Jul 24, 2023
Alienware x16 R1 Review
Alienware's position in the gaming laptop market has never been purely about performance (plenty of competitors match it on that front) but rather style and features in addition to power. Dell's
Alienware's position in the gaming laptop market has never been purely about performance (plenty of competitors match it on that front) but rather style and features in addition to power. Dell's Alienware x16 R1 (starts at $2,049.99; $2,949.99 as tested) is the latest example of this, combining admittedly high-end hardware—an Intel Core i9-13900HK CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 laptop GPU—with Alienware's distinctive (if divisive) looks and a bevy of impressive features. The performance of our test unit trailed not only better-equipped and pricier competitors but also our cheaper and more powerful Editors' Choice award holder, the Lenovo Legion Pro 7i Gen 8. Regardless, its fantastic keyboard and gorgeous display helped the Alienware x16 R1 live up to our score all the same.
The Alienware x16 R1 has lots of options for shoppers, particularly well-off ones, and ranges in price from $2,049 to start, up to $4,000 or more, depending upon the configuration you choose.
Dell's base model starts with a modest 13th Generation Intel Core i7-13620H 10-core processor, 16GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 laptop graphics, and 512GB of SSD storage.
Ramp things up to the top configuration, and you can get the same model outfitted with a 14-core Intel Core i9-13900HK CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 laptop GPU, 32GB of RAM, and up to 4TB of SSD storage, selling for a massive $4,099.99.
Our review unit isn't quite that loaded, but still packs the same Core i9-13900HK processor and 32GB of LPDDR5 RAM. The graphics are only slightly more modest, with an RTX 4080, and the SSD provides only 1TB of storage.
However, our review unit does come with a few extra appealing bits, like the AlienFX touchpad, which splashes some RGB goodness right across the touch surface, so your gestures and scrolling can be color-coordinated with your per-key RGB-lit keyboard. Our keyboard gets a step up in quality too, with ultra-low-profile CherryMX mechanical key switches—more on those later.
Finally, this unit also has a display with a higher refresh rate, running at 240Hz as opposed to the 165Hz display you could choose at the base level.
With a chassis made of anodized aluminum and magnesium alloy, the Alienware x16 is extremely sturdy, and has a reasonable thickness and weight for a high-powered gaming laptop. It weighs a beefy 6 pounds, but it measures roughly 0.73 by 14.4 by 11.4 inches, putting it on the slim side in a category full of inch-thick systems.
A lot of that relative thickness is to provide space for airflow and cooling hardware, and the x16 is packed with four cooling fans, multiple copper heat pipes, and a vapor chamber that covers both the GPU and CPU. (A gallium-silicone thermal paste called Element 31 coats the key silicon.) The chassis itself is covered in vents and exhaust grilles, and it all seems to do a decent job at keeping things cool without throttling performance. The side effect of all that cooling gear, however, is a noisy machine. Fire up a game like Cyberpunk 2077, and the machine roars like an aircraft about to take off.
Alienware's distinct aesthetics won't be everyone's cup of tea. The mix of sleek curves, customizable lighting, and contrasting black, white, and bare metal stamps this as a gamer's laptop. It can't pretend to be anything else. Of course, you'll find lights everywhere: lights on the keyboard, lights in the logo on the lid, a strip of lights around the rim of the rear chassis, and even a glowing touchpad. All of it is customizable with a staggering 16.8 million colors through the included AlienFX software.
The glowing touchpad is certainly an eye-catching feature, but also a matter of personal taste. I'm as fond of RGB lights as anyone, but I found the blaring colors on the touchpad to be too much, and I'd skip it if I were buying this laptop for myself.
Dell's touchpad itself feels delightfully smooth, thanks to its glass surface, and it's precise and responsive to every tap and gesture I use. But as touchpad dimensions grow on almost every other laptop, the 4.5-by-2.7-inch touchpad of the x16 feels cramped in comparison. This isn't just my imagination, either: The Asus ROG Strix Scar 16, for example, has an extra half-inch in either direction.
