The smallest Alienware is an 'Alder Lake' powerhouse
The brand-new Alienware x14 joins the upper echelon of 14-inch gaming laptops, delivering a sound gaming experience and fast overall performance in a super-portable design.
It’s safe to say gaming laptops with 14-inch screens are in vogue. Multiple manufacturers are now offering downsized versions of the most popular 15-inch and 17-inch designs. Among them is the new Alienware x14 (starts at $1,649.99; $2,299.99 as tested), a new size for the X Series that takes its design cues from the larger Alienware x15 and x17. The slim and compact design makes much more sense at 14 inches than it did at larger screen sizes, though, resulting in a truly portable laptop that has reason to be especially trim.
The internal power backs up the concept: The brand-new Intel Core i7 “Alder Lake” processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU in our model deliver a full-fledged gaming experience, comparable to or better than competing laptops. You can still get more power per dollar in a larger laptop, but if you know your gaming rig will be a frequent travel companion, the Alienware x14 is a top option.
First, a little background on why this downsize is appealing. Alienware’s X Series spun off from the M Series line, taking the Alienware m15 and m17 base design, tweaking the look, and making them even thinner. The result is the x15 and x17. The x14 is a new size in both lines—there is no pre-existing 14-inch M Series laptop, instead just applying the X Series design to a smaller size.
In practice, despite the x15 and x17 being marginally thinner than their counterparts, they are actually a bit heavier, which doesn't make them any more portable. In addition, a thinner enclosure means less room for cooling, so the power output is reduced slightly compared with the m15 and m17. A slightly different style from the M Series (it’s really subjective whether the white or black keyboard deck looks better) was not reason enough, in our view, to justify the 15-inch and 17-inch X Series laptops given the other factors.
The x14, though, is the best deployment of this design yet. The X Series redesign didn’t change the math on how portable those 15- and 17-inch laptops really are, leaving us underwhelmed, but it makes much more sense here at 14 inches. A laptop with a smaller screen will always be more portable than its larger siblings, and when you apply the thinner design to this screen, you get a winning combination.
The smaller chassis also looks slim and slick, and it’s no illusion: The x14 comes in at just 0.57 by 12.7 by 10.3 inches (HWD). It also tips the scales at 3.96 pounds, which is respectable for most laptops, but especially nice for a gaming machine. It’s truly a gaming laptop you can tuck under your arm or throw in a bag or backpack without a second thought. The power adapter is compact, too—far from a given in this category. Sometimes slim designs are wasted on a power brick twice as thick and just as heavy.
These design chops put it right in line with top 14-inch competitors like the Razer Blade 14 and the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. The build is more on par with the latter than the former—Razer’s all-metal offering stands out from the pack—but these two are still sturdy and feel well worth the money. Simply put, the thin-and-light X Series concept plus a 14-inch chassis equals a natural fit.
Although we call them 15- and 17-inch laptops, their actual display size (measured diagonally) is slightly off those round numbers, at 15.6 and 17.3 inches, respectively. With 14-inch laptops, the screen is exactly 14 inches diagonally, and so that’s what we have here. While the x14 is easy to carry, there’s no getting around the fact that the display is noticeably smaller, a price you pay for the improved portability.
For some gamers, that size may be a deal breaker, but I do find games plenty playable at 14 inches. More UI-dense or detail-oriented titles may be a touch harder to read, but it’s a fair compromise for the mobility. If you’re strongly considering a smaller laptop, you already know that being able to easily take your laptop on the go is a priority for you. If you mainly intend to leave your gaming laptop on your desk or your home, a larger display makes more sense.
As for the display technology, our unit features a full HD (1,920 by 1,080) resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate. This is a no-brainer combination for me in a laptop this size. Smaller laptops are limited in their power output, so they’ll have a much harder time ever making good use of a QHD or 4K display with a 240Hz or 300Hz refresh rate for gaming. The full HD and 144Hz ceiling are much more reasonable targets for the components here. The picture quality is crisp and bright, living up to (and as our testing will show, even beyond) its 400-nit rating. The panel is also Dolby Vision-certified, which improves the color depth and quality further.
