Alienware 13 Review + Graphics Amplifier: Portability and Desktop Power

By Scorpus ยท 30 replies
Jan 20, 2015
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  1. alienware graphics amplifier review

    One of the main issues with gaming laptops is the limitations of the form factor. You simply can’t put as powerful hardware as a desktop gaming PC in a laptop chassis, due to constraints on thickness, portability and (most importantly) cooling. The general lack of upgradeability, especially where the main processing components are concerned, also reduces their appeal.

    This is why the Alienware 13 is such an interesting laptop. It’s not because of the internal components in the laptop itself, or the form factor, but because of an optional accessory called the Graphics Amplifier. The Amplifier is a box that houses a standard desktop GPU and power supply, which attaches to the Alienware 13 through a cable. When it’s plugged in, the mobile GPU in the laptop is disabled, and all the GPU power comes from the Amplifier.

    The Graphics Amplifier addresses those two main complaints: you get essentially the same power as a typical gaming desktop when docked, and a level of upgradeability otherwise not possible.

    Read the complete review.

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2015
  2. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    I liked this concept the first time I came across it. 13 inch is too small for my taste. 15 is what I limit myself to with gaming laptops and what I'd be keen on having, perhaps they'll add support for the Amp to all their future laptops.

    I guess the main thing is that this saves maintaining a desktop and laptop system, which would make it a cheaper option even with the high price of the amplifier unit. Maybe the savings on not having to have a desktop unit is what has made Dell/AW put such a high price the Amplifier, they figure people will still go for it as it will save them money. That or they spent far too much R&D money on what doesn't seem like that much of a technical achievement.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
  3. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +902

    When I first saw news on Alienware ditching the 14" form factor and replacing it with a 13" I loved the idea, there is quite a difference in that single inch (That's what she said?? anybody?? no?? =P) but the hardware was as stated mid range for premium price. Also the added station to add a GPU was too expensive.

    I liked the idea, it had poor execution and horrible pricing considering other mid-range gaming laptops.
    Arris likes this.
  4. I really enjoyed the review; thought it was well balanced. thank you Tim.
  5. SuperVeloce

    SuperVeloce TS Booster Posts: 133   +34

    Whoa, they want way too much money for that amplifier. And 15w dual core in a gaming laptop able to use external graphics that are even today (and what about "tomorrow") bottlenecked by it... madness.
    Arris likes this.
  6. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,471   +375

    Considering that desktop replacement computers and gaming computers are fairly similar, I can understand the direction you're going. For people who game regularly both at home and on the go, maintaining what is effectively two (generalizing a bit) $1000+ computers, with two separate hard drives, having to install games on both and otherwise sync various settings between them if they are inclined to do so, is a bit more work than having a single solution that can be expanded "on demand."

    I completely agree with the impression that the amplifier could be much smaller, and in regards to shutting down the system to connect/disconnect the amplifier, going back to the good old docking station solution with a dedicated detatch button? Move the USB slots to that thing and have the tethering cable plug in to that... *shrug*
  7. JohnCB

    JohnCB TS Booster Posts: 118   +63

    For those prices, the performance is absolute garbage.

    Factor in an amplifier and the only thing going for you (portability) is thrown out the window.

    Who's the target audience here? *****s with more cash than brains?
    sky22 likes this.
  8. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,266   +436

    I don't understand the point of these systems.

    You defeat the whole purpose of mobile when you have an external box that big. And if you say that doesn't matter then why not just build a desktop computer since you will be stationary anyways?

    And secondly its alienware so you already know this is gonna be overpriced.

    Most of the people I know that buy alienware systems are noobs with more money than sense.
    sky22 likes this.
  9. sky22

    sky22 TS Rookie

    The whole idea of a gaming laptop is pretty much useless.
    1. Get an inexpensive easy to carry laptop with good battery life for work/school.
    2. Have a PC at home for gaming or other more intensive work (I.e. solid works, editing)

    Not only will that be cheaper than buying a gaming laptop but you will get no compromises: good battery life and portability with you laptop and performance with your PC.
    Speaking of which, you can actually fit whole gaming computer in cases that has about the same volume as this graphic amplifier: like the upcoming A4-SFX case or the silverstone rvz02
    Lionvibez likes this.
  10. Capaill

    Capaill TS Evangelist Posts: 452   +180

    In response to Sky22, people who travel a lot like to bring their favourite games with them and are willing to take along some heavier hardware to make that happen. But this Amplifier is asking a lot!

