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Alienware x16 review: Awesomely powerful and super thin

Alienware x16Image: Dominic Bayley / IDG

At a glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

Excellent CPU and GPU powerThe QHD+ display is gorgeous with a rich color saturationThe AlienFX RGB lighting is stunning

Cons

It gets very hot and can throttle performanceThe rear port placement means it’s tricky to plug things inThe battery life is quite short

Our Verdict

The Alienware x16 is like the luxury speedboat of 16-inch gaming laptops that leaves the competition awash in its wake. This laptop seemingly has it all: tons of power, style, connectivity and all this in a super thin chassis measuring just 0.73 of an inch thick.

Price When Reviewed

2949.99

Best Prices Today: Alienware x16

RetailerPriceWalmart$739View DealAmazon$2,599.99View DealDell$2949.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

The Alienware x16 is a standout 16-inch gaming laptop in just about every respect. It’s incredibly thin, but strong and impeccably styled with a chassis diffuse with truly stunning RGB accents that go far beyond what rivals achieve. But it’s not just showy, it’s also a formidable gaming machine, with desktop-caliber silicon that makes mincemeat of AAA games. What’s more, it sports a keyboard with a desktop-like feel. While our performance testing shows the x16 can get quite hot at times, that doesn’t appear to have much bearing on gaming performance, which remains in the upper echelon of our PCWorld performance charts.

Looking for more options? Check out PCWorld’s roundup of the best gaming laptops available right now.

Alienware x16: Specifications

The Alienware x16 is available in a range of configurations and at prices suitable for different budgets. Prices start at $1,799.99 for a configuration with an Intel Core i7-13620H CPU, Nvidia RTX 4050 GPU, 16GB DDR5 RAM, a QHD+ display with 165Hz refresh rate and 1TB SSD storage.

Choosing the most premium hardware for each category on Dell’s website, however, will land you a model with an Intel Core i9-13900HK CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU, 32GB DDR 5 RAM, 4TB SSD Storage and either a FHD+ display with 480Hz refresh rate or QHD+ display with 240Hz refresh rate.

My review unit leans towards the upper end of the price spectrum costing $2,949.99 at Dell. It sports an i9-13900HK processor, but with an RTX 4080 GPU and QHD+ display with 165Hz refresh rate. Below I’ve broken down its exact specifications as follows:

CPU: Intel Core i9-13900HKRAM: 32GB DDR5 / 6000MHzGPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080Display: 16-inch, QHD+ (2560 x 1600) resolution, non-touch, 100 percent sRGB, 165Hz refresh rate, 3 ms response time, Advanced Optimus, Nvidia G-SyncStorage: 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDPorts: 2 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 (with PowerShare), 1 x USB-C Gen 2 (with DisplayPort), Thunderbolt 4 port, 3.5 mm combo Audio jack, HDMI 2.1, mini Displayport, microSD card slotNetworking: Wi-Fi 6E (802.11 ax), Bluetooth 5.3Weight: 6lbs (2.72kg)Dimensions: 14.36 x 11.41 x 0.73 inchesBattery: 90WHrPrice: $2,949.99 at Dell

How does the Alienware x16’s price compare to rivals?

The x16’s main competition comes from the Razer Blade 16 and the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16, which are both excellent 16-inch gaming laptops in their own right.

Looking first at the Razer Blade 16 and you can currently purchase a model with an Intel Core i9-13950HX CPU, RTX 4080 GPU and QHD+ 240Hz display for $3,599.99. We reviewed a configuration with RTX 4090 GPU back in May, and it had great battery life and excelled in most other performance benchmarks, yet it’s currently wearing a price tag of $4,300 – a cool $1,350 more than our x16.

Alternatively, a near configuration of the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 comes with an Intel i9-13900HX CPU, RTX 4080 GPU and a QHD+ 240Hz display, and ships for $2,699.99. While we don’t have performance stats on this configuration, this review shows our x16 can outperform an $1,699.99 M16 model with RTX 4070 GPU and Core i9-13900H CPU, except when it comes to battery life and our PCWorld HandBrake test (see the performance graphs below).

