Notebookcheck

Alienware 13 (GTX 960M) Notebook Review

Florian Glaser, Tanja Hinum (translated by Vinay Pradhan), 05/26/2015

Power Spike. Dell offers updated components for the Alienware 13. Let us find out if the Core i7-5500U and the GeForce GTX 960M are worth the investment.

For the original German review, see here.

We previously tested the Alienware 13 around 6 months ago. We loved the great 13-inch case, with beautiful workmanship and great lighting, yet modest weight (~2 kg). However, the CPU performance was lacking as the dual-core Core i5-4210U processor operates at 1.7 - 2.7 GHz, which is not great for a gaming notebook. Now Alienware is offering the Core i7-5500U (Broadwell architecture, 2.4 - 3.0 GHz) for this model and we want to check how much more performance can this upgrade offer? The graphics card has also been upgraded: instead of the GeForce GTX 860M, the model will now employ the faster GeForce GTX 960M.

Most of the other hardware has stayed the same: we were happy to see a 256 GB SSD and a matte FHD panel. Furthermore, the German buyers will have to decide between a 1,000 GB HDD or a 512 GB SSD and between an HD panel (1366x768) and a QHD+ panel (3200x1800). The configuration is rounded off with 16 GB of DDR3 RAM, comprised of two 8 GB RAM modules.

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Alienware 13 (GTX 960M) (13 Series)
Graphics adapter
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M - 2048 MB, Core: 1097 MHz, Memory: 2500 MHz, GDDR5, ForceWare 347.52, Optimus
Memory
16384 MB 
, SO-DIMM DDR3-RAM PC3-12800 (1,600 MHz), 2 of 2 slots occupied, max. 16 GB
Display
13.3 inch 16:9, 1920 x 1080 pixel, 9T7WM_133HL (SDC4C48), IPS, Full HD, glossy: no
Mainboard
Intel Broadwell-U PCH-LP (Premium)
Storage
Samsung SSD PM851 M.2 2280 256GB, 256 GB 
Soundcard
Realtek ALC255 @ Intel Broadwell PCH-LP High Definition Audio Controller
Connections
3 USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen1, 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, Audio Connections: Headphones, Microphone, Noble Lock, Port for Graphics Booster
Networking
Qualcomm Killer e2200 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller (10/100/1000/2500/5000MBit/s), Killer Wireless-n/a/ac 1525 Wireless Network Adapter (a/b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4/ac = Wi-Fi 5), Bluetooth 4.0
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 28 x 328 x 235 ( = 1.1 x 12.91 x 9.25 in)
Battery
52 Wh, 4 Cell
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 8.1 64 Bit
Camera
Webcam: HD
Additional features
Speakers: 2.0 Klipsch (SoundBlaster X-Fi MB3), Keyboard Light: yes, Power Adapter: 130 W, Quick Start Guide, USB stick with System Recovery, MS Office 365 Trial, Command Center & other manufacturer programs, 12-48 Months Warranty
Weight
1.97 kg ( = 69.49 oz / 4.34 pounds), Power Supply: 500 g ( = 17.64 oz / 1.1 pounds)
Price
1668 Euro
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.

 

Software Alienware 13

Case

As the Alienware 13 is nigh identical to our test model in many ways, we will skip a few sections: the chassis, the connectivity, the input devices and the sound system. For more information on these topics, we refer you to the review of the Alienware 13 from last year. Hint: the images below have been taken from the previous review due to the aforementioned similarities.

Display

Despite being the same FHD panel of last year, the values are slightly different. For example, the 9T7WM-133HL display (monitor ID SDC4848) offered 997:1 contrast last year, whereas in our test model we measure a slightly higher contrast of 1,055:1. However, it is normal to see such small deviations in quality, even for supposedly identical panels.

