Alienware 13 R3 Review – Gaming Laptop 2018

Alienware 13 R3 Review – Gaming Laptop 2018

The Alienware 13 R3 Review – Gaming Laptop 2018. The Alienware 13 R3 is a 13 inch gaming laptop with full Nvidia 1060 graphics inside, so let’s see what it can do in some gaming benchmarks and discuss if all the features are worth it for the price. Let’s start by checking out the specs of the hardware.

There’s an Intel i7-7700HQ quad core CPU which has a 2.8GHz base clock and 3.8GHz boost. There’s 16GB of DDR4 memory running at 2,400MHz in dual channel, however the two slots can support up to 32GB. For storage there’s a 256GB M.2 NVME SSD.

Alienware 13 R3 Graphics

For the graphics there’s an Nvidia 1060, and this one has a 13.3 inch 1440p 60Hz OLED panel, however it’s also available with a 1080p IPS panel. For the network connectivity there’s a gigabit ethernet port, Killer 1550 WiFi, as well as Bluetooth 5.0. Overall it’s got a premium look and feel to it. The lid is silver aluminium with the Alienware logo in the center, while the interior is a soft black rubber which felt nice and smooth, but it will be interesting to see how this lasts long term.

Alienware 13 R3 Graphics
Alienware 13 R3 Graphics

The physical dimensions of the laptop are 33cm in width, 26.9cm in depth, and 2.4cm in height, so it seems to be on the larger side for a 13 inch laptop, at least compared to my 6 year old 13 inch macbook pro, granted it does have much more powerful hardware.

Alienware 13 R3 Weight

The total weight of the laptop is listed at around 2.6kg with the battery, and mine weighed a bit less than this at around 2.4kg. With the 180w power brick and cable for charging, the total weight increases to 3.2kg, so it feels comparable to many larger 15 inch laptops I’ve tested, I’m guessing there is a lot of cooling packed into the small space. As mentioned the screen here is a 13.3 inch 60Hz 1440p OLED glossy panel, no G-Sync available here.

The viewing angles are excellent, the colours are still clear even on sharp angles, and at 13 inches it probably would have looked just as good with a 1080p panel, but we’ll see in the benchmarks how the 1060 does at gaming with this resolution. It’s also a touchscreen, just keep in mind that as it’s glossy it will easily show fingerprints. I don’t generally use touchscreen laptops, but I didn’t have any issues while testing it out.

I’ve also measured the colours produced by the screen using the Spyder 5 Pro, and my results returned 100% of sRGB, 98% of NTSC and 100% of AdobeRGB, making it the best laptop screen I’ve ever tested. As we’re dealing with an OLED screen here there’s no need to perform a backlight bleed test, as OLED screens work on an individual pixel level, so a fully black screen will just mean all the pixels are off. This does give us really nice looking blacks compared to typical LCD screens that use backlight technology.

As OLED screens generally have issues with screen burn due to the nature of the technology, it would be interesting to see how this goes long term, but as I’ve only got the laptop for a few weeks I can’t really investigate that.

Out of the box the software does seem to do its best to limit the screen from staying on and fully lit which should help reduce issues. While moving the display there was almost no screen flex, it was very solid as it’s all metal with two large hinges towards the middle. Initially, it’s a little difficult to open with one finger as there seem to be magnets keeping the lid closed, however there seems to be a fairly even distribution of weight once you can get it open as it doesn’t move around.

Alienware 13 R3
Alienware 13 R3

There’s a 720p camera above the display in the center. The camera looks ok, still a bit blurry even with decent lighting. The microphone sounds about average, not too bad, but you’ll be able to judge both for yourself. The camera also supports Windows Hello, so you can quickly unlock the laptop using your face once configured, I found it to work fine. Tobii eye tracking is also present, and the software will do things like dim the display when you’re not looking at it, which I had to disable for the review so it would stay lit for the camera.

Alienware 13 R3 Keyboard

The keyboard was alright to type with, it’s got 2.2mm of key travel and I found the keys somewhere between clicky and mushy feeling, here’s how they sounded to try and give you an idea. The keyboard has RGB backlighting and is controlled through the included AlienFX software, it’s controlled in 4 separate groups of keys, no individual key control here.

