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

This high-end gaming laptop adds a stunning OLED screen, for less than you might expect.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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5 min read

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.

alienware-13-oled-01.jpg
8.3

Alienware 13 (OLED)

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.

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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Compared to our favorite current reference OLED TV (the LG 65E6), the colors on the Alienware display look oversaturated. The greens are too green, the blues too blue. The glossy screen also picks up a good amount of room glare. You're getting a great-looking, punchy image, but at the expense of color accuracy.

Brightness however, is excellent. Blacks are very close to true black and the contrast is phenomenal. Ideally, there should be no difference between a totally black background in a video and the actual black screen bezel of the system.

Superstar looks, mainstream gaming

The Nvidia GeForce 965M graphics card inside is fine for mainstream gaming, but it won't do virtual reality. For that, however, you can add the sold-separately Alienware Graphics Amplifier, which attaches a desktop graphics card to a proprietary port in the back.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Playing games on the OLED display looked fantastic -- it's hard to go back to a regular old LCD after this. My old standby, Fallout 4, played great at the native screen resolution, and the OLED display made the varied environments really pop. Inside, a new narrative puzzle game from the makers of Limbo, made good use of the screen's excellent contrast and black levels, as the game is largely set in dark, moody environments. Note that the bottom panel gets pretty hot when lap-gaming, something you're only likely to do with a smaller 13-inch laptop like this.

While gaming performance as on par with similar GeForce 960M and 970M gaming laptops, application performance lagged. That's because while most of the gaming laptops we've tested recently have the higher-power HQ version of Intel's core i7 processor, this system has the power-saving Core i7-6500U.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life in general was decent, hitting 6:56 in our standard video streaming playback test. However, OLED screens work differently from LCD screens, and battery life on an OLED product can be affected by not just brightness, but how much of the screen is displaying white or very light colors. In a secondary test, we set the screen to display a white background with screen brightness maxed out to really tax the screen and battery. In that test, the system ran for 3:21. And while gaming on battery power, the system averaged a bit less than 90 minutes.

Conclusion

Topping my wish list for a future incarnation of this product is access to higher-end GPUs (or an OLED screen in a larger laptop that can more easily fit a GeForce 980M card). But for an eye-catching new technology that's hard to find -- Samsung, HP and Lenovo each offer a single OLED PC product, and none for gaming -- the price for this Alienware 13 is surprisingly modest. The display looks great, even if it's not as accurate as high-end OLED TV, and it's a really conversation starter, especially if you compare it to someone else's LCD laptop.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

MSI GS60-6QE Ghost Pro 185Razer Blade (14-inch, 2016) 205Dell Inspiron 15-7559 290Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro 301Alienware 13 (OLED) 555
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Razer Blade (14-inch, 2016) 13130MSI GS60-6QE Ghost Pro 12754Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro 12543Alienware 13 (OLED) 6779
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance



Streaming video playback battery drain test

Alienware 13 (OLED) 416Dell Inspiron 15-7559 373Razer Blade (14-inch, 2016) 341Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro 224MSI GS60-6QE Ghost Pro 155
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)


3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Razer Blade (14-inch, 2016) 1742Alienware 13 (OLED) 1383MSI GS60-6QE Ghost Pro 1138Dell Inspiron 15-7559 1024Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro 625
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance


Bioshock Infinite gaming test

Razer Blade (14-inch, 2016) 86.5MSI GS60-6QE Ghost Pro 74.9Alienware 13 (OLED) 64Dell Inspiron 15-7559 54Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro 45
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

System Configurations

Alienware 13 (OLED) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U; 12GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M; 256GB SSD
Razer Blade (14-inch, 2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 256GB SSD
Dell Inspiron 15-7559 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M; 1TB 5400rpm HDD
MSI GS60-6QE Ghost Pro Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 970M; 128GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 950M; 256GB SSD
alienware-13-oled-01.jpg
8.3

Alienware 13 (OLED)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7Battery 8
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