324
cd/m²
332
cd/m²
318
cd/m²
311
cd/m²
327
cd/m²
321
cd/m²
259
cd/m²
269
cd/m²
282
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
9T7WM_133HL (SDC4C48)
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 332 cd/m² Average: 304.8 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 78 %
Center on Battery: 327 cd/m²
Contrast: 1055:1 (Black: 0.31 cd/m²)
ΔE Color 5.14 | 0.6-29.43 Ø6
ΔE Greyscale 6.51 | 0.64-98 Ø6.2
97% sRGB (Argyll 3D) 61% AdobeRGB 1998 (Argyll 3D)
Gamma: 2.69

The panel also offers a great black value of 0.31 cd/m² and a brightness of 305 cd/m².

Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
9T7WM_133HL (SDC4C48)
MSI GS30 Shadow
BOEhydis HN133WU3-102 (BOE05E3)
Alienware 13
9T7WM_133HL (SDC4C48)
Schenker XMG A305
CMN N133HSE-EA1 (CMN1343)
Schenker XMG C405
AU Optronics B140HAN01.1 (AUO113ED)
Razer Blade 14 2015
 
Screen
-6%
-6%
-5%
-3%
-1%
Brightness middle
327
273
-17%
319
-2%
315
-4%
280
-14%
318.4
-3%
Brightness
305
258
-15%
295
-3%
310
2%
267
-12%
311
2%
Brightness Distribution
78
88
13%
83
6%
86
10%
85
9%
78
0%
Black Level *
0.31
0.38
-23%
0.32
-3%
0.35
-13%
0.32
-3%
0.416
-34%
Contrast
1055
718
-32%
997
-5%
900
-15%
875
-17%
765
-27%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *
5.14
4.86
5%
5.83
-13%
5.63
-10%
4.75
8%
3.67
29%
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *
6.51
4.56
30%
7.63
-17%
6.71
-3%
5.91
9%
5.41
17%
Gamma
2.69 82%
2.23 99%
2.57 86%
2.53 87%
2.52 87%
2.26 97%
CCT
7347 88%
7292 89%
7195 90%
5920 110%
5742 113%
7118 91%
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)
61
56
-8%
57
-7%
57
-7%
59
-3%
64.64
6%
Color Space (Percent of sRGB)
97

* ... smaller is better

In the color tests with the professional CalMAN tool, the FHD display shows some great results. In comparison to most competitors, our test model has fewer deviations from the optimal color value. After a calibration, the panel offers very accurate grayscale, RGB balance and saturation.

CalMAN: Grayscale
CalMAN: Grayscale
CalMAN: Grayscale (calibrated)
CalMAN: Grayscale (calibrated)
CalMAN: Saturation Sweeps
CalMAN: Saturation Sweeps
CalMAN: Saturation Sweeps (calibrated)
CalMAN: Saturation Sweeps (calibrated)
CalMAN: ColorChecker
CalMAN: ColorChecker
CalMAN: ColorChecker (calibrated)
CalMAN: ColorChecker (calibrated)
Alienware 13 vs. sRGB
Alienware 13 vs. sRGB
Alienware 13 vs. AdobeRGB
Alienware 13 vs. AdobeRGB

The panel has a nice AdobeRGB coverage of 61%. The sRGB color spectrum is almost fully covered by the 13-inch screen.

Outdoor use
Outdoor use
Viewing angles
Viewing angles

Performance

Despite the CPU and GPU updates, we do not consider the Alienware 13 a member of the high-end class. Rather, we believe it places firmly in the middle-class. A dual-core processor or a graphics card with 2 GB VRAM is no longer appropriate for the high-end class in 2015. On the other hand, 16 GB DDR3 RAM and a M.2 format Solid State Drive (SSD) are definitely high-end.

System information - Alienware 13

Processor

Of course, the most important change is the processor. The Intel Core i5-4210U of last year belongs to the Haswell generation and achieved a maximum of 2.7 GHz. Our test model is equipped with the Core i7-5500U, which can achieve up to 3.0 GHz at load (+300 MHz). The base clock speed is +700 MHz higher (2.4 vs. 1.7 GHz). Furthermore, Intel has also upgraded the L3 cache. Instead of the 3 MB cache of last year, the i7-5500U uses a 4 MB L3 cache.