Alienware x16: Design and build

The Alienware x16 belongs to Dell’s X-Series of gaming laptops, which are designed to be especially thin gaming laptops, so it’s made with portability in mind. That being so, it’s the thinnest 16-inch laptop with RTX 4080 series GPU you will find. How slender is it? It’s just 0.73 of an inch through its center, which beats rivals like the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 and Razer Blade 16. Its full dimensions are 14.36 x 11.41 x 0.73 inches.

“To me, the trackpad is the real gem of the bunch. It ripples with brilliant color like some kind of luminescent airplane landing strip…

Even so, the x16 is built like a tank, showcasing a strong magnesium alloy chassis and flex-less aluminum lid. The base is reinforced with stainless steel and feels completely immovable. Looking around the chassis, you’ll find eye-catching features everywhere including its honeycomb-patterned vents, rounded edges, and wide speaker grilles.

With lots of metal comprising the laptop, the x16 is, however, quite heavy – it weighs six pounds (2.72kg) all up. That’s lightweight enough to be movable, but still quite hefty to lift. Though, that’s unlikely to deter gamers who will likely be enticed by the opportunity to trade in their heavier 17-inch laptops for a premium, smaller-sized unit.

To styling, and I’ve always found Dell’s Alienware laptops to have stunning gamer-centric appeal and the x16 is no different. The laptop’s anodized aluminum finish in a Lunar Silver color contrasts nicely against the black base and palm rests. On the lid you’ll find an iconic AlienFX logo accompanied by a large, debossed letter X which looks sublime.

Additionally, there are dazzling RGB accents throughout the chassis, illuminated by no less than 100 micro-LEDs. As well as the AlienFX logo, the standouts among them include the RGB touchpad and an RGB tron ring embedded in the white plastic casing that covers the rear side of the chassis.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

To me, the trackpad is the real gem of the bunch. It ripples with brilliant color like some kind of luminescent airplane landing strip. It looked absolutely aplomb against the dark wood of my buffet side table. Alienware says it’s also 15 percent larger in size than the trackpad in the 2022 Alienware x17, so one of last year’s pain points has been aptly addressed.

All of this RGB can be personalized with up to 16.8 million colors in the AlienFX software app. Additionally, Alienware has introduced new RGB lighting behaviors which you can also program in the AlienFX software. They include scanner, loop and rainbow wave effects, all of which take the RGB experience beyond what most gaming laptops achieve.

Mentioned in this article…

Asus ROG Zephyrus M16

Asus ROG Zephyrus M16Read our reviewPrice When Reviewed:1949.99Best Prices Today:$1949.99 at Best Buy

The other big noteworthy point about this laptop’s design is the cooling system. The many vents around the chassis are the first clue that the laptop has formidable cooling hardware in it, but there’s another big clue hiding in plain sight. On the underside a large perimeter foot has been added for lift and to allow air to flow through to the laptop’s internal quad-fans.

These fans, combined with the laptop’s vapor chamber and the encapsulated Element 31 cooling agent which Alienware has applied to the CPU and GPU, comprise the main components of the x16’s Cryo-tech cooling system.

Alienware x16: Keyboard

The x16’s low-profile per-key lit RGB keyboard with CherryMX mechanical switches felt kind of like a desktop keyboard to me. That said, I really enjoyed the satisfying click of the switches, which made me feel like I was in front of a decked-out desktop rig rather than a confined laptop.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

The keyboard also felt very spacious. Alienware has very considerately left out a numpad, so my hands never felt cramped. The keys also felt suitably roomy. Despite being low set, they have a generous 1.8 mm travel, yet they still have enough upward force to respond at lighting speed, which allowed me to fire off macros with machine-gun like pace.

