Alienware 13 R3 Review

Never in my wildest dream that I will buy an Alienware laptop. I knew about the brand dating back as far as 2 decades ago, before they are being bought by Dell. I never liked its design because it looked too geeky. It is so geeky that it was Sheldon Cooper’s laptop in “The Big Bang Theory”. I prefer the Macbook Pro type of industrial design with minimalist look.

My previous laptop – the Dell Inspiron 15 7559 was a great budget gaming laptop, but it struggle quite a lot when comes to playing AAA games. I thought I was going to play Starcraft2 and BF4 a lot with it, I ended up playing a lot of The Division.

 

Smaller Size

Another problem is that how big the Dell 7559 is. It’s so wide that I have to get a new camera backpack to fit it. The AW13 fits into my old Lowepro Event Messenger 250. The Inspiron 15 fit tightly into my work luggage while the AW13 fits nicely with rooms to spare. The AW13 is same as thick though.

Although I don’t use laptop a lot in flight, but my Inspiron 15 will need to be on my lap for me to use it half comfortably. With the AW13, I can place it on the tray table and use it comfortably without the laptop warming up my lap. I’ve tried inside the economy class of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737, so you can expect it to be a bit more cramp inside LCC airplanes.

13″ IPS Screen

Prior to getting my AW13, I have yet to read any reviews having a unit with IPS screen. Most of the US based reviewer got their OLED units back in the end of 2016 with Skylake CPU and all of the review are positive of the 1440p OLED screen.

I already have a 1440p desktop screen at home, and even a 980Ti is barely powerful enough to keep at stable 60fps on Ultra Settings in some AAA games,. The main purpose for me getting the AW13 is simply just playing games and a bit of photo editing, so the cheaper 1080p IPS screen is enough for me. I do lose the OLED tech raved by other reviewers.

With my subjective view, I think the IPS screen by BOE on this is pretty ok, much better than the 15″ LG that came with the Inspiron 15, on par with the replaced AOU 15″. It gets bright enough and dark enough for what I need. I do not have any light meter or color meter for proper testing of the screen.

Best of all, the screen has got matte coating, unlike the OLED screen. I mentioned before that the 1080p resolution density is just nice for a 15″ screen without any scaling. 1080p on 13″ is a little small without scaling, but isn’t that bad because the screen is now closer to me compared to the Inspiron 15. Arguably the 1440p will be the best with 150% scaling.

The screen doesn’t support Gsync, with that it does supports Optimus graphic switching which IMO, far out weight Gsync. No matter how power efficient the 1060 is, it still cannot compete with Intel’s iGPU when not running anything 3D, giving this gaming laptop an insane amount of battery life.

 

Speaker & Audio Quality

I can’t believe I say this, but I really like the speakers and surround simulation on the AW13. The combination is better than the implementation in Inspiron 15. The virtual surrounds successfully tricked me into thinking the sound came from behind! I find it better than the Asus Xonar U7 with 2.1 setup on my desktop.

Plugging in my Sony MDR-1000X, with just virtual surround enabled and the rest disabled, the effect is also quite pleasing when playing games. Again, arguably it sounds better compared to Dolby HT on Xonar U7. The Killer wireless module doesn’t supports AptX audio thru Bluetooth, so that’s something I missed from the Inspiron 15 7559.

Sound quality for music listening is okay with all Alienware Enhancement turned off. I think using the enhancements is worst off. By plugging in my little Asus Xonar U3 and comparing to the on board audio, the sound from U3 sounds fuller, crisper and with better sound stage.

 

Built

Like the other reviews has mentioned, the laptop felt solid and dense with very little flex, very much different from the Inspiron 15, closer to the high quality of Macbook. It is actually very hard for me to believe it until I got my hands on it because my past experience with Dell laptop (mostly Inspiron and Vostro line) suggest otherwise.