Alienware 13 R3 Software

The software can also control the colour of the Alienware text underneath the screen, the power button on the right of the keyboard which is the alienware logo, the alienware logo on the back of the lid, and the colour of the touchpad, which also lights up when in use, so there’s a fair bit of customization possible with about 20 different preset colours to choose for each of the 8 zones, and a couple of limited effects. There was basically no keyboard flex at all while pushing down hard on the keyboard, and I noticed on the website it’s noted that there’s a steel backplate which keeps the keyboard area nice and sturdy.

Alienware 13 R3 Touchpad

The touchpad worked well, no problems there, and as shown previously it lights up when in use. It’s got physically separate left and right buttons which weren’t too noisy to click. Moving onto the I/O on the left there’s a noble lock slot, USB 3.0 Type-A port, and 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks. On the right there’s a USB 3.0 Type-C port with no thunderbolt support and USB 3.0 Type-A port. Most of the important I/O is found on the back, including the gigabit ethernet port, mini DisplayPort 1.2 output, HDMI 2.0 port, Type-C Thunderbolt port, Alienware graphics amplifier port, and the power input.

I actually found this design quite useful, as you don’t have to worry about cables sticking out from the side and getting in the way, although you do have to deal with the back area sticking out like this. As for the front there’s nothing there at all, it’s just completely smooth. Fingerprints don’t really show up on the lid, they show much easier on the rubberised interior but were fairly easy to wipe away.

Alienware 13 R3 ports
Alienware 13 R3 ports

Underneath there’s some air intakes towards the back to keep everything cool, as well as some rubber feet which rise it up a bit to let cool air in, and also do a good job at stopping the laptop from easily moving around, and the hot air is exhausted out of the back left and right corners.

Alienware 13 R3 Speakers

The speakers are found on both sides towards the front. They sound pretty good, there’s a little bass and they still sound fairly clear even at higher volumes. Powering the laptop is a 76 Watt hour battery, and with a full charge and just watching YouTube videos with the screen on half brightness, keyboard lighting off and background apps disabled, I was able to use it for 5 hours and 30 minutes.

The laptop was using the Intel integrated graphics, thanks to Nvidia Optimus. While playing the Witcher 3 with medium settings and Nvidia’s battery boost set to 30 FPS the battery lasted for 42 minutes. The battery life was fairly good, while watching YouTube it lasted longer than many other larger 15 inch laptops that I’ve tested, however the gaming results are about on par with laptops with smaller batteries that I’ve looked at previously, but I always recommend being plugged in for best gaming performance anyway.

During normal use with an ambient room temperature of 22 degrees celsius, the CPU and GPU both idled in the low 40s, and here are the external temperatures of the laptop where you’ll actually be putting your hands, getting to around 32 degrees. I’ve tested gaming by playing PUBG at high settings with default fan speeds for half an hour and the temps for that are shown in green, and no thermal throttling was observed. While gaming the center of the keyboard reached 50 degrees.

Full CPU and GPU load was tested with both Aida64 and the Heaven benchmark running at the same time. With the fans running at their default speeds no thermal throttling was observed, which surprised me as I expected it with this hardware in such a small unit, so even in the stress test it’s doing quite well. Again the keyboard area is similar to before, a little warmer this time reaching 52 degrees, but it didn’t actually feel too bad to me while using it. As for the fan noise produced by the laptop, I’ll let you have a listen to each of these tests.

At idle I couldn’t hear the fan at all, it was completely silent. Under full load it doesn’t get too loud compared to other 15 inch laptops with the same specs, I expected the fans would need to run faster to keep it cool, but as we saw there was no thermal throttling so this wasn’t needed. I’ll also note that there was no noticeable coil whine while testing in my unit. Finally let’s take a look at some benchmarks, we’ll first cover some real world gaming benchmarks followed by tests with various benchmarking tools. In games I’ve tested all setting levels at both 1440p and 1080p with all Nvidia and Windows updates to date applied.

