Alienware’s 2013 laptop refresh provides a great experience with few sacrifices. Battery life may not be best in class, but that won’t stop you from enjoying the company’s latest gaming rigs.
- Excellent performance
- Beautiful 1080p IPS display
- Superb build quality and exterior design
- Respectable battery life
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- A little thick and heavy
- Expensive as configured
QUICK TAKEThe Alienware 14 is a noticeable upgrade over its predecessors; it’s a well-rounded notebook with very few cons.
The Alienware 14 is a high-end gaming notebook starting at $1,099. Highlights of this notebook include a customizable LED lighting system and available 1080p display featuring IPS unlimited viewing angle technology. Gaming performance is outstanding thanks to a 4th-gen Intel quad-core processor, Nvidia GTX 765M graphics card and 16GB of RAM. We found little not to like, other than the notebook being somewhat thicker than competitors and expensive when decked out like our review unit.
Build and Design
Design is an important element of Alienware notebooks; the 14 has been completely redesigned since the last generation. This notebook has a chunky appearance at 1.6″ tall but makes up for it with the stealth aircraft-inspired lines and AlienFX LED customizable lighting system. Most of the visible surfaces including the palm rest and screen surround have a pleasant rubberized finish which hides fingerprints well. Alienware 14 Review
The chassis is exceptionally strong; I couldn’t induce flex even using more pressure than I typically do for notebook reviews. The aluminum backing looks great with the LED cutouts, but more importantly helps protect the display in the event something presses against the back.
The AlienFX lighting system has ten distinct zones; all can be customized with a different color, to morph between two colors, a pulse pattern, or be turned off completely. The whole system can be disabled by pressing the [Fn] + [F12] keys on the keyboard as well. Alienware has been using an LED lighting system in its notebooks for some time and has yet to be rivaled. The execution of AlienFX is very well done.
Upgrading the Alienware 14’s components is the simplest of tasks thanks to the ease of access; remove the entire bottom of the chassis with just two screws. The RAM, wireless cards, fans and optical drive are all accessible. The storage drive is located under the optical drive, which is held in place by four screws.
Input and Output Ports
One of the benefits of a thicker chassis is the ability to fit many full-size ports. The Alienware 14 has pretty much everything including DisplayPort, HDMI, USB 3.0 and Ethernet. It lacks an ExpressCard slot and VGA (though VGA output is possible via an adapter). Picture descriptions are left to right.
Screen and Speakers
Our Alienware 14 review unit has the optional 1920×1080 (1080p) display with an anti-glare surface and IPS technology. This kind of screen is a treasure in any notebook, let alone one in the 14-inch size. As a matter of fact, the picture quality on this display is superior to that of the Alienware 14’s bigger brother, the Alienware 17 which we reviewed here.
The display’s viewing angles are unlimited thanks to IPS (In-Plane Switching) technology; the picture looks the same no matter where it’s viewed. The anti-glare surface is very much appreciated since it eliminates the reflections inherent in glossy displays. Contrast is excellent – the Command Prompt window is almost pure black without a hint of gray. Color reproduction is just right without oversaturation or distortion. The seven levels of brightness are adequate for generally any condition save for direct sunlight. Overall the display is more than impressive; I can say with confidence the 1080p display upgrade is worthwhile.
The Alienware 14 has two speakers located under the palm rest and a small dedicated subwoofer (of sorts) located inside the chassis. It has an impressively loud sound level for a 14-inch notebook with a good mix of highs and lows. The subwoofer adds depth to the sound and makes the chassis vibrate a little. The Alienware 14’s speaker setup is sufficient to entertain a couple people watching a movie or playing games.
HDMI and the twin headphone jacks are the other two ways to get sound out of the Alienware 14. The headphone jacks are crystal clear. The included Dolby Home Theater software is quite versatile; the equalizer settings can noticeably improve the sound quality through the speakers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Alienware 14 has a full-size backlit keyboard. The backlighting can be just about any color you want, using the AlienFX software. The keyboard keys have positive feedback thanks to plenty of travel (distance between pressed and unpressed positions). The feel is slightly rubbery, a good thing in my book. The keypresses are nice and quiet too, a desirable attribute especially if using this notebook in a classroom environment (for taking notes, of course). There’s zero flex. All the expected keys are present including dedicated home, end, pgup and pgdn.