The keyboard and touchpad are less remarkable than the design as a whole, but they do the job. The keys don’t have a lot of travel, with the space bar especially shallow. This is a side effect of the thin build, though it doesn’t have to be this way; the G14’s keys have a good amount of travel, and the Blade 14 is somewhere between.
The condensed keyboard size also takes some getting used to (I put my fingers down in the wrong place several times at first), but this is just something you’ll adapt to after some time. The keys are backlit as one zone with customizable RGB lighting, all controlled through Alienware’s Command Center software. The touchpad is very simple, and perhaps a bit on the small side, but it tracks smoothly and responds well to taps and full presses.
This build sees all of its ports located on its rear block. The x15 and x17 have most of their ports around back, too, but the power adapter and headphone jacks remain on the left and right edges. That’s not the case here, a very rare instance of a laptop not having a single left or right side port, no doubt an effect of the super-thin form.
You will find plenty of connections back there, though. There are three USB-C ports: Two feature Thunderbolt 4 support, power delivery, and DisplayPort output, while the third lacks Thunderbolt support. The latter, alone on the left, is designated as the charging port with an icon, but all of them can charge the laptop. You also get one USB-A 3.2 port, an HDMI connection, a microSD card slot, and the headphone jack.
Reaching around the display or spinning the laptop to see what you’re doing is a little inconvenient, I must admit, but you probably won’t think twice about it after a while, and it’s difficult to call a legitimate complaint. Plugging in wired headphones is likely to be the biggest irritant, because these jacks are very rarely located out of sight and more often need to be plugged back in. All together, the I/O offering is strong for a smaller system, and the laptop also supports Wi-Fi 6E for cutting-edge wireless connections.
The webcam up top features support for Windows Hello, but its sensor isn't full HD (1080p), instead limited to a 1,280-by-720-pixel resolution.
I mentioned the components being a good fit for the screen size earlier, so now is time to see what this laptop has under the hood. From the base model to the maximum loadout, the x14 is more modestly outfitted than its larger siblings. Let’s start with the processor, since (in addition to the 14-inch size), this is the big attraction here.
Alienware offers two Core i7 processor options, both from Intel’s latest 12th Generation, also known as "Alder Lake." This platform was a hit on desktop, and the mobile versions are only just arriving—see our initial testing run of a beefy Core i9 system. The x14 is the first U.S.-retail laptop we’re reviewing with this new platform.
The two processor options are the Core i7-12700H and the i7-12900H, both laden with 14 cores and 20 threads. You can read our coverage of Alder Lake mobile for detail on how these cores operate in this new generation, but suffice it to say it’s no longer as simple as raw core and thread count; some cores are dedicated to pure high-power processing, and others are efficiency-minded ones meant to save energy for light tasks.
Joining these chips are three GPU options: the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050, RTX 3050 Ti, and RTX 3060. Again, even the highest choice stops short of the x15 and x17’s beefier options, but it’s a logical set for this size, and you’ll see how our unit performed in the testing section below.
As for the rest, you can max out the memory at 32GB (there are no expansion slots, as the RAM is soldered down), and storage ranges from a 512GB SSD to a 2TB SSD. Alienware tells me a 256GB option will be coming down the road.
All of that means the current base model is $1,649.99 for a Core i7-12700H CPU, 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and an RTX 3050 GPU. That price is fair for those parts, even if we’re unable to test that exact loadout. Alienware doesn't offer an entry-level or lower-midrange option, alas—as an Alienware product this tilts to the enthusiast side, and thus, enthusiast pricing.
Our review unit is an appealing combination, though one that leans toward the higher-end options. For $2,299, our model includes the Core i7-12700H CPU, 32GB of memory, a 2TB SSD, and the RTX 3060 GPU. Clearly the price point isn’t as low as it could be, so your options are open for a less expensive configuration, but this one should be able to show what the 14-inch machine can really do. Bear in mind that the price is being pumped up by the pricey inclusion of a 2TB SSD, which isn’t a necessity.
