Alienware 13 and Graphics Amplifier Hands-On: Big Things in Small Packages

Alienware announced its latest gaming notebook and something completely new that may single-handedly revolutionize the portable gaming world.


It’s been four years since Alienware released a notebook with the Alienware M11x, although the company has certainly been going strong with its releases of gaming laptops. After a rather long hiatus, the company has brought back its gaming notebooks with today’s announcement of the Alienware 13. I was invited by the company to check it out first-hand late last week, and here’s what I took away from our meeting.

First, let’s get into the nitty gritty of the Alienware 13. The notebook is the company’s thinnest laptop ever made at just 1-inch and weighs in under 4.5 lbs, which is pretty impressive when you consider how much is running under the hood. The Alienware 13 features an Intel Core i processor, up to 16GB DDR3 RAM, an NVIDIA 860m GTX, supports up to two SSDs, and includes 802.11ac.

Additional bells and whistles include an Alienware TACTX keyboard, audio powered by Klipsch, Alienware Command Center 4.0 / AlienFX, and the option to include an HD (1366 x 768), FHD (1920 x 1080), or a QHD (2560 x 1440) display with touch, also making this the company’s first product that features touchscreen support.. In regards to its battery, an Alienware representative told me he was able to get anywhere between 6 ½ to 8 hours, depending on what he was doing. That would be the company’s longest lasting product ever, though naturally we'll see how it goes in real-world conditions soon enough.

Just to round out the Alienware 13’s list of specs, you can expect it to have 3 USB 3.0 ports, one of which features PowerShare, 1 mini-display port, and 1 HDMI 1.4 port. There’s also an additional proprietary Graphics Amplifier Port, which I’ll explore more in-depth later.

Considering just how massive Alienware’s fleet of gaming laptops have been over the years, it was a breath of fresh air to see the company return to its notebook-sized offerings with the Alienware 13. One of its most impressive features was its size and weight, especially if you’re familiar with the company’s gaming laptop offerings. The Alienware 13 has the size and weight to actually be considered a notebook you could carry around in your bag every day, rather than being a desktop replacement that is taken out for the occasional LAN party.

The Alienware 13 has some rather sharp edges, which Alienware is pretty much known for in many of its portable machines. There are four sharp angles at all corners of its base, and the area in front of the trackpad pokes out a bit as well. These edges didn’t bother me when I rubbed my hands around these sections, although I would hope by now gaming notebooks would be able to match some of the more aesthetically pleasing notebooks and ultrabooks that have recently hit the market.

A full-sized keyboard is featured on the Alienware 13, although it doesn’t have a numerical pad. I’m all for if that means its exclusion can keep the weight and size of a notebook down. Each key felt comfortable to type with, although I didn’t get to spend enough time with it to report on its click-to-squish ration. The keyboard also includes an F1 - F12 row, and through the inclusion of AlienFX, it has a really attractive backlight that can be customized. And, of course, at the top of the keyboard you’ll be treated to the iconic Alienware logo.

One big surprise Alienware kept tucked under its sleeves was the inclusion of a graphics amplifier, which is able to house a desktop-sized graphics card and allow the Alienware 13 to run off of that instead of the included NVIDIA 860m GTX. The graphics amplifier keeps things pretty simple as it houses up to a 375W graphics card, a power supply and a fan. It also features four USB ports, because who doesn’t need more of those in their life? When plugged in, you’ll be able to either allow the amplifier to be used on your monitor, but if you just want to play straight up on the notebook, it can be used to run on its LCD display as well as it’s a multi-purpose device.

The way Alienware is able to do this is through the use of its proprietary Graphics Amplifier Port which acts as a PCI-E for the notebook. The process is sort of plug and play as you can simply plug the graphics amplifier cable into the Alienware 13 and the notebook will instantly recognize it and run off of it, just like if you just added in a graphics card to your computer. On the other hand, unplugging the cable will cause the system to shutdown the notebook entirely, instead of delivering a number of blue screens. Speaking of plugging and unplugging things, the Graphics Amplifier only starts up when it’s plugged into the notebook, which will save you a ton of energy as you don’t need to physically turn it on and off when you need it.

The Alienware Graphics Amplifier just a tad larger than a standard desktop graphics card, making it the perfect size to tuck away underneath your desk or somewhere on it, depending on how large your desk is. Its exact dimensions are 6.831 x 16.124 x 7.303 inches and weighs in at 7.716 lbs.

The Alienware 13 will retail for $999 at its base model, which includes Intel Core i5-4210U, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M, 8GB of RAM, 1TB 5400RPM SATA hard drive, and an HD display. Those looking to run a desktop-sized graphics card can do so by picking up the Alienware Graphics Amplifier for $299. If you’re in the market to purchase a new one, Alienware offers both AMD and NVIDIA options when purchased with an Alienware 13. Both will be available to configure and order online starting on October 28, with global availability this holiday season.

This hands-on was based on a pre-release demo of the hardware at an event where food was provided by Alienware.

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