Any fears that a 14-inch laptop would struggle to contain a decent keyboard are unfounded. The Alienware 14’s keys are a good size and pleasant to type upon: they offer a good level of resistance, don’t rattle too much when tapped, and spring back when released.
The size does mean that there’s no gap between them, and there’s also no room for a numberpad, but we didn’t have any problems typing quickly and accurately. A good keyboard.
The 14-inch size also impedes on to the room left for the touchpad, which is a little on the small size. This makes gestures a little hard to pull off, not helped by the fact that the common ones (scrolling, browser back, etc.) don’t seem to be enabled by default. Those thatare present, such as increasing the size of the browser, do work consistently but the space makes things a bit fiddly.
When we play tested Crysis 2, we did find that the touchpad was very difficult for looking and turning, and not hugely responsive. This may be an isolated incident, but in any case it’s not really a problem as most serious gamers will plug in an external mouse for first person shooters.
Alienware laptops offer a number of customisation options when ordering. Although the 14-inch model we looked at begins at £999.99, to get the full set up we reviewed you would have to order the mid-range model (starting at £1,148.99), bump up the graphics card from Nvidia GeForce 750GTX to the 765GTX ( £150) and throw in a 256GB SSD ( £240) meaning our review model would set you back a pretty steep £1538.99. You can also add in a Blu-ray drive for an extra £100 and double the RAM to 16GB for £150. It’s very easy to find an affordable gaming laptop turning into a big expense with just a few careless clicks of the mouse.
Other than the high end specifications, Alienware is renowned for its distinct design style and especially the lighting effects which are entirely customisable from a pre-installed programme. You can set the lighting to different colours on each of the 10 different sections with different settings for on-battery or when plugged in. It’s a nice touch, though we found most of the colours just too gaudy to be practical, and we imagine many users will just switch the lights off altogether.
Alienware certainly is a big brand in the gaming space, but there’s no question that its computers come at a prohibitive price. We can’t help thinking that a lot of the cost goes on the brand and the distinctive design: not a bad thing necessarily, and if you like the flashy appearance there’s not much to rival it.
On the other hand, we recently looked at the high specced Asus G750JX, and were massively impressed by it, awarding it with a 9/10. Although it costs £1,299 and packs a 17-inch screen, the gaming performance was truly impressive - even if it lacked the SSD this Alienware review model comes with.
Comparing like for like on the Alienware site, the 17-inch version matches the Asus G750JX by starting at £1299.99, but comes with a weaker graphics card (the 2GB GeForce GTX765M against the 3GB GTX770M), a lower resolution (1600x900 vs 1920x1080) and a DVD-RW drive instead of a Blu-ray. Matching the first two adds £300 to the pricetag, and there’s no option to upgrade to Blu-ray.
In short, unless you really love the design and marginally better portability of the Alienwar 14, we favour the Asus G750JX as our gaming laptop of choice. The Alienware 14 is certainly not without its charms, and we don’t think any buyer would be disappointed in its performance, but only if money is no object.
Great performance and distinct style, but the price is just too steep compared to its rivals for us to give a whole-hearted endorsement.
Next, read our round-up of the best Windows 8 laptops and tablets