The screen can be open with a single hand, something I’m so used on my Macbook Air and missed it when using the Inspiron 15. This is thanks to the sturdy and very well-tuned hinge. The screen is also held shut by magnet, so it won’t open ajar when the laptop is place inside the bag standing on its back.

The soft touch material on the palm rest is identical to the one on Inspiron, same goes to the keys on the keyboard, which is a good thing.

The outer shell consist of plastic and aluminum panel which in combination made the laptop feels much sturdier than the budget Inspiron 15 even though it may not have the touch and feel of unibody Macbook or Razer Blade.

As for the lightings, I’ve disabled all of them except for keyboard and power button. I don’t find lighting up the touchpad being cool. Although all the keys are lit, they’re aren’t as evenly lit like on my Macbook Air. The keyboards lightings isn’t per key RGB, heck I can’t even choose the colour White. Instead, I have to edit the hex numbers in the config files for that colour.

One reason I could think of for not providing white colour is that the LEDs can’t really do perfect white light, there’s a slight purple tint, very obvious on the touchpads, which isn’t a problem since I’ve disable it. At least the secondary functions keys are lit unlike on the latest Razer Blade.

 

Keyboard & Touchpad

The keyboard looks like from the 1990, unlike the island keys made famous by Apple Macbook. I prefer the island style keys for typing because the gap in between the keys on the AW13 are too small and I keep hitting the wrong key. Maybe I’m used to the smaller Inspiron keys IDK.  I do find the keys very stable, not too close apart and with deep travel distance, making them really great to and game on.

The keyboard on the Inspiron is good for typing when you got use to them, but they aren’t really great for playing games, they are too close to each other. I actually use a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard to game on it. Oh mechanical keyboard, still the best thing for both gaming and typing!

The touchpad is ok. I can say it sucked if I compare it to my old Macbook Air, why they don’t put in a better touchpad is beyond me. Good thing they made it smaller compared to Inspiron so that I don’t touch them during typing and gaming. There are physical buttons for mouse clicks which are nice to have but I have no use for them.

 

Ports

I’m not going into the details of the available ports, it has got one less USB 3.0 port, which I had already gotten a USB-C to USB A converter in case I need more ports. I also wish it has a SD card reader, so now I gotta bring a card reader and its cable when I’m travelling. Maybe I need to find a USB-C SD card reader.

The AW13 has 2 audio jacks for headphones and mic. The headphone jack seems to support those headset with a single jack because a prompt popped asking for the correct configuration when I plug in the headphone jack.

I am still now used to the power input at the back, all the laptops I ever used have power input on the left. With the cable sticking out on the back, I need more space behind it when placing it on a table.  I guess it has desktop in mind, by hiding as much cable behind as possible.

I haven’t find the use of rest of the ports yet. I don’t have a HTC Vive for testing, which would makes the extra ports very useful. I’ll hook up the laptop to my 4k TV if I got the time.

 

Upgrades

Just like the Inspiron 15, the bottom of the AW13 can be easily opened, albeit by releasing a little more screws. By a quick glance of the internal from the bottom, I can tell it is a much higher quality product compared to the Inspiron 15.

The 16GB DDR4 (2×8) can be upgrade to 32GB, which I don’t find a reason to do so. There are two M.2 SSD banks which one has been used by the included 256GB PCI-E SSD. Dell is kind enough to use Samsung SM961 on my unit, which I prefer compared to Toshiba ones.

It supports M.2 SATA SSD too which I’ve used briefly with the 256GB Crucial MX200 I’ve installed in my Inspiron. It has since been replaced by a used 1TB Toshiba PCI-E SSD which I found someone selling online.

Battery Life

Long story short, I can around 6 hours with non-gaming usage. Probably more if all I do is just reading from a PDF or typing some stuff. I’m glad to report that the new Kaby Lake CPU really makes wonders because I would expect this laptop with 1060 wouldn’t last as long as my old Inspiron 15 with 960M. I’m gladly surprised it isn’t the case. I had report that the AW13R3 with OLED and Skylake CPU would last around 4 hours.