In addition, the HD Graphics 4400 (@i5-4210U) has been upgraded to the HD Graphics 5500 IGP (300-950 MHz). Thanks to Nvidia Optimus, the laptop can swap between the IGP and GPU, depending on the performance the user requires. For example, while performing everyday tasks, such as word editing or surfing the web, the IGP will be in charge, but as soon as you start a game, the dedicated Nvidia GPU will kick in. Both processors have a TDP value of 15 W.

Single-Core Rendering
Single-Core Rendering
Multi-Core Rendering
Multi-Core Rendering
CPU- & GPU Load
CPU- & GPU Load

Thankfully, the CPU does not display an erratic clock speed behavior. In the Cinebench R11.5 benchmarks (see screenshots), the Core i7-5500U operates at its maximum speeds of 2.9-3.0 GHz. Although, the CPU speed dropped briefly to the 2 GHz region during the 3D test of the Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmark, we did not encounter any actual throttling. However at full load, which will never occur during everyday usage (not even when playing games), the processor throttles down.

Cinebench R11.5 CPU Single 64Bit
1.4 Points
Cinebench R11.5 CPU Multi 64Bit
3.23 Points
Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL 64Bit
53.41 fps
Cinebench R15 CPU Single 64Bit
122 Points
Cinebench R15 CPU Multi 64Bit
290 Points
Cinebench R15 OpenGL 64Bit
86.13 fps
Help

The CPU benchmarks leave us with mixed feelings. The Core i7-5500U is 20% faster than the Core i5-4210U in single-core and multi-core tests. However, in comparison to the traditional 47 W quad-core CPU found in most gaming notebooks, our CPU stands no chance. In fact, the gaps are enormous when we run any test that uses more than one core: the Core i7-4720HQ can surpass our test model by 100% in a few tests. The Schenker XMG A305 (GTX 960M) and the Razer Blade 14 (GTX 970M) are proof that it is possible to have a powerful quad-core processor in a flat 13 or 14-inch chassis.

Cinebench R15
CPU Single 64Bit (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
5500U, GeForce GTX 960M
122 Points ∼56%
Alienware 13
4210U, GeForce GTX 860M
103 Points ∼47% -16%
MSI GS30 Shadow
4870HQ, Iris Pro Graphics 5200
141 Points ∼65% +16%
Schenker XMG A305
4710MQ, GeForce GTX 960M
136 Points ∼62% +11%
Schenker XMG C405
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 965M
135 Points ∼62% +11%
Razer Blade 14 2015
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 970M
138 Points ∼63% +13%
CPU Multi 64Bit (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
5500U, GeForce GTX 960M
290 Points ∼7%
Alienware 13
4210U, GeForce GTX 860M
239 Points ∼5% -18%
MSI GS30 Shadow
4870HQ, Iris Pro Graphics 5200
607 Points ∼14% +109%
Schenker XMG A305
4710MQ, GeForce GTX 960M
645 Points ∼15% +122%
Schenker XMG C405
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 965M
610 Points ∼14% +110%
Razer Blade 14 2015
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 970M
678 Points ∼15% +134%
Cinebench R11.5
CPU Single 64Bit (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
5500U, GeForce GTX 960M
1.4 Points ∼57%
Alienware 13
4210U, GeForce GTX 860M
1.14 Points ∼47% -19%
MSI GS30 Shadow
4870HQ, Iris Pro Graphics 5200
1.6 Points ∼66% +14%
Schenker XMG A305
4710MQ, GeForce GTX 960M
1.54 Points ∼63% +10%
Schenker XMG C405
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 965M
1.51 Points ∼62% +8%
Razer Blade 14 2015
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 970M
1.56 Points ∼64% +11%
CPU Multi 64Bit (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
5500U, GeForce GTX 960M
3.23 Points ∼7%
Alienware 13
4210U, GeForce GTX 860M
2.6 Points ∼6% -20%
MSI GS30 Shadow
4870HQ, Iris Pro Graphics 5200
6.66 Points ∼15% +106%
Schenker XMG A305
4710MQ, GeForce GTX 960M
7.17 Points ∼16% +122%
Schenker XMG C405
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 965M
6.47 Points ∼15% +100%
Razer Blade 14 2015
4720HQ, GeForce GTX 970M
7.35 Points ∼17% +128%

System Performance

The weak processor of our test model performs clearly lower than the competition in system tests. The Alienware scores 5,238 points in PCMark 7, which is behind the gaming competition by about 20% (6,510 points @MSI GS30). Thankfully, the lower performance is not noticeable in everyday use.