Manufacturers are able to set Nvidia’s 30-series GPUs to a power delivery level that suits their design goals and thermal limitations, resulting in a range of differing wattages, even for the same GPU. In some cases, that means a higher-wattage RTX 3070 could outperform (or hang surprisingly close to) an RTX 3080, or that two RTX 3070 GPUs in two different laptops can perform very differently. It’s a bit confusing for shoppers, but means that it’s more important than ever to check our per-system benchmark test results. The RTX 3060 in the x14 is configured with a maximum power of 85 watts.
Between the new X Series size and the Alder Lake chip, it’s enticing to see what this system can do. We’ll be running it through our usual suite of benchmark tests, and comparing the results against those of the following laptops…
There’s a useful mix of systems here representing two competing 14-inch laptops, the relevant Alienware x15, and a budget system in the MSI Katana GF66. The latter is an interesting inclusion as it shows what similar components can do if you want to spend mostly on performance over the trimmest possible form factor, cutting its cost with a lower quality, less compact build.
The main benchmark of UL's PCMark 10 simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content-creation workflows, measuring overall performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. We also run PCMark 10's Full System Drive test to assess the load time and throughput of a laptop's storage.
Three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to rate a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon's Cinebench R23 uses that company's Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs' Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).
Our final productivity test is workstation maker Puget Systems' PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe's famous image editor to rate a PC's performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It's an automated extension that executes a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.
This is where we put the new Alder Lake chip to the test, and it passed with flying colors. The x14 was the best performer on every benchmark here, topping the larger machines and the AMD-based counterparts. AMD’s new Ryzen 6000 series is coming to laptops this month, so the Ryzen chips here will technically be last-generation soon, but are relevant for now. We’ll circle back on that head-to-head once Ryzen 6000 laptops are available, but considering the performance lead AMD has had in the recent past, this improvement is great news for Intel.
Long story short, the x14 and i7 Alder Lake are impressively well-suited for productivity and media tasks. These offerings have crept up from “good enough when needed” to legitimately useful for editing and content creation. Dedicated professional machines and workstations will still hold an advantage as the main system you work on, but for a compact laptop you can easily take with you for gaming and professional work, the x14's outlook is rosy.
We test Windows PCs' graphics with two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL's 3DMark: Night Raid (more modest, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs).
In addition, we run three real-world game tests using the built-in benchmarks of F1 2021, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, and Rainbow Six Siege. These represent simulation, open-world action-adventure, and competitive esports shooter games respectively. Valhalla and Siege are run twice (Valhalla at the Medium and Ultra quality presets, Siege at Low and Ultra quality), while F1 2021 is run twice at maximum settings, once with Nvidia's performance-boosting DLSS anti-aliasing turned off and once with it on.
The new Alder Lake CPU is worthy of plenty of attention, but these results are the meat and potatoes for the x14. First, let’s look at the results isolated from the other laptops. The scores and frame rates are good, better than average even for an RTX 3060. Focusing in on Valhalla as the most strenuous title, it can clear an average of 80fps by playing on the (still great-looking) Medium preset, and hover just under 60fps at the highest detail preset. That will include some dips which will look choppy, but lowering a few settings will let you enjoy the title more smoothly.
The less-demanding games are a great experience on the x14. Don’t let the fact that there are several GPUs above the RTX 3060 in Nvidia’s hierarchy dissuade you: It’s a very capable offering. You can achieve a race-ready 60fps on F1 2021 at maximum settings even without DLSS, and make great use of the 144Hz display in Rainbow Six Siege.
Comparing it now to the other systems, the x14 holds up well. It was never going to be more powerful than the x15, and the Blade 14 has an edge with its RTX 3070, but the x14 hung close. It was even superior to the Blade 14 on Valhalla, while also markedly better than the Zephyrus G14 and a touch ahead of the MSI Katana. It posted the best low-settings Rainbow Six Siege results as well, likely helped on by the processor in this case.