I wish it can last 10 hours like the Macbook Pro does, but I can totally live with 6 hours. My Sandy Bridge Macbook Air barely reaches 4 hours which I find that a bit short.

I do not plan to game on battery, ever, so no comment on that.

 

Gaming

The only reason I get the AW13 is to play games, that’s all. If not for that I would just get a XPS 15 which cost roughly the same but sports a much slower GTX 1050 GPU but at a much lighter weight and compact size. Plus that bigger screen!

And oh boy the GTX1060 doesn’t disappoint. It is crazy to think the GPU inside is faster and cooler than my old big ass R9 280X and just a tad slower than the 980 Ti on my current desktop. I’m not going to post benchmark scores here since many have done that already.

I’m so happy that I can play The Division, Battlefield 1 and now Ghost Recon: Wildlands with graphical settings similar to the ones on my desktop, on this little laptop. The fans does spin up quite a lot during load, which is expected.

Initially I got CPU temperature hovering above 80°C during gaming, which is WAAAAY past my comfort on a laptop. Luckily with the help of Intel XTU, with a -0.120V core adjustment, I am able to bring down the temperature by 10°C without any repasting done.

Just like I’ve rant about the screen, I wanted to say again that at 13.3″ the screen is a little small for gaming. I really wish they put in an 15″ Infinity display from the XPS into it. Maybe it is the small screen, but I don’t miss not having Gsync as I don’t see much, if any, tearing.

 

Conclusion

The Alienware 13 R3 is a powerful laptop which doesn’t come in a really big package. It is still rather bulky and heavy in the era of tablet and Ultrabook computing. The 13″ screen is a little small, but the 1080p resolution keeps everything sharp and nice. This is a laptop for people who play games but doesn’t need a laptop to be with them all the time.

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Alienware 13 R3 Review

Quick take on Dell Inspiron 15 7559

Some compliment for the Dell delivery team:
My order is originally stated on Dell’s website to arrive on 29th December. On 22nd December I got an SMS saying my laptop will be delivered on 28th instead. I phoned them to find out if I can collect it earlier as I have done so in the past with the Dell U2711 monitor. They say they only received the device on 23rd, and since it is public holiday on 24 and 25th, I can only collect it on 26th. After Christmas day. So I tell them that I will collect it on 26th. On the 24th morning, a guy called me asking if I wanted my laptop to be delivered today instead. I happily agreed and so the guy came well ahead of my Christmas eve Mass in the evening. Enough time for me to set the thing up.

The Build

Dell Inspiron 15 7559 is really big. Sorry I can’t help to compare it to my Apple Macbook Air 11″ (MBA). I know it is an unfair comparison, but I just want to say out what I felt. Obviously it is also heavier. This new Dell is wider than my brother’s old Dell Inspiron 15, but it is shorter and and slightly thinner. A problem with being wider is that it wouldn’t fit into a lot of bags that is able to fit a Apple Macbook Pro 15.

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Dell Inspiron 15: Old vs New

The design of the laptop is more towards grown-up businessman and less teenager geeks, and I really like it. Its look can even convince your non-gaming spouse that you got yourself a laptop for work. And in a country where laptop theft is a problem, this Dell really wouldn’t attract much attention compared to any Apple laptop, or that Alienware.

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The new Dell is wider.

The build is fully plastic and isn’t as stiff as the MBA. Although I don’t mind the screen flexes a bit, but the lid mechanism just isn’t as smooth as on the MBA. Although it have never happen to me, but I’ve seen other people’s older Dell screen hinge got so loose after many open-close cycle that the thing simply broke and lost tension.

First Boot

The first disappointment came on first start that it failed to load into Windows Boot Manager. Switching to legacy boot doesn’t help, it only shows PXE unable to find boot drive. For some odd reason I managed to boot into Windows by selecting Windows Boot Manager using the F12 key instead of pressing F2 key for setting default boot devices.