Alienware 14 TouchpadThe oversized touchpad has an excellent anti-glare surface. The touchpad is backlit in whichever color you prefer, just like the keyboard. I like the fact this touchpad has physical buttons instead of a clickable surface (aka a “clickpad”); it’s simpler and more natural. The buttons have a smooth rubberized surface like the keyboard keys, good feedback and make almost no noise. Overall Alienware did a great job on the Alienware 14’s input devices.
Performance and Benchmarks
Performance is the other major buying factor for an Alienware notebook. The Alienware 14 packs a tremendous amount of power for a 14-inch notebook, incorporating a 4th-gen Intel quad-core processor, 2GB Nvidia high performance graphics card, 16GB of RAM and two storage drives. There’s more or less nothing this notebook can’t handle, including all modern 3D games. The specifications are as high-end as the price; our review model ends up being nearly twice as expensive as the base model. Major contributors to the price are the 1080p display, Nvidia GTX 765M graphics card, 16GB of RAM and 256GB mSATA SSD + 750GB hard drive combo. I’d strongly recommend upgrading the warranty to a three-year with accidental damage protection if you’re spending this much on a notebook. The excellent benchmark scores speak for themselves; in short the Alienware 14 packs a crazy amount of power that beats out most notebooks short of the 17.3-inch gaming monsters like its bigger brother, the Alienware 17.
Our review model of the Alienware 14 has the following specifications:
- 14-inch display (1920×1080 resolution, IPS panel, anti-glare surface)
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- Intel Core i7-4700MQ quad-core processor (6MB cache, up to 3.4GHz Turbo Boost)
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M graphics card w/ 2GB GDDR5
- 16GB DDR3-1600 RAM (2x 8GB; max. supported)
- 256GB mSATA SSD boot drive (LITE-ON LMT-256)
- 750GB 7200RPM secondary hard drive (Western Digital WD7500BPKT)
- Blu-ray slot-load reader
- Broadcom 4352 802.11n/ac wireless LAN
- Integrated Bluetooth 4.0
- Integrated HD webcam
- 1-year limited warranty
- Dimensions: 13.3″ x 10.7″ x 1.6″
- Weight: 6.1 lbs.
Heat and Noise
The Alienware 14 has a large fan exhaust port at the back left of the chassis. The fan remains off while performing most basic tasks; at low speed it’s all but inaudible. The chassis remains warm all over, even at idle, but thankfully remains relatively cool on the bottom. One benefit to a thick chassis is the ability to use a larger (taller) fan – it can move a lot more air without spinning at insane speeds (we’re looking at you, Razer Blade). The Alienware 14’s fan has no whine as a result; the fan sounds more like a rush of air at high speeds than anything. Overall the Alienware 14 has acceptable sound levels even running full tilt.
To test battery life, we use our new Powermark benchmark in balanced mode. The test consists of a combination of automated web browsing, word processing, gaming and video playback workloads. The test is far more strenuous than our previous test, measuring the machine under a litany of scenarios to better simulate real life use. With the test being far more demanding the scores are understandably lower than our previous benchmark.
The Alienware 14 is a noticeable upgrade over its predecessors; it’s a well-rounded notebook with very few cons. This notebook’s highlights include outstanding performance thanks to its Intel quad-core processor and Nvidia graphics; a well-executed design and AlienFX customizable lighting system; excellent 1080p IPS display; superb build quality and chassis strength; good speakers; a plentiful port selection; a tolerable level of noise and respectable if not outstanding battery life. The mild cons list includes a thicker than expected chassis at 1.6″, 6.1 pound weight and pricey options (starting $1,099, but our optioned-out review unit was $1,949 without an extended warranty). Overall we’re more than pleased to give the Alienware 14 our Editors’ Choice award for all around excellence.