As mentioned earlier with the pricey 2TB SSD, a lot of variables go into the price of these exact configurations, so comparing price-to-performance isn’t perfectly cut and dry. Generally, though, this shows that higher configurations of the x14 are worth it, as far as thermal efficiency and its performance ceiling. These parts perform at or above expectations in this compact chassis, and there’s reason to think the lower configurations will be sound for more budget-conscious shoppers.
The x14 also didn't get uncomfortably hot while gaming, particularly on the keyboard. The very back of the underside was hot (how could it not be, really?), but unlike some other laptops, the heat was largely kept away from where your hands rest, and there wasn't an especially hot spot anywhere on the deck. Between the performance and the heat, Alienware's exclusive "Element 31" thermal material (a Gallium-Silicone solution which is not new to this system) is doing its part along with a vapor cooling chamber.
Additionally, the Command Center software also opens up options for a few different power modes. We tested this system on Performance mode, where the fan speeds weren't loud while idle and within an acceptable range while gaming. Bumping up to Full Speed made things much louder, and I wouldn't say it's worth the extra noise—this mode only pushed three or four extra frames per second on these games, even when combined with the preset overclock option. Beneath these modes are Balanced, Cool, and Quiet options, as well.
Finally, the x14 does feature Nvidia Advanced Optimus, which kicks the dedicated GPU (the RTX 3060) into action when you launch a 3D or graphics-dependent program. You can force the GPU to be active at all times, if you wish, but by default Optimus will automatically do it for you. Running the integrated graphics chip for simple tasks saves power, especially if you're on battery, and will reduce fan noise. The implementation is largely effective, with some occasional hiccups with minimizing and the Optimus pop-up notification when it first kicks in. The inclusion of Optimus likely contributes to the system's cost, but it also helps offer a more premium-feeling experience.
We test laptops' battery life by playing a locally stored 720p video file with display brightness at 50% and audio volume at 100% until the system quits. We make sure the battery is fully charged before the test, with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off.
Good news for this physically portable machine—the battery life is long! Nearly nine hours on our rundown test is a great result, and you can see the others fall well short of that mark. The other two 14-inch systems did last longer on our test, but all three clear a workday’s worth of battery life. If the battery only lasted four or five hours here, it would have seriously undermined the portability, but you can pack it with confidence.
The display’s color coverage is a touch fuller than the others, and the brightness tests confirmed what I see, anecdotally, in person. This is a vibrant and brighter-than-average display, pushing more nits than any other system here.
The Alienware x14 is an excellent 14-inch gaming notebook, an all-around solid laptop, and the best effort within the X Series thus far. It retains the sleek look while matching or besting its competition on performance, avoiding the power dropoff we see in the x15 and x17. Going super-compact really adds value at this size, making for a genuinely road-ready gaming laptop.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is also great, but it’s the Razer Blade 14 that really trades blows with Alienware’s machine. The Blade 14 features a more premium metal build; its RTX 3070 configuration is less expensive than what we reviewed here; and its display is more advanced at 1440p and 165Hz. The Blade 14 (and the G14) will be receiving AMD’s Ryzen 6000 processors early this year, too, so the current processor advantage isn’t intrinsic to the x14, and won’t hold forever.
On the other hand, a smaller SSD would put the price advantage back to the x14; its ready-now Alder Lake CPU is blazing fast; and its RTX 3060 stacks up to the Blade’s RTX 3070. It’s just about a wash between these two top machines, down largely to preference on the design and some feature differences. If you want to make use of the Alder Lake juice now and like the style of this machine, the x14 is a top option for mobile gamers.
The brand-new Alienware x14 joins the upper echelon of 14-inch gaming laptops, delivering a sound gaming experience and fast overall performance in a super-portable design.
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Matthew Buzzi is a Senior Analyst for the hardware team at PCMag, with a hand in many of the laptop and desktop reviews you'll find here. He has a particularly deep knowledge of video games and gaming PCs, keeping a close eye on the latest industry news and titles, plus the components that make them tick. In the rare times he isn't playing games, you'll find him discussing Chelsea FC and the New York Rangers. For better or worse (mostly the latter), he is Extremely Online: Follow him on Twitter @MJBuzzi, where he's probably tweeting about how transcendently great The Witcher 3 is.
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