Alienware 14 full review

Alienware 14 review

The Alienware brand dominates gaming laptops, but the latest addition to Dell's range isn't the huge, brash notebook you'd expect – it's got a 14in screen, and it looks fantastic. See: The 7 best gaming laptops of 2013.

Dell has done sterling work to temper the immature excesses of older models – the flamboyant styling has been calmed down, and the Alienware 14 looks like it's grown up. The matt aluminium throughout is fantastic, and the slanted lines and angles are subtly stylish. Logos still light up, the keyboard is modestly backlit, and there's a thin band of light around the 14's base, but it doesn't feel ostentatious. See also: Alienware M14x review.

Build quality is great: there's no weakness across the wrist-rest, and minimal flex in the screen. The sturdy design comes at a price, and that's size: at 42mm thick and 2.8kg, the Alienware is as bulky as three Ultrabooks – and not far off some 17in-screened rivals.

The quad-core i7-4700MQ runs at 2.4GHz and is bolstered by a 3.4GHz Turbo pace. It returned a PCMark 7 score of 6,044 points, which places it among the fastest laptops: the 17in MSI GS70 scored 6060 points, and the Alienware 17 – which has a Core i7-4800MQ processor – managed 6332 points.

The nVidia GTX 765M with 2GB VRAM ran through our 1280 x 720 Medium-quality Crysis benchmark at an average of 121fps: excellent, even if it's ten frames slower than the Alienware 17.

At full-HD and Stalker's Ultra settings the smaller Alienware averaged a good 77fps. It can handle other games too – it averaged 30fps at Crysis and Battlefield 3's toughest settings and full-HD. Once again, though, the larger Alienware proved better: in that Stalker test it averaged 120fps.

The storage star is the 256GB LiteOn mSATA SSD. Its sequential read and write times of 467MB/s and 399MB/s are good, and the machine booted in less than 10 seconds.

Heat and noise are issues. The processor's top temperature of 100°C is the chip's thermal limit, and the fans inside whirred loudly when the machine was stress-tested – and the fans even spun up occasionally when the Alienware idled. You'll need to use the 14's audio kit to drown the noise out.

Thankfully, the speakers are more than capable. They're loud, with decent bass levels and a chunky mid-range – attributes that make games suitably explosive. There's little to shout about in the high-end, though, which is a little tinny.

Battery life was reasonable. The Alienware lasted for 4 hours and 29 minutes in our test – a quarter of an hour more than the larger Alienware, and an hour longer than the MSI.

There's plenty to like about the IPS panel. The matte finish banishes reflections that hamper gaming, and it's matched with a high resolution – our model has been upgraded with a full-HD screen. Quality is high: the measured brightness level of 325cd/m2 ensures punchy images, and a reasonable black level of 0.29cd/m2 lends games and movies real depth. The contrast ratio and viewing angles are both good, although the matte layer adds more grain than we'd like.

Dell eschews chiclet keys for a traditional keyboard, which works well: plenty of travel, a solid base, and snappy typing. The trackpad is grippy and large, and lights up when touched – but, as with most gaming laptops, we'd prefer a mouse.

The final touch comes from Alienware's bespoke software. The most interesting app allows the colours of ten different lights across the machine to be changed, with different options for different power states. Elsewhere, there are tools to update the machine, alter touchpad functionality and establish application routines for different games, and monitor performance.

Got to the next page to see our original hands-on review of Dell's Alienware 14 laptop, written by Chris Martin.

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