    I have the blower GTX 780 and it throttles at 80 degrees, so that might explain the lower FPS figures in the Amplifier.
  11. CaptainTom

    CaptainTom TS Maniac Posts: 306   +132

    Yeah but it really wouldn't make anything cheaper because with that extra ~$800 you could buy a laptop with a 980m instread of that piece of junk. A 980m is nearly as strong as a 970m so really what is the point in trying to have both when one can be as good as both?
  12. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,471   +375

    I had not heard of the AF-SFX, but upon exercising some google-fu my interest has piqued my interest. This will be a great year for SFF cases indeed.
  13. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 2,106   +1,282

    It would be cool if they could come out with a modular laptop. Need a bigger screen? Just swap it out. Need portability? Swap out your high end gpu module with a smaller one.

    Similar to what google is doing but it wouldn't need magnet connectors.
  14. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Posts: 2,869   +2,038

    The lower FPS in the Amplifier are caused mostly by the PCIe bottleneck and then the low powered CPU.
  15. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,266   +436

    Yet another reason I wouldn't buy this.
  16. Scorpus

    Scorpus TechSpot Staff Topic Starter Posts: 1,963   +231

    Yep that's exactly what I discovered. The GPU was not being bottlenecked by thermals during my testing
  17. andrew_C

    andrew_C TS Rookie

    Call me old fashioned, but I still like the looks of previous Alienware M14x. The new Alienware 13 looks like a pancake maker
    Kibaruk likes this.
  18. GhostRyder

    GhostRyder This guy again... Posts: 2,198   +593

    Thank you @Scorpus for this review, its pretty cool to finally see the performance here of this device and how it stacks up. Sad though that its held back by the processor inside, would be nice to have at least a decent quad core to back up the power even though this is aimed at small for factor. Seems weird to pair up a device like this with such an expensive peripheral and then hold it back with the components inside.

    Will be nice to see if the price comes down and/or they up the laptop options out there that works with it.
  19. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    I liked their idea, not their implementation :)

    They are hoping people think it's a good money saving solution. If the Amplifier is forward compatible with all their future laptops then it could be of use as when you upgrade your laptop you could upgrade your Amplifier graphics card and maintain a stronger "home" setup. If it's only with this laptop then they have really screwed up the usefulness.
  20. Actually, this isn't the first commercial offering of this type. Sony had toyed with the idea some years back with their Vaio Z series laptop. Only thing is the price were way more expansive (typically Sony) and the external GPU was only a 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6650M.
  21. Scorpus

    Scorpus TechSpot Staff Topic Starter Posts: 1,963   +231

    The Amplifier so far is also available with the Alienware 15 and 17, both announced at CES
    Arris likes this.
  22. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    Thanks Scorpus, had friends with overheating AW laptops in the past so a little apprehensive but certainly something I'd consider if the 15/17 have better processors in them. Maybe time to sell my current laptop and desktop and see if I can fund it :)
  23. I really like the idea, but I find the selected components a bit odd. A basic internal GPU and a quad core CPU would have created the holy grain of laptops, fairly light for travelling but still able to pack a lot of power when at home. Now we're looking at a $2000 laptop (including the GA with a proper GPU) in which case a larger and faster gaming laptop seem to make much more sense. But AW could have saved $150 on the GA and another $150 on the laptop (which seems totally doable) the value-proposition would have been greatly improved.
  24. Vladislav

    Vladislav TS Rookie

    (1) and (2) are completely useless when you travel a lot.
    Arris likes this.
  25. r3d3mpt10ni57

    r3d3mpt10ni57 TS Rookie

    Hey, for the amplifier - are these test results with the laptop display or with an attached monitor? Also, which drivers were you using for the GPU?
  26. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +902

    When I travel a lot I don't ussualy pick up gaming. That may be just me.

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