PCMark 7 Score
5238 points
Help
PCMark 7 - Score (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U, Samsung SSD PM851 M.2 2280 256GB
5238 Points ∼57%
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ, 2x Toshiba HG6 THNSNJ256G8NU (RAID 0)
6510 Points ∼71% +24%
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U, Samsung SSD PM851 256 GB MZNTE256HMHP
4877 Points ∼53% -7%
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ, Samsung SSD 850 EVO 500GB
5989 Points ∼65% +14%
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ, Lite-On IT L8T-256L9G
6008 Points ∼66% +15%

Storage Device

The storage device of our test model is a 256 GB SSD from Samsung, the PM851. Instead of the mSATA format, the drive employs the M.2 format, which should theoretically allow the use of PCIe models. Sadly, the Alienware 13 uses a classic SATA III SSD, which limits speeds to about 500-550 MB/s. The Samsung Drive places at that level in the sequential test of CrystalDiskMark.

Sadly, the test configuration cannot perform as well in the sequential write test. The SSD offers a modest write speed of 242 MB/s. A lot of the competition can offer 300 or 400 MB/s (like the 256 GB Crucial M550 in the Schenker XMG C405). The PM851 performs well with compact 4K files, which are often found in everyday use. The access times of 0.118 ms (read) and 0.036 ms (write) are quite decent (AS SSD benchmark).

Samsung SSD PM851 M.2 2280 256GB
Sequential Read: 526 MB/s
Sequential Write: 241.9 MB/s
512K Read: 420 MB/s
512K Write: 243.3 MB/s
4K Read: 28.58 MB/s
4K Write: 107.4 MB/s
4K QD32 Read: 393.4 MB/s
4K QD32 Write: 241 MB/s

Graphics Card

The GeForce GTX 960M is a slightly faster GeForce GTX 860M: instead of 1,029-1,097 MHz, the upgraded Nvidia GPU operates at 1,097-1,176 MHz (+7%).

The user should not expect massive performance increases as the rest of the specs have stayed the same. The GTX 960M uses 640 Unified Shaders (GTX 965M: 1,024 CUDA Cores) and a 2,048 MB GDDR5 memory which uses a 128-bit memory interface. Most gaming notebooks (see Asus G501) use the 4 GB version of GTX 960M, which offers more future security, but still has the 128-bit memory interface.

3DMark 11 Performance
4684 points
3DMark Ice Storm Standard Score
44549 points
3DMark Cloud Gate Standard Score
10287 points
3DMark Fire Strike Score
3611 points
Help

In our benchmarks, the Alienware 13 had to compete with other 13 and 14-inch gaming notebooks. One look at the table makes two things clear: 1) The gap between our test model and the more expensive GTX 965M and GTX 970M is quite large at 34% and 49% in 3DMark 11% and 27% and 45% in the Fire Strike test of 3DMark 13. 2) The weaker CPU of our test model places it far behind other gaming notebooks with identical hardware, but stronger processors. Thanks to the quad-core CPU, the Schenker XMG A305 is ahead by about 10% in the 3DMark graphics tests. At least, our test model can outperform the Alienware 13 of last year by about 10% (the gaps are much larger in overall and physics tests).

