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The Good The OLED screen on this 13-inch gaming laptop looks amazing. Gaming performance is very good for a mainstream gaming laptop, and there's even an (expensive) option for adding VR-ready desktop graphics.

The Bad The display is not as finely tuned as high-end OLED televisions, the graphics options don't go past mainstream, and battery life while gaming is short.

The Bottom Line For something truly different and eye-catching, the OLED display on this "limited edition" Alienware 13 gives it great visual punch, but keep in mind this is not a top-end gaming rig.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 8

There are thinner gaming laptops out there. There are more powerful gaming laptops out there. But, this updated version of the Alienware 13 has something almost no one else has, at least not yet.

The headline here is an OLED screen, which is the super-bright, super-clear display technology now found in only the highest-end big-screen televisions. Why is that important? As we said in our OLED TV explainer: "OLEDs work by putting electricity through certain materials that glow in specific colors. No other TV technology creates light directly like this...OLED TVs will be thinner, lighter, more efficient, and better-performing than any current television technology. Each pixel can be shut off, for an absolute black (no other tech can do this, save CRT), meaning an actual infinite contrast ratio, not just marketing hype."

Sarah Tew/CNET

And just like on big OLED TVs, the effect here is pretty stunning, as OLED gives you bright colors and deep, nearly invisible blacks. If I were buying a new TV today, there's no way I wouldn't make the extra investment in an OLED model. For a laptop, even a gaming one, the benefit is not as clear-cut, but it's still a great extra feature to have.

While it would be great to have an OLED display as at least an option in a totally top-of-the-line gaming PC, it's currently only available in a single version of the 13-inch Alienware 13 (with a handful of configuration options) the company labels a "limited edition." The components inside, including a U-series low-voltage Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia's GeForce 965M GPU, make this a mainstream gaming machine, so you'll be playing newer games on medium, rather than ultra, settings on the 2,560x1,440 screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fortunately, even though an OLED television will set you back anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000, the OLED version of the Alienware 13 is reasonably priced, even with its high-end screen. Starting at $1,299 in the US, it's a bit of a premium over other laptops with Intel GeForce 960-series GPUs (the 965M is a newer variant, and this is the first time we're testing it), but it costs less than I initially expected.

The configuration we tested, with an Intel core i7-6500U processor, 256GB SSD, the OLED display and the Nvidia GeForce 965M, works out to $1,799. The OLED display version of the Alienware 13 isn't currently available in the UK or Australia, but similar non-OLED configurations run £1,498 or AU$2,816.

Alienware 13 (OLED)

Price as reviewed $1,799
Display size/resolution 13-inch, 2560 x 1440 OLED touchscreen
PC CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U
PC Memory 12GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

OLED display aside, this looks and feels like the same Alienware 13 that's been around for past couple of years. It's thinner and lighter than gaming laptops of years past, but it's also not on the bleeding edge of gaming laptop design. Razer, MSI and others do slimmer, more modern-looking gaming laptops.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like every other Alienware laptop in recent memory, a programmable backlit keyboard offers plenty of color customization and the closely spaced, tapered keys feel more like a traditional gaming desktop keyboard than the standard island-style keys found on most other laptops, gaming or otherwise.

Eyes on with OLED

The big deal here is that 2,560x1,440 OLED display. I took the system to our in-house television testing lab, manned by TV testing expert David Katzmaier, and we viewed a variety of video and game content on the screen. What we saw was performance that's very visually appealing, but not as dead-on as a great OLED television.