Fortnite is difficult to benchmark is it depends on what’s going on in the game, so take these results with a grain of salt. At 1080p max settings the 1% lows are close to the 60Hz refresh rate of the display, so to me it felt very smooth even maxed out. At 1440p you’ll need to drop down to high settings or lower if you want to keep averaging around 60 FPS.

Alienware 13 R3 Overwatch

Overwatch ran great, I tested just playing with the bots and at 1080p even at max settings the 1% lows are well above the 60Hz refresh rate of the display. Moving onto 1440p doesn’t really change much either, at max settings even the 1% lows are still higher than what the panel can output. PUBG was tested using the replay feature, and like Fortnite you’ve got to take these results with a grain of salt as they depend on what’s going on in game and will vary.

Personally I thought it played well at 1080p, although the 1% lows do dip down quite a bit compared to the averages in my test. At 1440p the frame rates drop down quite a bit, with the minimum settings required to average around 60 FPS in my test, so I’d probably stick to 1080p for the best experience with this one. In CSGO the average frame rates are well above the refresh rate of the panel, however at 1080p at lower settings even the 1% lows are close to matching the refresh rate. At 1440p it was definitely still playable, but if you’re playing competitively you’ll probably want to stick to 1080p.

Alienware 13 R3 Dota 2

Dota 2 was tested using a fairly intensive replay in an effort to demonstrate the worst case to expect, you’ll probably get better results while playing than these, and we’re not seeing too much difference when moving to 1440p from 1080p, still averaging above 60 FPS even at max settings. I don’t personally think watch dogs 2 needs an amazing frame rate to enjoy, at 1080p max settings to me it was definitely playable, although you can drop down a little to improve this further. At 1440p ultra and very high settings felt a little stuttery to me, but I found high or lower to play pretty well.

Alienware 13 R3 Ghost recon

Ghost recon was tested using the built in benchmark and is another fairly resource intensive game, this really shows when we move to 1440p as we’re not really getting great frame rates except at minimum settings. Shadow of war was also tested with the built in benchmark, and here are the 1080p results, and the 1440p results see the average frame rates drop down a bit. Rise of the tomb raider was again tested with the built in benchmark, and at max settings we’re able to average above 60 FPS, while we can get somewhat close to this using medium settings at 1440p.

Alienware 13 R3 keyboard
Alienware 13 R3 keyboard

Overall I thought the results were quite good, I’ve said in the past that I find the Nvidia 1060 to be a great match for 60 FPS 1080p gaming at high settings, and we can see that here even in the more resource intensive games, while the esports titles run very well even at 1440p. Realistically with a 13 inch screen I think playing at 1080p rather than 1440p is fine anyway, at least for me it’s so small that it doesn’t really make a noticeable difference in most cases, 1440p just stresses the graphics more and gives you a lower frame rate, so I’d personally play games at 1080p here.

You do have the option of attaching an external graphics enclosure, so you could always do that and attach a higher refresh rate monitor too which is a great upgrade feature to have available. Now onto the benchmarking tools, I’ve tested Heaven, Valley, and Superposition from Unigine, as well as Firestrike, Timespy, and VRMark from 3DMark, just pause the video if you want a detailed look at the results. In Crystal Disk Mark the 256GB NVME M.2 SSD performed around 1630MB/s in sequential reads and 430MB/s in sequential writes, so pretty well for the reads but much lower in comparison for the writes, about on par with a SATA based SSD. As for the price at the time of recording the model with the OLED screen is the top end option, and here in Australia it comes with 32GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD, so double what I’ve tested with here, and comes in at $3500 AUD.

In the US it seems to be available with the same specs I’ve tested with here for $1900 USD, however the non OLED models are a fair bit cheaper. So what did you guys think of the Alienware 13 R3 gaming laptop? Overall I found it a little on the larger and heavier side for a 13 inch laptop, however considering the specs inside it’s not too bad and still quite a portable gaming unit.

To me the build quality felt high end and premium, as there are lots of extra features you usually don’t see, especially the OLED screen which looked amazing, but of course premium features come in at a premium price. If you’re just after raw gaming power then there are cheaper options with the same specs available, but if you’re after something else with all the bells and whistles at this size then this might be what you’re looking for.

Let me know what you guys thought down in the comments, and leave a share if you found the review useful.

Louise Martin

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