3DMark 11
1280x720 Performance GPU (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
4847 Points ∼10%
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
1923 Points ∼4% -60%
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
4453 Points ∼9% -8%
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
5428 Points ∼11% +12%
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
7322 Points ∼14% +51%
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
9571 Points ∼19% +97%
1280x720 Performance (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
4684 Points ∼13%
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
2156 Points ∼6% -54%
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
4111 Points ∼12% -12%
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
5701 Points ∼16% +22%
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
7291 Points ∼21% +56%
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
9110 Points ∼26% +94%
3DMark
1920x1080 Fire Strike Graphics (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
4057 Points ∼10%
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
1361 Points ∼3% -66%
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
3822 Points ∼9% -6%
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
4428 Points ∼11% +9%
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
5536 Points ∼14% +36%
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
7321 Points ∼18% +80%
1920x1080 Fire Strike Score (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
3611 Points ∼13%
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
1281 Points ∼5% -65%
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
3309 Points ∼12% -8%
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
4113 Points ∼15% +14%
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
4851 Points ∼18% +34%
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
6445 Points ∼24% +78%

Gaming Performance

The GeForce GTX 960M tends towards middle-class performance, as is noticeable when running demanding games. Assassin's Creed Unity does not run fluidly at maximum or high details with the native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. For a decent fps, the resolution has to be reduced to 1366x768 pixels and settings have to be dropped to medium. Far Cry 4 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare require far too much from the GTX 960M at high settings. Less demanding games, like Alien IsolationFIFA 15 and The Sims 4, run beautifully at maximum settings (max details, AA). The GTX 960M is not appropriate for 4K gaming.

low med. high ultra
Sims 4 (2014) 184.6 104.9 65.8 56.9 fps
Fifa 15 (2014) 172.9 133.4 96.8 fps
Alien: Isolation (2014) 142.2 110.3 59.8 43.1 fps
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014) 90.7 60.7 42.6 24.1 fps
Assassin's Creed Unity (2014) 50.8 38.9 25.3 7.3 fps
Far Cry 4 (2014) 76.2 64.7 32 26.1 fps

Unfortunately, as shown in the gaming benchmarks, the processor is the bottleneck of the system. Games that are not very demanding on the CPU run 10-20% smoother on a quad-core gaming laptop with a GTX 960M (see Schenker XMG A505). However, in extreme cases, the Alienware 13 falls behind by 30 to 40%. These extreme cases used low to medium settings, which are uncommon and unpopular on middle-class or high-end gaming laptops.

Graphics Amplifier

GeForce GTX 980
GeForce GTX 980

The optional graphics amplifier, also named Amplifier by Dell, is a feature we reviewed last year. In contrast to the MSI GS30, which uses a similar system, the 13-inch test model does not need to be placed on the dock and can be simply connected using a cable.

This is also the weak point: the desktop GPU of the MSI GS30 is in a PCIe-x16 interface, whereas the Alienware system uses a PCIe-x4 interface, which can reduce performance by up to 10%. However, as mentioned before, the dual-core CPU of our test model is the primary bottleneck. Although, the Core i7-5500U performs better than the Core i5-4210U, it does not suffice in combination with a desktop GPU. Depending on the game, the GeForce GTX 980 of the amplifier was up to 50% slower than that of our desktop PC (especially in Watch Dogs).

Sadly, we do not see any sense in having an amplifier if the hardware is not strong enough to match it. The Alienware 15, which also offers an amplifier, suffers less, thanks primarily to a stronger, quad-core CPU. Overall, the MSI system seems better designed, as the incredibly powerful Core i7-4870HQ could perform well in conjunction with the desktop GPU (GeForce GTX 970).