The keys also didn’t feel the slightest bit wobbly or mushy. Of course, as with the rest of the RGB in the x16, they’re customizable to 16.8 million colors and with a range of interesting effects in the AlienFX software app.

Alienware x16: Connectivity

All of the x16’s ports are located in a neat groove at the rear of the laptop. Overall, the selection is extremely useful, with a varied selection to support all my usual needs – for gaming, streaming, and managing files.

In addition to the obligatory USB-C, USB-A and HDMI ports, you’ll find a mini-DisplayPort and a microSD card slot – both rarities in a gaming laptop and nice features to have. One of the USB-C ports is a Thunderbolt 4 port too, which I put to good use, immediately downloading my gaming library in a fraction of the usual time it takes me.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

Despite these connectivity wins, the x16’s awkward rear port placement did mean I had to continually turn the laptop around to plug devices in. On the upside, this also meant I gained a little more space either side of me for my coffee mug.

A bigger grievance was that the RGB tron ring made the ports so difficult to see that I needed to use my phone’s light feature to illuminate them. It was just a small inconvenience, but one that may result in some users choosing to switch the RGB off there.

Alienware x16: Display and audio

Many a powerful gaming laptop is let down by a substandard display but the Alienware x16’s QHD+ (2560 x 1600) display is a real gem, brimming with saturated color and boasting deep commanding blacks.

It’s quite tall, and if you haven’t yet experienced the full benefit of a panel with a 16:10 aspect ratio), I highly recommend it. For me, I savored having a whole half inch or so of extra space at the far top to enjoy games like DOTA 2 and Age of Empires, where I benefited from the extra map space. The detail was also very crisp and the motion eminently smooth – and that’s despite my review unit sporting a 165Hz refresh rate – imagine how quick the configuration with a FHD+ (1920 x 1200) 480Hz refresh rate must be!

The laptop’s 1080p webcam is almost invisible in the top bezel. On the whole it produces decent images, although at times I did notice a milky sheen under bright lights.

To ensure the x16’s audio quality is a cut above the rest, Alienware has incorporated no less than six speakers in the chassis, consisting of four woofers and two upward firing tweeters. These speakers have been co-designed with Dolby, for Dolby Atmos support and they produce a rich and varied tonal range with a solid bass drop and strong mid-tones that really bring a depth to games with rich storylines.

Alienware x16: CPU performance

My review unit’s i9-13900HX CPU utilizes desktop-caliber silicon in a mobile package. It features a total of 14 cores (6 Performance Cores and 8 Efficient Cores) that operate up to a combined max turbo frequency of 5.4GHz. Supporting the CPU is 32GB of DDR5 RAM running at a very quick 6000MHz clock speed.

To gauge the CPU’s performance capability, I ran PCWorld’s usual duo of CPU-based benchmarks and compared the results against laptops with proven high performance gaming chops. That lineup was well represented by 16-inch laptops, at least one of which also sported an Intel HX i9 CPU – a Razer Blade 16 configuration with an Intel Core i9-13950HX.

Mentioned in this article…

Razer Blade 16 (2023)

The results of the first benchmark, Maxon’s Cinebench R20 Multi-Threaded benchmark, show the x16’s i9-13900HX to be extremely potent – it even beat out the Razer Blade 16 with a score of 7808. In theory this result is comfortable proof that the x16 should be a stellar performer in tasks that utilize all or multiple threads of its CPU – tasks like running AAA games or encoding large files.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

The next result which comes from a bespoke test in our PCWorld HandBrake utility casts a small shadow on that exceptional Cinebench performance. In this test the laptop was given the task of encoding a 30GB MKV file to MP4 using the android tablet preset – with a shorter duration considered a better outcome.

