Alienware 13 R3 Review: OLED, GeForce 10 Pop And Performance

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Alienware 13 R3 Design And Build Quality

At least a couple of members of the team at Alienware refer to the Alienware 13 R3 as "The Kardashian." We'll let your imagination run wild with that, though it's easy to see the relation. Let's just say, "baby's got back." and I cannot lie. The backside edge of the new Alienware 13 is home to a serious cooling and ventilation system designed to wick heat away from the CPU and GPU engines inside, but also bring out a number of IO options, many of which defy the laws of physics for mere mortal ultrabooks

Alienware 13 read view
Alienware 13 display fully down2
But what's interesting about that backside protrusion is that it in no way hampers the mechanics of the machine. The Alienware 13 R3, is a balanced, compact, dense package of technology that simply feels substantial and high quality in the hand. It's brick weight heavy but not unwieldly or awkward. The hinge mechanism of the AW13 R3 is very strong, inspires confidence and articulates a full 180 degrees. And you might have noticed, that OLED panel, even from this very sharp shot angle, is more than clear and bright, with great viewing angle availability.

Alienware 13 front view
Is it a complete love affair in design language for us? Not really. There's a fair amount of bezel around that gorgeous OLED display you see in the above shot. Particularly, Alienware's muscle car front end look, with it's pointy front edge, lend to a bit of extra bezel up at the top by the machine's bezel-mounted web camera and sensor. Then again, for Alienware's design team, this could have been welcomed trade-off. Those two pinholes up top are actually the Alienware HD webcam and IR sensor for presence detection.This combination supports Windows Hello features including Tobii presence detection functions like facial recognition, dim screen and lighting when not present and system sleep/wake with AlienFX lighting integration. And yes, as you can see, not only is the keyboard backlit but the trackpad is custom illuminated, which we'll cover shortly in our Software and Experience section.
Alienware 13 trackpad lit
As far as the typing experience goes, the AW13's typing deck is a rock-solid setup with full sized key caps that have tons of travel. It's roomy and comfortable for work or leisure, and will also stand up to the stress and strain of the ways of key-mashing gamers. The trackpad is also roomy and responsive with multi-touch gesture support for panning, scrolling and inertial scrolling. In short, with the exception of a numpad, there's everything you need here and it feels great. You'll be flying on this deck in no time. 
Alienware 13 Left Edge
Alienware 13 Right Edge
The speaker ports on the left and right front edges of the machine offer nice, unmuffled separation of sound. Audio quality is full with excellent spatialization, though lacking low-end, which is common for notebook audio solutions. Regardless, comparatively the Alienware 13 offers good volume and decent audio fidelity for a 13-inch notebook.  
Alienware 13 Back Edge
Looking for connectivity? The Alienware 13 R3 has just about everything covered, with USB Type-C -- both USB 3 and Thunderbolt connected -- DisplayPort, HDMI, standard USB 3 with PowerShare charging, Gigabit Ethernet, audio jacks and of course the Alienware AMP port for external graphics. About the only thing missing from the new Alienware 13 is a card reader. Had the team included that option, it would have been  perfect IO setup. Regardless, it's close to perfect and a long far cry from the emaciated IO setups of USB-C bound devices like the MacBook Pro and ASUS ZenBook 3, though these are obviously a different class of notebook.
 
Alienware13 bottom cover off

Alienware 13 bottom cover off close up

The other feature of the Alienware 13 -- though it takes more of a traditional notebook form-factor, rather than a desktop replacement machine -- is that, contrary to many ultralight notebooks on the market these days, you can actually get at a few of the major components inside for upgrade and expansion. The bottom cover plate of the Alienware 13 comes off relatively easily with five screws. Here, you can see the two 8GB DDR4 2400MHz SODIMM sticks we have installed in our machine, totaling 16 gigabytes of RAM. On the left edge of the machine you can also see one M.2 socket is populated with our PCIe NVMe SSD and a spare M.2 slot is available as well. Total capacity is 1TB per slot, 2TB total. You'll also notice that Trackpad, Keyboard, DC-IN and Battery connection harnesses and ribbon cables are directly exposed in this area, for easy access, with direct instructions to release the battery cable first before servicing any part of the machine. Nice touch, Alienware and sound advice.

Finally, you can also see the heatpipe and squirrel cage fan assembly for the GPU and CPU here. You have easy access to blow out the fans here but if you want to get at the heatsinks and pips you'll need to remove a few more screws to remove the bottom side component cover plate in the machine. In practice, some canned air pumped into various areas of the cooling assembly here as seen, should be ample access for cleaning the cooling system.

So that's some of the hardware, let's look at the software... 

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