3DMark
1920x1080 Fire Strike Graphics (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
4057 Points ∼10%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
11349 Points ∼28% +180%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
11390 Points ∼28% +181%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
12590 Points ∼31% +210%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
11155 Points ∼27% +175%
1920x1080 Fire Strike Score (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
3611 Points ∼13%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
6453 Points ∼24% +79%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
7746 Points ∼29% +115%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
10450 Points ∼39% +189%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
9399 Points ∼35% +160%
Alien: Isolation
1920x1080 Ultra, On, Shadow Map 2048, HDAO AA:2x SM AF:16x (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
43.1 fps ∼18%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
99.9 fps ∼43% +132%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
114.2 fps ∼49% +165%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
125.7 fps ∼54% +192%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
112.9 fps ∼48% +162%
1920x1080 High, On, Shadow Map 1536, Standard SSAO AA:FX AF:8x (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
59.8 fps ∼20%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
109.9 fps ∼37% +84%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
135 fps ∼45% +126%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
174.4 fps ∼59% +192%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
160.5 fps ∼54% +168%
Assassin's Creed Unity
1920x1080 Ultra High Graphics Quality AA:4x MS (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
7.3 fps ∼13%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
31.7 fps ∼57% +334%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
36.3 fps ∼66% +397%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
41.3 fps ∼75% +466%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
43.6 (min: 39) fps ∼79% +497%
1920x1080 High Graphics Quality AA:2x MS (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
25.3 fps ∼30%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
36.4 fps ∼44% +44%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
51 fps ∼61% +102%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
63.1 fps ∼75% +149%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
52.8 (min: 46) fps ∼63% +109%
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
1920x1080 Extra / On (Cache Shadow Maps Off), 2x Supersampling AA:2x SM (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
24.1 fps ∼31%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
51.1 fps ∼66% +112%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
53.1 fps ∼69% +120%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
67.5 fps ∼88% +180%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
75.7 (min: 65) fps ∼98% +214%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
77 fps ∼100% +220%
1920x1080 High / On (Cache Shadow Maps Off) AA:FX (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
42.6 fps ∼34%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
63.5 fps ∼51% +49%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
68.6 fps ∼55% +61%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
91.9 fps ∼73% +116%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
109.3 (min: 89) fps ∼87% +157%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
125.3 fps ∼100% +194%
GRID: Autosport
1920x1080 Ultra Preset AA:4x MS (sort by value)
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
66.3 fps ∼44%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
74.3 fps ∼50%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
85.9 fps ∼57%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
121.4 fps ∼81%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
126.8 fps ∼85%
1920x1080 High Preset (sort by value)
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
73.9 fps ∼37%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
89.2 fps ∼44%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
111.4 fps ∼56%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
135.3 fps ∼67%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
187.8 fps ∼94%
Far Cry 4
1920x1080 Ultra Graphics Quality AA:SM (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
26.1 fps ∼23%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
39 fps ∼34% +49%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
56.2 fps ∼49% +115%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
68.4 fps ∼60% +162%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
77.7 (min: 50) fps ∼68% +198%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
67.9 fps ∼60% +160%
1920x1080 High Graphics Quality AA:SM (sort by value)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
32 fps ∼26%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
40.4 fps ∼32% +26%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
61.3 fps ∼49% +92%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
75.7 fps ∼61% +137%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
87.2 (min: 58) fps ∼70% +173%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
89.6 fps ∼72% +180%
Watch Dogs
1920x1080 Ultra Overall Quality, Ultra Textures AA:4x MS (sort by value)
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
20.2 fps ∼27%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
27.6 fps ∼37%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
49.3 fps ∼66%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
53.6 fps ∼72%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
53.9 fps ∼72%
1920x1080 High Overall Quality, High Textures AA:2x MS (sort by value)
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4210U
26.8 fps ∼32%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 5500U
35 fps ∼41%
Alienware Amplifier
GeForce GTX 980, 4710HQ
60 fps ∼71%
Desktop-PC
GeForce GTX 980, 3770K
64.6 fps ∼76%
MSI GamingDock
GeForce GTX 970, 4870HQ
73.4 fps ∼87%

Emissions

System Noise

Despite a conservative dual-core CPU, the fans are clearly audible at load. In the 3DMark 06 test, the noise emission varied dynamically between 39 dB(A) (CPU benchmarks) and 48 dB(A) (GPU benchmarks) with an average noise emission of 46 dB(A). The Alienware 13 is quieter than the MSI GS30 (~53 dB(A)), but far louder than the Alienware 13 of last year (Core i5-4210U and GeForce GTX 860M: ~38 dB(A)). After a stress test of 1 hour, the FurMark and Prime95 tools can get 52 dB(A) out of the system.

While idling, the notebook seems great: even when starting a browser or MS Office programs, the fans do not start up. At 29 dB(A), the system is as quiet as a mouse. Other gaming notebooks should learn from this test model.