The “shadow” here is thermal throttling; the Alienware x16 finished the task much slower than the gaggle of comparisons, including a few with less impressive CPUs. It also felt extremely hot to the touch, reaching temperatures of around 172 Fahrenheit as the task neared completion. Just to make sure this wasn’t a one-off anomaly I re-ran the same test two more times, but the outcome was the same.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

What does this mean? While throttling in itself isn’t bad for the laptop – it’s just the laptop protecting its hardware from too much heat – it does suggest the x16 won’t always perform at its peak. Looking at the slenderness of the chassis and the wattage and hardware on offer, some throttling is probably going to be expected, yet Alienware promises a lot with its Cryo-cooling system and it should really have been up to the task here.

Without carrying out an in-depth analysis of what’s causing the throttling, it’s hard to say what’s going on. It might simply be a bug in the software. Regardless, and despite this finding, the results of the two tests still show there’s tremendous CPU power available in the x16.

Alienware x16: Gaming performance

Previous PCWorld reviews have already revealed the outstanding power of Nvidia’s mobile GeForce RTX 4080 GPU – like in the recently reviewed 2023 Razer Blade 14, which has a Total Graphics Power (TGP) of 140-watt. Here I set out to see what the same GPU could do tuned to a maximum 175-watt TGP in the x16.

To that end, 3DMark’s Time Spy benchmark provided an eagle eye view of the graphics power on offer. Here in the graph below, you can see the x16’s GPU comfortably outperformed a range of GPUs – including the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 with its step-down RTX 4070 GPU. Against the Razer Blade 16’s beefier RTX 4090 GPU, the x16 also performed admirably.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

On to the gaming benchmarks, and in this case, the results were gleaned from running the Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmarks. In SoTTR, the x16 outperformed the Razer Blade 16 and the rest of the field of comparisons, while in the RoTTR benchmark our review unit punched above its GPU division to match the Razer Blade 16’s fps score blow for blow.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

Dominic Bayley / IDG

When ray-traced graphics performance became the main defining factor, however, the Razer Blade 16’s GPU pulled away slightly from the x16’s RTX 4080 GPU, as demonstrated by the results of the 3DMark Port Royal benchmark.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

This is to be expected considering the higher number of ray tracing cores in the RTX 4090 (76 versus 58) and suggests that this particular configuration of the Blade 16 will likely have an edge over the x16 in games that rely heavily on ray-traced graphics.

Overall, these results show the RTX 4080 in my x16 is a force to be reckoned with – its GPU is highly capable of producing excellent frame rates in richly textured games and will likely have no trouble with other graphically demanding tasks, like video editing or rendering 3D models.

It’s worth noting too, that these results were achieved despite the laptop again getting very hot, which means that the throttling we saw before is unlikely to be much of a hindrance to gaming performance – at least in this configuration of the x16 with RTX 4080 GPU.

Alienware x16: Battery life

To test the battery life, I waited until the laptop was at full charge then switched off the keyboard backlighting and also switched the Wi-Fi to Airplane Mode. I also turned the sound down to 50 percent and plugged a cheap pair of headphones in to control noise. Last but not least, I unplugged the power and set a 4K Hollywood movie to repeat. I then timed how long it took for the battery to run out of juice.

Dominic Bayley / IDG

The Alienware x16 lasted just four hours and 20 minutes before switching to standby mode. This means you’re unlikely to get very long gaming time with the power cord unplugged – I estimate just two hours. Therefore, the x16 is really a laptop best used plugged in to an AC outlet.

Alienware x16: Should you buy it?

The Alienware x16 hits home runs in just about every category, being thin, solid, stylish and with a stellar QHD+ display that brings textured gaming environments to life in vivid realism. It also has a satisfyingly desktop-like mechanical keyboard.

Despite running quite hot at times, the x16 outperforms a strong field of rival 16-inch contenders in GPU and CPU performance and produces impressive frame rates in AAA games. This makes it an extremely worthy proposition for gamers chasing the best performance in a 16-inch gaming laptop.

Best Prices Today: Alienware x16

RetailerPriceWalmart$739View DealAmazon$2,599.99View DealDell$2949.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

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