What feels positively spacious, however, is the keyboard. By not trying to cram in a numeric pad, the x16's keyboard has room to spread out, and the well-spaced keys do just that. Our model also has ultra-low-profile Cherry MX key switches, which makes for a satisfyingly clicky keyboard. Like many, I swear by mechanical keyboards in my daily work, so I see the appeal of putting real mechanical switches into your gaming-laptop keyboard. And, like the touchpad, every key glows with customizable light, and you can set up all sorts of patterns and color combinations in the AlienFX software.
You won't find many things to complain about with the x16, and its generous port selection means you'll never be at a loss for a specific connector—a welcome change from the many thin laptops nowadays that opt entirely for USB-C or Thunderbolt connectivity.
In addition to power, the x16 has a mini DisplayPort, a full-size HDMI output, dual USB connectors, a pair of USB-C ports (one being Thunderbolt 4, the other not), and a microSD card slot. A 3.5mm jack is available for headphones and headsets. It's an embarrassment of riches in most respects.
But I have to complain about one thing: The port placement is just not helpful. All of the ports on the x16 are on the back of the system, in an I/O panel that's centered between two honeycombed ventilation grills, with nothing on the sides. With the sort of thickness and weight that's unavoidable on a machine like the x16, Dell had ample room to put some or all of these ports along the sides of the chassis, making them a little handier to use.
Maybe Dell has done some research I don't know about, and maybe the average Alienware fan parks their gaming laptop on a desk or stand and rarely moves it, but I find it hard to believe that anybody finds it more convenient to have to reach behind a 16-inch system just to plug in some headphones.
However, at least you'll find two connections that remain convenient, the wireless ones: Wi-Fi 6E for networking, and Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity for headsets and peripherals. You should note, however, that no Ethernet port is included, so you'll need to use a dock or adapter if you want the speediest network connection.
The obvious centerpiece of the Alienware x16 R1 is its 16-inch 1600p display, which scales up from the traditional 15.6-inch with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The taller display benefits from QHD+ (2,560-by-1,600-pixel) resolution, a blistering 240Hz refresh rate, 100% DCI-P3 color, and the branded software you want in Nvidia G-Sync and Dolby Vision HDR.
Dell's display is matched in quality by the system's six-speaker array, which has a pair of 2-watt (W) tweeters, and a quartet of 3W woofers, providing not only rich sound and powerful volume, but supporting Dolby Atmos spatial audio. While most gamers will opt for a high-end gaming headset for surround sound audio and comms, and you still should consider the fan noise, the Alienware x16 sounds pretty high-quality on its own.
We ran the Alienware x16 R1 through our standard benchmark suite, testing everything from CPU performance to gaming prowess, and compared that performance with some of the best gaming laptops on the market today, like the Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 (2023), the MSI Titan GT77 (2023), and the Editors' Choice-award-winning Lenovo Legion Pro 7i Gen 8. And, for those considering an upgrade, we also looked at last year's Alienware m17 R5.
Most of these competitors are rather similar in the particulars: high-powered Intel Core i9 CPUs, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 and 4090 graphics, and a capable 32GB of RAM. The Alienware m17 R5 is the outlier, with AMD processing and graphics, but it's in the same pricing and performance tiers.
The main benchmark of UL's PCMark 10 simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content-creation workflows to measure 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. (See more about how we test laptops.)
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 Geekbench 5.4 Pro by Primate Labs 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 PugetBench for Photoshop by workstation maker Puget Systems, 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.
In some of our tests, like PCMark 10 and Photoshop, performance was a dead heat across almost all of our comparison systems (the Lenovo led the pack in Photoshop), demonstrating how well all of these laptops are at basic tasks. With power like this, nothing about web browsing, video calling, or even photo editing will pose a problem for this laptop.
