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Friday, June 21, 2024

Alienware AW3423DWF Review

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That certainly didn’t take long: the Alienware AW3423DW hit store shelves less than a year ago but we already have its successor in our hands and – spoiler alert – for most gamers, it’s a much better buy. The Alienware AW3423DWF – note the F on the end of the model name to differentiate it from its predecessor – offers the same stunning picture and excellent gaming performance as the original, but drops G-Sync Ultimate for $200 less. At $1,099, it’s still expensive, but this QD-OLED ultrawide is one of the best gaming monitors you can buy and is destined to impress.

Alienware AW34223DWF – Photos

Alienware AW3423DWF – Design and Features

At this point, 34-inch ultrawide gaming monitors are nothing unusual, but that doesn’t stop the AW3423DWF from being an especially impressive demonstration of how to do it right. It looks great on the surface with its modest curve and fresh Dark Side of the Moon finish, but when you power it on and see its gorgeous QD-OLED panel in action, it genuinely feels like a peek into the future. This is where gaming monitors are heading, and I’m here for it.

Its on-paper specs check nearly every box. It features a crisp 3440 x 1440 (2K) resolution with a fast max refresh rate of 165Hz. Response time is almost instantaneous: 0.1ms gray-to-gray, putting it leagues ahead of even the best TN, VA, and IPS panels available today. It’s not 4K, but its 2K resolution looks great and is easier to hit if you’re not running the latest, most powerful graphics card.

The screen is no slouch for HDR or creative work either. It’s VESA True Black 400 certified, so blacks are deep and inky, but it can also get exceptionally bright to deliver an outstanding HDR picture. It is rated to cover 99.3% of the DCI-P3 color space and 149% of SRGB for creative work and comes factory calibrated out of the box, so you can start creating right away.

This is a monitor that’s all about speed and picture quality, and it bases that performance on its quantum dot-enhanced OLED panel. These technologies make quite a pairing. OLEDs are well-known to deliver some of the best picture quality you can find today, and the infusion of quantum dots enhances both its colors and luminance. Simply put, the AW3423DWF has one of the best pictures available you can find in a gaming monitor today and is an absolute treat to game on.

Unlike traditional gaming monitors that use a built-in backlight, the AW3423DWF’s pixels are self-emissive and create their own light. They’re independently controlled, so when a horror game calls for that hallway to be black, the shadows are well and truly black while the rest of the scene stays intact. Because every pixel is self-lighting and self-dimming, all 4.9 million of them become tiny local dimming zones unto themselves.

The downside to this design is that they can draw an exceptional amount of power and are significantly less bright in normal use than in gaming. Alienware claims a typical brightness of only 250 nits, which is noticeably less than many of the best gaming monitors using LED panels. Don’t worry too much: that limited brightness rating only applies when viewing a full white window. In normal use, there’s almost always a mix of darks and lights on the screen which lets it shine more brightly and look just as vibrant as the competition. It can also reach all the way to 1000 nits when called for, albeit in small highlights, which allows the dynamic range to be truly impressive.

The other big concern with OLED panels is image retention or burn-in. Since each pixel is individually lit, they can decay at different levels if there are static elements on the screen. To prevent burn-in, Alienware has implemented automatic maintenance routines, including a pixel and panel refresher that wipes out any retention that might be starting to take hold. There’s also a pixel shifter that will intermittently adjust the screen by a single pixel to make sure nothing stays in a single place for too long. These are proven methods for preventing burn-in, but I still recommend care tips like hiding desktop icons and the taskbar.

Returning to the physical layout of the monitor, it’s virtually identical to the original AW3423DW. It features the same 1800R curve, which helps with peripheral vision but isn’t as deep as something like the Samsung Odyssey Neo G9. The color has shifted from white to gray, but the overall design and functionality are the same. It still offers the same four inches of height adjustment and -5 to 21 degrees of tilt, and just like last time, there’s no using the display in portrait mode. Removing the stand also allows you to mount the display on an arm with a standard 100×100 VESA mount.

