rAge 2013 is a place of gaming and hardware and Cosplay and love, but mostly the first two take center stage. The hardware vendors weren’t out in as full a swing as they were last year but several stands do offer something a little different for the technically minded. The Telkom Do Gaming stand played host to new products from Alienware and I had a chance to sit down with Gavin Slevin, Dell regional sales manager for distribution for South Africaand talk about Alienware as a brand, the hardware inside and the South African market.
NAG Online: So tell me a little about what you’re showing on the floor today, Gavin
Gavin Slevin: Well we have the new Alienware line, featuring entirely new hardware and components. We now have Haswell and Kepler hardware as standard through our lineup. Because we’re working with a product that is vastly different from its predecessor (Ivy Bridge in the older range) we decided to update the design language slightly and find ways of saving weight on the 14, 17 and 18 models.
NAG Online: So the reason why the “R” moniker was dropped form the brand name is because this new range is a clean slate?
Gavin Slevin: Exactly, the new Alienware range might look similar but internally it’s completely new and we also have the chassis made out of new materials to save on weight and increase durability. The chassis lid is made of magnesium to save on weight and in the 17x and 18x we use an aluminium backplate on the keyboard to make it more durable.
NAG Online: The weight seems to be particularly important these days with all the ultrabook pressure.
Gavin Slevin: Yes, we’ve been working to get that down. The 14 is the best compromise between mobility and performance, the 17x is for anyone who needs a little more oomph and sees it as a desktop replacement. The 18 weighs a lot (about 6kg by my reckoning) but it is the ultimate system for anyone who needs that kind of performance. On all three models we also offer slot-loading drives as standard.
NAG Online: I imagine that the kind of performance you’re offering here wouldn’t be possible without Haswell?
Gavin Slevin: You’re right, it wouldn’t. With Haswell we can offer a much longer battery life and higher efficiency, as well as lower heat output. In fact, even though our cooling system uses two fans and separate heatsinks and run as separate units, we find that the system doesn’t get hot enough to cause worry.
NAG Online: Now I believe that the 14 now offers gamers a choice of 1080p panels?
Gavin Slevin: The 14 comes standard with a 1080p TN panel and we do offer an IPS 1080p panel for anyone ordering a bespoke system online. This is a much higher pixel density than we offered previously with the R14x, which had a 1600 x 900 panel by default, with 1080p as an option. The 17 by default has a 1600 x 900 panel with 1080p panels as options and the 18 comes with a 1080p panel as standard. There are IPS options and also 3D options on both our high-end models.
NAG Online: I’m very interested in the sound, because I saw in the press release for the US that you partnered with Klipsch Audio.
Gavin Slevin: Yes, we have Klipsch speakers as standard on our models and on the 17 and 18 there’s even space for a subwoofer. The sound is incredible because the way that the speakers are laid out it sounds like you have a real home theatre in front of you.
NAG Online: How big is the market for Alienware laptops in South Africa?
Gavin Slevin: Well, most of the orders for our Alienware 18 have been bespoke, which means that the customers are choosing a lot of personalisation options before taking delivery. The 17 does see a lot of buyers as well, as you can see for yourself in the NAG LAN and the 14 is our most popular model for anyone looking for a companion to their desktop for use on the go. So in essence yes, there’s quite a large untapped market here for us.
NAG Online: The 14 is also the smallest model so I guess that plays into its popularity. But there are even smaller and cheaper models coming from your competitors, so why don’t we have a new 11x in this lineup?
Gavin Slevin: The 11x is EOL (End of Life) and we have no plans to make a new one. While it certainly did address that portion of the market that wanted something small and light, it wasn’t as appealing as our other offerings. When it becomes necessary, we’ll definitely look at revisiting that part of the market.
NAG Online: Now I remember that a little way back there were options for AMD graphics cards from the Radeon HD6000 and HD7000 series, but now everything is Nvidia-centric. Why did Dell/Alienware’s relationship with AMD change?
Gavin Slevin: That’s a good question and I can’t answer it because I don’t know myself. At this point in time Nvidia just has a very strong, compelling lineup and the performance on offer is amazing.
NAG Online: Well, I imagine that there are other reasons as well with efficiency being the big one. I know Dell’s engineers won’t talk about it but Optimus switching works quite well and AMD still has Crossfire and Enduro issues.
Gavin Slevin: Yes, I am familiar with those.
NAG Online: If they were to be fixed, would AMD hardware become an option for Alienware again?
Gavin Slevin: I’m not so sure and at this point I can’t give you an answer. But we do keep an eye on what they are doing.
NAG Online: And on the Intel side, because you have a close relationship with them already, is a 14-style product with Iris Pro graphics on the cards?
Gavin Slevin: I can’t give you an outlook for that but we’re watching how Iris does as well. Its certainly a very appealing product and much simpler than discrete graphics.
NAG Online: Your X51 chassis is popular as well and I believe its one of the stronger offerings from Alienware for a while. Where is the X51 going from here? Is there a possibility that it will become a certified Steam Machine?
Gavin Slevin: You’re the second person to ask me that question! Well I can’t tell you because I don’t know. We do offer a Linux install for X51 machines in the US. But as far as Steam Machine certification and working with Valve, I don’t have any information on that. All that I can say is watch that space.
Visitors to rAge can see the new lineup of Alienware laptops at the Telkom Do Gaming stand as well as gawk at the Aurora desktops demoing Battlefield 4 and Need for Speed Rivals. For this weekend only, the Incredible Connection at Northgate will also be offering discounts up to the value of R3000 for Alienware laptops.
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