Noise Level

Idle
29.2 / 29.4 / 29.6 dB(A)
Load
45.8 / 52 dB(A)
  red to green bar
 
 
30 dB
silent
40 dB(A)
audible
50 dB(A)
loud
 
min: dark, med: mid, max: light   Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
Noise
-17%
4%
-3%
-14%
-2%
off / environment *
Idle Minimum *
29.2
29.4
-1%
29.2
-0%
29.4
-1%
29.2
-0%
29.7
-2%
Idle Average *
29.4
36.2
-23%
29.4
-0%
30.1
-2%
34.6
-18%
29.9
-2%
Idle Maximum *
29.6
42
-42%
29.8
-1%
30.8
-4%
38.8
-31%
30
-1%
Load Average *
45.8
52.8
-15%
37.6
18%
49.2
-7%
54
-18%
42.1
8%
Load Maximum *
52
53.6
-3%
50.8
2%
53.8
-3%
54.4
-5%
59
-13%

* ... smaller is better

Temperature

Stress test
Stress test

The temperatures of our test model are higher due to the upgraded processor. In the stress test, the model from last year hit maximum temperatures of 82 °C (179.6 °F, GPU) and 78 °C (172.4 °F, CPU), whereas our test model (according to HWMonitor) hits up to 92 and 104 °C (197.6 and 219.2 °F) respectively. As such, it is not surprising that our test model suffers from throttling (which drops the temperatures to 90 °C, 194 °F).

The case surfaces can get quite hot as well: at 63 °C (145.4 °F) in the back, we do not recommend using the notebook on the lap. While idling, the laptop has no temperature issues. After two hours of being idle, the average temperature was 28 °C (82.4 °F) – great.

Max. Load
 45.4 °C
114 F
46.8 °C
116 F
47.4 °C
117 F
 
 41.6 °C
107 F
43.5 °C
110 F
42.6 °C
109 F
 
 31.1 °C
88 F
30.3 °C
87 F
32.2 °C
90 F
 
Maximum: 47.4 °C = 117 F
Average: 40.1 °C = 104 F
55.5 °C
132 F
63.1 °C
146 F
51.1 °C
124 F
46.6 °C
116 F
52.3 °C
126 F
44.7 °C
112 F
30.5 °C
87 F
30.1 °C
86 F
29.5 °C
85 F
Maximum: 63.1 °C = 146 F
Average: 44.8 °C = 113 F
Power Supply (max.)  61.3 °C = 142 F | Room Temperature 24 °C = 75 F | Voltcraft IR-900
(-) The average temperature for the upper side under maximal load is 40.1 °C / 104 F, compared to the average of 33.2 °C / 92 F for the devices in the class Gaming.
(-) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 47.4 °C / 117 F, compared to the average of 39.6 °C / 103 F, ranging from 21.6 to 68.8 °C for the class Gaming.
(-) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 63.1 °C / 146 F, compared to the average of 42.3 °C / 108 F
(+) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 27.8 °C / 82 F, compared to the device average of 33.2 °C / 92 F.
(+) The palmrests and touchpad are reaching skin temperature as a maximum (32.2 °C / 90 F) and are therefore not hot.
(-) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 28.8 °C / 83.8 F (-3.4 °C / -6.2 F).
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
Heat
-8%
3%
-6%
-19%
4%
Maximum Upper Side *
47.4
49.8
-5%
44.5
6%
46.2
3%
47.8
-1%
51.6
-9%
Maximum Bottom *
63.1
52.5
17%
60.2
5%
47.7
24%
60.4
4%
51.2
19%
Idle Upper Side *
30.3
35.2
-16%
29.4
3%
35
-16%
37.7
-24%
29.2
4%
Idle Bottom *
28.8
36.8
-28%
29.6
-3%
38.2
-33%
44.8
-56%
28.8
-0%

* ... smaller is better

Energy Management

Power Consumption

The power consumption of +20% is higher than the performance increase (relative to the model of last year). Instead of 5.1-11.2 W, the laptop now consumes 6.2-13.9 W when idle. In the first scene of 3DMark 06, the average consumption rises from 51.5 to 66.2 W. During the stress test, our laptop consumes a maximum of 123 W instead of 92.9 W. A typical GTX 960M notebook with a quad-core CPU requires about 50% more.

