If you haven’t noticed, laptops have been getting smaller and slimmer lately, a merciful and much-appreciated change from the massive computing slabs that long were the norm and necessity, especially for gaming.
Thanks to improvements in technology and materials, the thick, heavy, unwieldy machines of recent years have given way to sleeker, slighter and more slender laptops. From the top-of-the-line models to budget-friendly picks, many of the best lightweight laptops and Ultrabooks have gotten thinner and more portable.
That’s benefited the backpacks of students and the remote realities of professionals, of course, but it’s finally helping the gamers who’ve carried the burden of hefty laptops due to more burdensome graphic cards, displays, and other elements.
Traditionally, Alienware laptops have been as big and bulky as the rest — and more expensive than most. But the x14 is a slim, svelte departure. So, how does the Alienware x14 measure up to the best laptops on the market? Here’s some background about how we test; now, let’s get to the review.
ALIENWARE X14 LAPTOP REVIEW: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
The Alienware x14 is available now, starting at $1,499.99 / £1,548.98 / AU$2,998.99. My review unit, with the Intel i7-12700H processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU and 32GB of DDR5 RAM is priced at $1,949.99.
ALIENWARE X14 LAPTOP REVIEW: DESIGN AND SCREEN
At just 0.6 inches thick, Dell claims the Alienware x14 is the thinnest gaming laptop available — and I found no reason to doubt that. From the outside, it looks like most thin and light laptops. But it’s also stylish, with an elegant curve to the lid and a tail at the back that pokes out of the rear.
Like all Alienware devices, it screams gaming, but with a more restrained appearance than the flashy x17. The x14 wouldn’t look out of place in the boardroom — except perhaps for the glowing alien head.
The insides, though, are where the magic is. The review model I tested came with a 12th Gen Intel i7-12700H processor, which has 14 cores and a peak speed of 4.7GHz. But most of the time, the CPU cores of this processor move along at a much more reasonable 2.7GHz speed. All of the available versions of the x14 come with a Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, ranging from the 3050 to the 3060 in my review unit.
Each also comes with its own dedicated graphics memory, running between 4GB and 6GB on the top-end model. That’s an important point — most thin-and-light laptops use integrated graphics and shared memory, where the graphics processor is built into the main processor. The separate graphics processor and graphics memory of the x14 means that both can run faster, which means more graphics oomph.
The screen is also a big upgrade, with Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) resolution and a refresh frequency of up to 144Hz, as well as support for NVidia G-Sync for better performance. Translation: the image on the screen can be updated up to 144 times each second for smoother, more natural-looking animation in games. Of course, that’s assuming the graphics can keep up with the ludicrous demands of modern FPS games.
The Alienware x14 keyboard is large and comfortable to type on, featuring Chiclet-style keys with LED backlights. It's a standard laptop keyboard with butterfly switches — no mechanical clickiness here. While the main part of the keyboard was fine for a hunt-and-peck typist like me, I did find that the small Return and Shift keys took a bit of getting used to. I kept missing the right Shift key and accidentally hitting the up arrow key instead.
On the upside, there are a set of dedicated volume buttons on the right side. That’s a nice touch for a device that is designed for gaming, and the mute buttons (one for the microphone, one for volume) both have small lights to show when they are muted. So, if you’ve just been pwned by a n00b, you can check that the microphone is muted with just a glance and then curse to your heart’s content without getting banned from the voice chat.
The mousepad is on the small side, but it’s comfortable to use. It has a decent physical click to it when you press down, plus the usual multi-touch features for scrolling, swapping windows, and more.
Because this is a gaming laptop, there are LEDs aplenty — under the keyboard and under the Alien logo on the back of the screen. These can be programmed in the Alienware Control Center app to blink in various colors and patterns, or to react to the sound output of the large speakers.
Now for a complaint: All of the ports and sockets for this laptop are located at the back, on the slightly odd-looking tail. There are no sockets or ports on the front or sides, which is more awkward for things like memory card readers and the USB-C power cable that you need to frequently plug in and remove. You’ll have to reach around the case or close the lid to reach the ports at the back.
Still, there are plenty of them. You get two Thunderbolt 4 ports, one USB-C port, one USB 3.2 and an HDMI 2.0 port, plus a micro SD card slot and a headphone socket. The x14 uses USB-C charging, so any of the Thunderbolt or USB-C ports can juice up the built-in 80 Watt-hour battery located under the mousepad.