But while it’s mostly the same, there are still some important changes. The biggest is that Alienware has dropped the G-Sync Ultimate module from the original in favor of AMD’s FreeSync Premium Pro certification. On paper, that might seem like a big downgrade, but G-Sync Ultimate’s biggest feature, arguably the reason to buy a G-Sync Ultimate module, Variable Overdrive, is wasted on the AW3423DWF. The monitor’s fast OLED panel doesn’t need overdrive to avoid ghosting. Normal G-Sync also worked perfectly fine with my RTX 4090, so there wasn’t any noticeable change at all in how it felt to use or looked while gaming.

There are also a couple of other smaller changes. The monitor is a bit lighter and a touch thinner. The refresh rate is a touch slower, 165Hz versus 175Hz, but it’s not noticeable. RGB has been streamlined and is now just on the back of the monitor instead of the stand.

More meaningful is the change to I/O, but even that’s pretty small. The AW3423DWF swaps an HDMI 2.0 port for a second DisplayPort 1.4, bringing it to three video inputs altogether. There’s USB connectivity with two USB 3.2 Type-A ports along the bottom edge, flanking a headphone jack and in front of the joystick for the OSD. Two more USB ports are hidden in the rear I/O panel, as well as a Type-B upstream port to connect to your PC, and an audio line-out port.

At this price, it’s disappointing that we don’t see HDMI 2.1. Consoles will be limited to 100Hz at 4K but can do 120Hz at 1440p. It would also have been nice to see a USB Type-C port for power and video. $1,099 may be cheaper than the original’s $1,299, but we’re still deep into high-end monitor territory and these omissions are glaring at this price.

But, at the end of the day, these are really nitpicks to an otherwise exquisite display. The picture and gaming performance are outstanding, and a perfect choice to make your games look and feel their best. You’re not stuck paying for an unnecessary G-Sync Ultimate model like the original. Instead, you get all of the exceptional picture, as well as some new options hidden in the on-screen display, for $200 cheaper. That’s a win.

Alienware AW3423DWF – OSD

I expected the OSD to be identical to the AW3423DW, but Alienware has added features to give you more control over the picture as well as new picture modes and presets. Like last time, you’ll call up and navigate the OSD using the joystick on the bottom edge, and it works well. Within, you’ll find all of your options for picture presets, color calibration, and the ability to enable gaming features like the Dark Stabilizer (lightening shadows), the on-screen reticle, and displaying the frame rate.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the options have expanded significantly. There are 12 picture presets available in standard definition and six picture modes in HDR. Picture-in-picture and picture-by-picture modes have been added. The aspect ratio can also be customized between 21:9, 4:3, and Auto for easy compatibility with different types of content. There is also a new Console mode that provides options for source-based tone mapping and color correction.

This new model also offers greater control over picture quality. Rather than have simple color, brightness, and contrast sliders, the AW3423DWF allows you to adjust sharpness, saturation, hue, color temperature, and more advanced options. Since it’s well-calibrated from the factory, you won't need to make any major adjustments, but being able to is the point. You have significantly more options to fine tune your picture here than its more expensive predecessor.

Alienware AW3423DWF – Performance

The AW3423DWF looks pretty, but that doesn’t amount to much if it has issues playing games. I spent two weeks with the display and put it through its paces to test exactly that. Just like the original, performance is outstanding and delivers a top-tier gaming experience. It also works well for productivity, which isn’t always the case for OLED panels.

Starting with responsiveness, it doesn’t get much better than this. OLED panels are much faster than traditional LCD monitors, so ghosting and motion blur are never issues. I tested this in multiple games, including my go-to first-person shooter, Battlefield 2042, and the image was crisp and detailed without even a hint of ghosting.

Of course, anecdotal tests only count for so much, so I also tested it using our usual combination of Blur Busters’ UFO Test and Lagom’s Response Time test.

The results were expectedly excellent. I photographed the tests above using a high shutter speed to stop each image in motion. The lack of ghosting present is truly excellent. If ghosts aren’t visible here, then they certainly won’t be in actual games with shifting scenery.