Power Consumption
Off / Standbydarklight 0.1 / 0.3 Watt
Idledarkmidlight 6.2 / 8.7 / 13.9 Watt
Load midlight 66.2 / 123 Watt
 color bar
Key: min: dark, med: mid, max: light        Voltcraft VC 940
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
Power Consumption
-12%
20%
-57%
-100%
Idle Minimum *
6.2
7.5
-21%
5.1
18%
11.4
-84%
15.8
-155%
Idle Average *
8.7
11.6
-33%
7.3
16%
16.3
-87%
22.8
-162%
Idle Maximum *
13.9
21.2
-53%
11.2
19%
22.6
-63%
27.3
-96%
Load Average *
66.2
65.4
1%
51.5
22%
92.4
-40%
106.8
-61%
Load Maximum *
123
66.4
46%
92.9
24%
136
-11%
152
-24%

* ... smaller is better

Battery Life

The battery life of a maximum of 11 hours (Battery Eater Reader's test, minimum brightness) is not bad. At high load and full brightness, the Battery Eater Classic test records a run time of around 2 hours. The competition dies out far earlier (48 minutes @MSI GS30, 66 minutes @Razer Blade 14).

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
11h 15min
Load (maximum brightness)
1h 54min
Alienware 13 (GTX 960M)
GeForce GTX 960M, 5500U
MSI GS30 Shadow
Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 4870HQ
Alienware 13
GeForce GTX 860M, 4210U
Schenker XMG A305
GeForce GTX 960M, 4710MQ
Schenker XMG C405
GeForce GTX 965M, 4720HQ
Razer Blade 14 2015
GeForce GTX 970M, 4720HQ
Battery Runtime
-49%
13%
-21%
-43%
Reader / Idle
675
403
-40%
723
7%
420
-38%
380
-44%
Load
114
48
-58%
134
18%
111
-3%
66
-42%

Pros

+ Bright FHD IPS panel
+ Optional Graphics Booster
+ Latest hardware
+ Recovery USB stick
+ Relatively power conservative
+ Backlit keyboard
+ Compact chassis
+ Modest weight
+ Good battery life
+ Nice looks

Cons

- High temperature and noise emissions in 3D mode
- CPU is quite weak for gaming
- Rubber surfaces are sensitive to smudges
- The SSD write speeds are a little slow
- Speakers could be better
- Throttling at full load
- A mere 2 GB of VRAM
- Only one storage device

Verdict

Alienware 13. Test model provided by Dell Germany.
Alienware 13. Test model provided by Dell Germany.

Overdue, yet not game-changing: the hardware upgrade for the Alienware 13 is sadly not what we were hoping for. Although the Core i7-5500U is superior to the Core i5-4210U in most cases, it cannot compete with gaming notebooks equipped with a quad-core processor.

The GeForce GTX 960M and the external graphics amplifier both suffer due to the dual-core CPU. Although the notebook is quite portable, it will not be the first choice for passionate gamers, due to the weak Core i7-5500U.

Overall, the verdict is quite similar to that of last year. Alienware attracts buyers with a stylish, high-quality case, a backlit keyboard and an IPS panel with strong contrast. We give additional points for high battery life. However, the touchpad and sound system require some work. It all comes down to personal preference whether you pick the Alienware 13 or the MSI GS30. The overall rating of 82% has stayed the same for the Alienware 13 over the years.

Alienware 13 (GTX 960M) - 05/20/2015 v4(old)
Florian Glaser

Chassis
84 / 98 → 86%
Keyboard
85%
Pointing Device
72%
Connectivity
70 / 81 → 86%
Weight
63 / 10-66 → 95%
Battery
85%
Display
87%
Games Performance
86%
Application Performance
82%
Temperature
76 / 95 → 80%
Noise
72 / 90 → 80%
Audio
60%
Average
77%
82%
Gaming - Weighted Average

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Alienware 13 (GTX 960M) Notebook Review
Florian Glaser, 2015-05-26 (Update: 2018-05-15)