However, looking at the results in tests like HandBrake, Cinebench, and Geekbench, it's clear that Intel's HK-Series processor in the x16 isn't quite as peppy as the HX chips used in other top gaming rigs. If you're also planning to work with video, or other processor-heavy work, the x16 will do the job, but it won't be the fastest wolf in the pack.
We test Windows PC 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).
To further stress GPUs, we also run two tests from the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which stresses both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. The 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase tests, rendered offscreen to accommodate different display resolutions, exercise graphics and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.
Finally, for gaming laptops, our real-world gaming testing comes from the in-game benchmarks of F1 2021, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Rainbow Six Siege, representing simulation, open-world action-adventure, and competitive/esports shooter games, respectively. On laptops, Valhalla and Siege are run twice (Valhalla at Medium and Ultra quality, Siege at Low and Ultra quality), while F1 2021 is run once at Ultra quality settings and, for Nvidia GeForce RTX laptops, a second time with Nvidia’s performance-boosting DLSS anti-aliasing turned on. All are run at 1080p.
Naturally, gaming is where this laptop shines, pumping out triple-digit frame rates in all of our game tests, even when we used the laptop's higher native resolution. Basic gaming tests saw massive scores, as well, but the Alienware held a steady position in third or fourth place in all of our synthetic graphics tests. Whatever you're looking to play, the x16 is ready to handle it, with DLSS and ray-tracing support, but (unsurprisingly) you'll get better performance out of a more expensive RTX 4090—or even an RTX 4080 with a better CPU—than the silicon pairing used here.
Regardless, the level of graphics prowess is still tremendous with the RTX 4080. If you got the AMD-powered Alienware m17 R5 last year to tide you over until this year's Nvidia launches, the RTX 4080 marks a noticeable step up, and it delivers most of the capability of the 4090 for a slightly lower price.
We test laptop battery life by playing a locally stored 720p video file (the open-source Blender movie Tears of Steel) with display brightness at 50% and audio volume at 100%. We make sure the battery is fully charged before the test, with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off.
To test laptop displays, we use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite monitor calibration sensor and software to measure a laptop screen's color saturation—what percentage of the sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 color gamuts or palettes the display can show—and its 50% and peak brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).
Gaming laptops have a common weak point in battery life. Pushing high-resolution images with so much hardware and cooling requires lots of power, so short battery life is pretty much the norm. With a tested battery life of 6 hours and 52 minutes, the x16 is in familiar company, only 19 minutes shy of the Asus ROG Strix Scar 16, and just one minute longer than the MSI Titan GT77. But the leader of the pack was last year's Alienware m17 R5, which lasted 9 hours. Just bear in mind that these numbers are all for simple video playback, not gaming. Fire up a game like Cyberpunk 2077, and you'll get maybe an hour or so out of it before you need to plug in again.
While not at the absolute top, Dell's display quality is also top notch, with 100% DCI-P3 color and decent brightness, especially for HDR viewing material. It's not the brightest, but Dell's screen never looked dim in my testing.
The Alienware x16 R1 is the whole package, with high-end performance, premium features, and a design you can't ignore. From the metal chassis and 240Hz display to the mechanical keyboard and RGB everything, it's an easy win for the Alienware faithful, and among Dell's best releases. However, if you're willing to spend even more money—which, when you're already at three grand, is basically dollars and cents—you'll find even more capable gaming laptops in arguably more widely acceptable and helpful designs.
To that end, you'll find some downsides, namely the awkward port placement and the noisy fans. Compared with the category-leading and Editors' Choice-award-holding Lenovo Legion Pro 7i Gen 8, the Alienware x16 R1 is a worthy alternative, but it doesn't quite dethrone the Lenovo as our favorite 16-inch gaming laptop. It all comes down to price versus performance: The Lenovo simply brings better performance at a more palatable price.
The Alienware x16 comes fully loaded to play any PC game with an excellent mechanical keyboard and an RGB extravaganza—just beware of loud fan noise and a divisive design.
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