The Alienware 14 is a high-end gaming notebook starting at $1,099. Highlights of this notebook include a customizable LED lighting system and available 1080p display featuring IPS unlimited viewing angle technology. Gaming performance is outstanding thanks to a 4th-gen Intel quad-core processor, Nvidia GTX 765M graphics card and 16GB of RAM. We found little not to like, other than the notebook being somewhat thicker than competitors and expensive when decked out like our review unit.
Build and Design
Design is an important element of Alienware notebooks; the 14 has been completely redesigned since the last generation. This notebook has a chunky appearance at 1.6" tall but makes up for it with the stealth aircraft-inspired lines and AlienFX LED customizable lighting system. Most of the visible surfaces including the palm rest and screen surround have a pleasant rubberized finish which hides fingerprints well.
The chassis is exceptionally strong; I couldn't induce flex even using more pressure than I typically do for notebook reviews. The aluminum backing looks great with the LED cutouts, but more importantly helps protect the display in the event something presses against the back.
The AlienFX lighting system has ten distinct zones; all can be customized with a different color, to morph between two colors, a pulse pattern, or be turned off completely. The whole system can be disabled by pressing the [Fn] + [F12] keys on the keyboard as well. Alienware has been using an LED lighting system in its notebooks for some time and has yet to be rivaled. The execution of AlienFX is very well done.
Upgrading the Alienware 14's components is the simplest of tasks thanks to the ease of access; remove the entire bottom of the chassis with just two screws. The RAM, wireless cards, fans and optical drive are all accessible. The storage drive is located under the optical drive, which is held in place by four screws.
Input and Output Ports
One of the benefits of a thicker chassis is the ability to fit many full-size ports. The Alienware 14 has pretty much everything including DisplayPort, HDMI, USB 3.0 and Ethernet. It lacks an ExpressCard slot and VGA (though VGA output is possible via an adapter). Picture descriptions are left to right.
Front: Air intakes
Rear: Heat exhaust vents, AC power jack
Left: Kensington lock slot, DisplayPort, HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, microphone, 2x headphone jacks
Right: slot-load optical drive, media card reader, USB 3.0, Ethernet
Screen and Speakers
Our Alienware 14 review unit has the optional 1920x1080 (1080p) display with an anti-glare surface and IPS technology. This kind of screen is a treasure in any notebook, let alone one in the 14-inch size. As a matter of fact, the picture quality on this display is superior to that of the Alienware 14's bigger brother, the Alienware 17 which we reviewed here.
The display's viewing angles are unlimited thanks to IPS (In-Plane Switching) technology; the picture looks the same no matter where it's viewed. The anti-glare surface is very much appreciated since it eliminates the reflections inherent in glossy displays. Contrast is excellent - the Command Prompt window is almost pure black without a hint of gray. Color reproduction is just right without oversaturation or distortion. The seven levels of brightness are adequate for generally any condition save for direct sunlight. Overall the display is more than impressive; I can say with confidence the 1080p display upgrade is worthwhile.
The Alienware 14 has two speakers located under the palm rest and a small dedicated subwoofer (of sorts) located inside the chassis. It has an impressively loud sound level for a 14-inch notebook with a good mix of highs and lows. The subwoofer adds depth to the sound and makes the chassis vibrate a little. The Alienware 14's speaker setup is sufficient to entertain a couple people watching a movie or playing games.
HDMI and the twin headphone jacks are the other two ways to get sound out of the Alienware 14. The headphone jacks are crystal clear. The included Dolby Home Theater software is quite versatile; the equalizer settings can noticeably improve the sound quality through the speakers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Alienware 14 has a full-size backlit keyboard. The backlighting can be just about any color you want, using the AlienFX software. The keyboard keys have positive feedback thanks to plenty of travel (distance between pressed and unpressed positions). The feel is slightly rubbery, a good thing in my book. The keypresses are nice and quiet too, a desirable attribute especially if using this notebook in a classroom environment (for taking notes, of course). There's zero flex. All the expected keys are present including dedicated home, end, pgup and pgdn.
The oversized touchpad has an excellent anti-glare surface. The touchpad is backlit in whichever color you prefer, just like the keyboard. I like the fact this touchpad has physical buttons instead of a clickable surface (aka a "clickpad"); it's simpler and more natural. The buttons have a smooth rubberized surface like the keyboard keys, good feedback and make almost no noise. Overall Alienware did a great job on the Alienware 14's input devices.
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