Everything seems to load so slow, which is expected with the 1TB mechanical hard disk. Since I’m using SSD on my desktop, the loading time is pretty unbearable for me. I initially plan to just use the laptop with just the HDD but looks like I need to ditch that plan.

Storage Devices

The second best thing with this laptop is how easy to access from the bottom and upgrade the storage drive and memory. Although it is not completely tool-less, only by releasing one screw, I can open up the whole under-panel.

 

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The internal.

What’s the best thing you asked? Well they have an empty M.2 slot that actually works. I can just pop in a M.2 SSD, albeit the slower SATA instead of the super expensive PCI-E NVMe ones. That is a good thing since I really will not invest something so expensive on a budget laptop. I can keep the 1TB HDD in there and put all my space hungry files there, exactly like what I am doing on a desktop PC, only this is a laptop with two different type of storage device!

Keyboard & Touch-pad

The keyboard is okay, but I prefer the feel of my MBA ones because those feel less mushy. The arrow-keys on the keyboard are as small as the MBA ones and really isn’t good for playing games. But it does comes with numb-pad which can be used as arrow keys. However I prefer 10-keyless with big arrow keys since this laptop is market to be a budget gaming laptop.

The keyboard are back-lit and I can see what I’m typing

The touch-pad is just terrible. Not as bad as my old 2008 Dell Vostro 1400 ones which suggest that things does improve, but it still light-year behind the MBA. I heard the more premium XPS series have better touch-pad which I think Dell could have just make it standard on all their laptops and not corners on this.

While reading on the some others’ review at Amazon, I stumbled on a guide to improve the responsiveness of the touch-pad. I’ve updated the touch-pad driver with ELAN obtained here. It has since became much more responsive, so I’ll be keeping the driver.

15.6″ FHD IPS Screen

The full HD 15.6″ IPS screen is pretty okay. It is obviously not as bright and as nice as my Acer XB270HU, but it is better than the MBA’s TN panel. The panel I got is a LG one, which reportedly better than those supplied by BOE that many Americans are getting. So although they get a 256GB SSD with the USD $800 package, I prefer getting a better panel which cannot be upgraded.

I’m glad I didn’t opt for the 4k panel because I find the DPI on this 15.6″ is just nice without scaling. I’m not a fan of scaling on Windows 10 even though there is some improvement from Windows 7, but it is still not as good as on OSX. I did wish it has G-SYNC but this is a non-perfect world that I can’t use it if I were to use the iGPU during non-gaming operation for much longer battery life.

Battery Life

And speaking of battery life, if I were just use the laptop for typing, I probably get 9 hours out of it. Light browsing on the net will bring the number down to around 6 hours, which is still pretty good since this laptop as got a dGPU inside. I wish it can go up to 10 hours like the latest Macbook Pro/Air. I didn’t bother to see how long it will last playing games on battery, but people has reported around 1-2.5 hours. This thing will definitely be plug-in when I’m gaming with it.

Gaming

I always wanted that laptop with Nvidia 970m but it is just so expensive. I decided that I might as well use the money to buy a 980 Ti for my desktop and save up the rest. Well, here’s where I spend the rest, on a 960m laptop for light gaming. I recently started to play Starcraft 2 and it is a game that requires a lot of practice to be able to play ranked MP without losing each and every match. So the 960m is perfect for playing SC2.

Battlefield 4 is another game that I’ve spent a lot of time on. I am quite surprised that graphic settings set on High works. I am able to play very smoothly on multiplayer.The two fans do have to work extra hard when running BF4, so do the extra noise from the fans. That’s not a problem for me because I’ll be definitely be on headset when playing BF4.

Some says that using a laptop pad with fan can make the Dell runs cooler. I haven’t go out and buy a pad because I only use it for casual gaming. I’ll definitely get one if I’m using it 24/7. Speaking of cooling, with the Dell I have to be mindful on how to place it on my lap so that I do not fully block the fan intake vent.