ALIENWARE X14 LAPTOP REVIEW: PERFORMANCE AND FEATURES
The x14 is a performance powerhouse. I found that it had the processing power to handle most modern games, as well as other complex tasks like video editing.
Running the 3D demon petting game Doom Eternal, I found that the x14 produced an excellent 130-to 140fps (frames per second) at the native Full HD resolution of the display. This looked great on the bright, clear screen, with the high frame rate producing smooth, natural-looking movement as I leaped around petting the various demons in the game.
Their purrs of contentment were also reproduced well on the speakers around the keyboard, which created an immersive feeling: I could tell when a demon was sneaking up to be petted from the left or right from the sound alone. The only issue I encountered was that I could not run Doom Eternal in the Ultra graphics mode or above — the 6GB of VRAM wasn’t enough to support these memory-hungry modes.
The x14 also did well on the 3D graphics benchmarking program 3DMark, achieving a score of 7,732 in the Time Spy test — a pretty high score for any thin gaming laptop, let alone the thinnest one available. It’s still significantly lower, though, than the 12,336 that the larger (and much heavier) Alienware x17 managed.
In addition, the Alienware Command Center app allows you to overclock and tweak the settings of the CPU, GPU, and fans of the laptop. So, if you want to delve into the dark arts of tweaking core and memory clocks, you can probably wring a bit more performance out of it.
I also tested the x14 with the benchmarking program PCMark 10. It scored an excellent 7,003 in the overall performance test when running in standard mode, but increased that to an impressive 7,347 in the high-performance mode. According to PCMark 10, that’s in the top 7% of scores, making it a top performer.
The score is — perhaps unsurprisingly — a bit lower than the Alienware x17, which scored 7,786, but the difference is much less pronounced for non-gaming tasks. So, this might be worth considering if you are doing things like editing video or photos on the road.
One thing to think about is that you might need headphones. When the x14 is cranking in a game or another hefty task, the two fans that push hot air out of the tail kick in, and they are noisy. Some of this heat also gets into the case. After a long gaming session, I measured the temperature of a spot just above the keyboard at a toasty 114 F, and one on the bottom of the case at 119 F. And that’s with plenty of ventilation, mind you, so a gaming session could get rather warm on the lap.
ALIENWARE X14 LAPTOP REVIEW: BATTERY LIFE
Battery life is the Achilles’ heel of gaming laptops, and the x14 is no exception. I found that the x14 lasted only three hours and 18 minutes in the office battery test of PCMark 10. The video test was a little better, as it lasted six hours and 12 minutes. Gaming on battery power is a non-starter: I managed to get less than 35 minutes of Doom Eternal gaming out of the x14 before the battery gave up.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but these aren’t great battery lives. The 80Wh battery built into the x14 is just a bit smaller than the 86Wh one built into the XPS 15, but the XPS 15 has a video battery life of about nine hours.
Bottom line: If you are frequently away from a power source, you shouldn’t rely on the x14 to keep going for as long as you might be able to.
ALIENWARE X14 LAPTOP REVIEW: VERDICT
The x14 is an impressive piece of engineering. It packs a lot of very fast, hot components into a case that’s less than 0.6 inches thick.
There are few compromises with performance, either — the x14 performed superbly in our tests, and games looked great on the clear, bright screen. The x14 is also very portable; including the hefty power adapter, the travel weight is just 4.9 lbs.
But what can you do with it on the road? Not as much as you might hope. The battery life is much shorter than comparable non-gaming laptops, even when running relatively simple tasks like watching a movie or writing your next tweet about home much your gaming rivals suck.
Don’t think that you will be gaming for an entire flight either: the small battery built into this slim laptop only provided about 35 minutes of gaming, so you won’t get much practice in if you get stuck in a seat without a power plug.
ALIENWARE X14 LAPTOP REVIEW: ALSO CONSIDER
There’s plenty of competition when it comes to gaming laptops. If you want to save a few dollars, the Lenovo Legion 5 Advantage has a similar screen to the x14, including the resolution and 144Hz refresh rate. It has a much slower GPU, though, so you won’t get the same gaming performance.
The MSI Vector GP66 has the same processor and a slightly faster screen, plus a faster GPU for around the same price. It is significantly larger and heavier, though, and costs a bit more if you go for the top-of-the-line GPU option. Similarly, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced beats the X14 in most categories but at a much higher price.