Alienware 13 R3 (OLED) review: With OLED and VR support, this is a 13-inch gaming laptop with almost everything

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The Good The OLED touchscreen is stunning to watch, and the new Nvidia graphics card can handle VR headsets and the latest games with ease.

The Bad With only two full-size USB ports, hooking up VR gear plus a game controller is a hassle. The physical redesign isn't as extensive as it could be, and this OLED version is very expensive.

The Bottom Line With an OLED touch display, VR-ready graphics, and a reasonably portable 13-inch body, the new Alienware 13 hits almost every item on my gaming laptop wish list.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 6

Review Sections

Every time I test a new gaming laptop, it reminds me of my long-standing hypothetical wish list for that category. The actual list changes over time as new technologies are introduced, but to date, no one has managed to put together what I'd think of as the ultimate gaming laptop.

If I had to boil that wish list down into an actual collection of bullet points, it might look something like this:

  • I want a small, reasonably portable 13-inch body.
  • But it has to have decent-or-better graphics for gaming.
  • And, of course, VR. Plenty of big 17-inch laptops have VR support for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but that was previously impossible to get in a 13-inch laptop.
  • If I was really reaching, I'd say give me an OLED display, the super-clear, super-bright new screens found on only a handful of high-end televisions and laptops.
  • And while you're at it, make it a high-res touch screen.

The new redesigned version of Dell's Alienware 13 hits all those marks, making it a big leap from previous versions of this laptop. But, while it hits a lot of high points, it also exposes a couple of flaws I hadn't thought to specify on my list.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This is a subtle reworking of the Alienware 13 the company has sold for a few years, with a slimmer body that moves the screen hinge forward a couple of inches, to make room for fan exhaust vents in the rear. It's a clever way to move the cooling apparatus around while being able to shave a few millimeters from the system's height.

The other big change is a new treatment for the Alienware logo, its biggest change in the brand's 20-year history. The Alienware name is now written in a lighter font for a more modern look, and even the iconic alien head is just a bit more streamlined.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even with a slimmer body, this 5-pound system isn't exactly tiny, especially compared to the latest round of super-slim 13-inch laptops that come in under 3 pounds and around 10mm thick. But it's still small enough to tote from room to room at home easily, and even go in your laptop bag for occasional trips.

The real highlight here is Nvidia's new GeForce 1060 graphics card. It's part of a new generation that can fit in a very wide range of laptops and works with VR. I hooked up my Oculus Rift and every game I tried worked, although the limited port selection gave me some other VR headaches. More on that in a bit.

The GPU jump is enough of a reason to favor this model over the previous Alienware 13 I reviewed earlier this year. Both that system and this one had the same optional high-end OLED display, which is simply stunning to look at. The OLED screens in the Alienware 13, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and a handful of other systems are the single most exciting PC hardware development of the year, and once you start using an OLED laptop, it's hard to go back to anything else. (The Touch Bar on Apple's new MacBook Pro is also an OLED display.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Despite my overall enthusiasm, the new Alienware 13 has two notable flaws, neither of them fatal, but worth being aware of. One, this high-end OLED configuration is a pricey $2,099 in the US, which includes 16GB of RAM, the 2,560x1,440-pixel OLED display and a 512GB SSD (this revamped Alienware 13 isn't available in the UK or Australia yet, but that price works out to £1,703 or AU$2,736). You could get a much more powerful gaming desktop or laptop for that price, but nothing nearly as portable.

The least expensive configuration is $1,199 in the US, which amazingly includes the Nvidia 1060 card, making this a very inexpensive VR laptop. But, that version has a low-res 1,366x768 display, so I'd advise you to stay away. There are a couple of in-the-middle configurations worth checking out, but it's tough to say no to OLED, which starts at $1,799.

Alienware 13

Price as reviewed $2,099
Display size/resolution 13-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 OLED touchscreen
PC CPU 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ
PC memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2400MHz
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Micorsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

But, besides the high price, my biggest problem came from the system having only two regular USB ports and two USB-C ports.