Other than 960M GPU, the 4 cores i5 6300HQ plays a big part on performance, especially on BF4 multiplayer. This is one of the main reason I got this laptop too, having a 4 cores i5 instead of spending more on an i7 chip. The included 4GB RAM is borderline for gaming, and no room for multitasking. I have to add more RAM real soon, and installing them is easy.

Screen

15.6″ is also a better size to play BF4 compared to the 13.3″ GeChic. Still, the best experience is on a 27″ screen, and I think I’ll get an better experience with the newly released Acer X34 monitor which I couldn’t afford. Screen size isn’t that significant when playing SC2 though. There’s no G-Sync, screen tearing is there but the effect is less distracting since it’s a smaller screen.

Input lag is noticeably less than gaming on the GeChic + Desktop combo that I can actually hit something in BF4. I feel that the screen is slightly darker than my MBA. It’s perfectly fine for web browsing but it is a problem when playing games with dark environments in both Battlefield 4 and Starcraft 2. I can offset a bit of the problem by increase the brightness in-game. There is also no auto-brightness adjust by an ambient sensor like on MBA. No biggie for me since I’ve disable that on my MBA anyway.

Windows 10 recommended 125% scaling for the screen, which I disagree. It took away too much screen space with that setting. Although MBA and Dell 7559 has similar DPI (135 vs 141) words does look smaller on the Dell because the screen is slightly further away from my eye due to the size of the laptop. If I use an external mechanical keyboard, the screen is going to be even smaller as I am sitting even further away.

There is an option for 4k resolution screen which I had seriously considered it for future proof. I’m glad I didn’t get that as I’m fully satisfied with 1080p at 15.6″. Windows 10 scaling isn’t as good as on OSX yet, I can’t game on 4k resolution on this light hardware, and 4k video on such small screen is pretty pointless. This is from a guy who haven’t had a 4k screen yet.

Sound

The on-board speaker is adequate. It is louder and better than my MBA, and I don’t have any other laptop to compare. It is a laptop, and I expect it to fare terribly when compared to my AE Aego M 2.1 speakers.

I’m usually on my headphone, so let’s talk about the sound quality. Good news is that the quality is pretty good for listening to music if you’re using an average headphone like my Creative Fatality. I prefer to listen to music without any of the enhancement from the pre-installed Dell Audio software.

I tested with my Sony MDR-1 headphone and the sound quality can still be improved with a USB sound card like the Asus Xonar U3, in which I can hear some more details in the music. However the difference is quite small if I weren’t paying attention to it. The Asus Xonar U7 will be much better, but it is not really that portable.

Gaming wise, MAXX Audio Pro in Dell Audio software is able to simulate some surround sound. The effect is just okay and nothing to shout about. It can’t beat the 7.1 simulation through headphone from USB sound card or a real 5.1 set-up.

The microphone is terrible. I try to use it for Teamspeak, but it’s pretty unusable as it picked up too much background noise. After a lot of tweaking, I manage to make it slightly usable, but the sound quality from it is still pretty bad. My headphone has got mic, so that solve the problem.

Connectivity

3 USB3 ports, which is more than enough for me since my MBA only has 2. It has a SD card slot, and a HDMI port. Oh and it has a LAN cable port which a lot of ultrabook do not include. If I had a choice, I would be playing multiplayer games through LAN cables, not WiFi.

The WiFi is good even though they have been many review out there saying the signal kept dropping and requires a restart to solve the problem. I’m guessing the latest firmware has fixed the issue.

What this laptop is lacking for a Skylake system, is a USB Type-C port. Those are pretty rare and only available on high-end desktop motherboards for now. Even then, most of those are only USB 3.1 and does not have Thunderbolt 3 pass through. The gaming laptop of 2016 are starting to have Thunderbolt 3 ports that they are able to connect to external GPU enclosure for desktop class graphic performance and cheaper upgrades down the line.

Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 15 7559 is a great budget gaming laptop, spend a bit more on adding RAM and SSD, it’ll become a very good gaming laptop as long you’re not planning to play at Ultra graphic settings on the 2014/15 titles. Dell did cut some corners to keep the price low, on things like the build quality, touch-pad, sound system and a little on the screen. However Dell seems to know the target audience will be using headset and mouse during gaming session.

For general purpose usage, this laptop will still going to perform well, if not really good, for the next four to five years. As for gaming wise, I will really need to turn down the graphic settings for future titles for smooth frame rates at 1080p. Thankfully it won’t be that noticeable at 15.6″ and I am lucky enough to have a desktop gaming rig for more heavy gaming.

The gaming laptop of 2016 is going to be even more interesting with USB Type-C external GPU enclosure setup. If the ultrabook and external GPU is something you would be interested in, then I would advice you to wait. If you want to be playing games a lot outside home, then a traditional laptop is still the way to go.

Quick take on Dell Inspiron 15 7559

New Laptop?

I’ve been thinking of buying a new laptop for a really long time, but that Macbook Air replacement with IPS screen never came. The Macbook Pro Retina 13″ is prohibitively expensive and doesn not include a dedicated GPU (dGPU). My desktop Ivy Bridge has got iGPU so I know very well the limitation of it. And the rMBP 15 which has a dGPU is crazily expensive, with that sort of money, I can get the best mobile dGPU on Nvidia lineup – GTX 980m. 

Acer has been coming out with affordable gaming laptop with GTX 960m in the RM4k range. Even though my perspective with Acer has changed with my purchase of their gaming monitor, but I still don’t like the styling of their laptop. The same goes to Lenovo. Since I’ve really enjoyed gaming on my desktop 980 Ti, I can’t imagine gaming on something as slow as a 960m, which is similar speed to 750Ti. That is even slower than the Radeon 7850 I bought few years back!

Recenty I started playing Starcraft 2 after being influenced by my group of friends from Miri. It was a fairly easy game to drive, I even manage to run in on my i5 3570k iGPU back then. It is a DX10 game which requires a lot of practice! One of my friend was playing on his really old Core2Duo laptop with an entry level dGPU. That let me to think that getting a cheap 960M laptop isn’t such a bad idea after all for more convenient mobile gaming. 

Currently I only bring my desktop for work if: 

  1. I don’t plan to do any shopping at that place.
  2. I don’t need to use check in luggage.
  3. I don’t plan to do any sightseeing.

I can’t bring the still bulky PC if I need to do any  of above. Other than work, I spend quite sometime outside home during rush hour when I decided not to be stuck in traffic jam and instead some place where I can have a drink or meal. I wanted to play some games at those time too!

Recently I stumbled on Dell latest Inspiron 15 laptop. On further research, I found out that I has the latest Skylake i5 CPU which has 4 cores! My Sandy Bridge i5 MBA only has 2 cores, and it is obviously struggling at some task at the age of 4. Trying to edit photos on Lightroom amplified its age. The Dell also has 960M with 4GB of VRAM instead of 2. Not that I need the extra 2GB, but it is a lot more future proof with it since a lot of the newer games are VRAM hungry on the high end cards. 

I read that the Dell also has dual fan cooling, like those found in rMBP. The Malaysia version comes with 1TB HDD, and since the US version has got and SATA M.2 SSD, the motherboard is the same locally with and empty M.2 slot, so I can actaully install a SSD together with the HDD if I need. Best of all I can access the internal by just opening ONE screw, without voiding its warranty! 

At that price, Dell did cut some corners on its quality of its built and IPS panel (lower quality one). After reading them, I feel that I can make the compromise to save more than RM2k from buying the better build XPS 15 series. So on last Sunday I drop my card and made the purchase thru Dell’s website.

Other website such as Lazada and shops in LowYat Plaza are selling a version without Win10 license for around RM3.3k. I decided to just get from Dell and added one more year of warranty since it is a low quality product and I expect something to break within that three years. 

The website shows that it is expected to ship on 29th December, almost half a month of waiting time. Seem like it is a hot selling product right now. 

New Laptop?