I also put the AW3423DWF to the test using our new Calibrite ColorChecker Display Plus colorimeter and assessment tool. Brightness uniformity is largely excellent, though the bottom left corner repeatedly measured slightly lower than the rest of the panel. This isn’t noticeable at all in use but is interesting to note here.

Calibration was also very good. The measurements were all within the recommended tolerances within our testing programing, DisplayCal. The average Delta-E (difference from the reference color) was only 0.23, which is outstanding and means you can use this display for creative work without needing to invest in a colorimeter.

Alienware AW3423DWF – Color Accuracy Tests

Color gamut coverage was also very good. SRGB coverage maxed out the results at 100%, but clearly extends well beyond based on the graph above. DCI-P3 color coverage measured at 98.7%, a touch lower than the official spec but still excellent, and AdobeRGB measured in at 92.9%.

The QD-OLED panel gives absolutely stunning picture quality. I regularly game on the Gigabyte FO48U and colors are visibly more vivid and rich here. The quantum dots definitely take the OLED experience to the next level – OLEDs are great on their own, the AW3423DWF’s picture is fantastic.

The overall brightness was also very good. OLED panels often appear dim compared to their LCD counterparts and, on paper, the 250 nit typical brightness would put the Alienware right in line with that. In reality, you’re rarely ever viewing a full white screen, so the screen appears brighter. Dark elements when browsing the web or watching videos and even the text when working in word documents all allow the AW3423DWF to increase its average brightness level. To my eye, it wasn’t much different than a typical LCD monitor for non-gaming tasks.

That also applies to its consistency. OLED panels often decrease brightness over time when working in documents and other tasks where there isn’t much movement on the screen. The dimming and sudden brightening once it detects enough movement can be distracting, but that just wasn’t the case here. I worked in long stretches of six hours or more in documents and adjustments were gradual enough that I barely noticed any changes.

The AW3423DWF shines best with HDR gaming. Since every pixel is independently controlled, the dynamic range exceeds anything possible in LCD monitors today. Blacks are true, pitch black, no different than when the monitor is turned off. Detail in the shadows is enhanced by its infinite contrast and colors pop more than ever when flanked by such natural blacks.

Highlights shine thanks to the monitor’s peak 1000-nit brightness, what we consider the minimum for a truly outstanding HDR experience. Only very small parts of the screen can hit that peak luminance, but it’s enough to make light glimmer with realistic and alluring flair.

That range bookends everything in between, and that’s where the ultrawide 1440p resolution shines. The excellent colors and details, both in the graphics broadly and within the shadows and highlights, come through crisp without the need for additional sharpening. I always welcome 4K, particularly at this price, but at 34 inches, the picture quality is still outstanding and you won’t need an ultra-powerful (and expensive) graphics card to run it.

But let’s be real here: if you’re considering an $1,100 monitor, you probably already have a powerful graphics card. The lower resolution makes hitting triple-digit frame rates much more possible. I run an RTX 4090 (overkill for this display, I know) but was able to max out games and regularly experience 120 FPS or more. With modern technologies like Nvidia DLSS or AMD FSR 2.0, it’s possible that even mid-range GPUs could take advantage of its fast refresh rate.

As I alluded to before, there’s no reason to fret about the lost G-Sync Ultimate module either. Normal G-Sync (enabled through the Nvidia Control Panel) worked completely fine in my testing. There was no screen tearing or unusual performance at all on my test system, and again, no ghosting to warrant paying extra for variable overdrive.

Taken as a whole, it’s hard to ask for more than what the Alienware AW3423DWF delivers. It looks and performs at the top of its class. Since the 10Hz refresh rate reduction and removal of G-Sync Ultimate make such little difference, there’s scarce reason to choose the original, more expensive model. The AW3423DWF is just as good for gaming and offers more customization features for less.

Verdict

Though $1,099 is far from cheap, the Alienware AW3423DWF feels like a great value compared to the original. It offers the same stunning picture, and dropping G-Sync Ultimate really makes no noticeable difference in actual gameplay. What’s left is a monitor that is extremely similar for $200 less than it was earlier this year. That’s a win and an easy recommendation to make if you’re in the market for a high-end display with a spectacular picture.

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