Alienware Area-51m Gaming Laptop Review

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The Alienware Area-51m (See it at Dell) is a true desktop replacement laptop in every sense of the phrase. As we first saw at CES, the Area-51m is the first notebook with a socketed desktop CPU and a swappable GPU (though, the GPU will need to be a Nvidia 20-series and be purchased from Dell). Talk about a future-proof laptop. It’s well designed, exceedingly powerful, and kept up with anything I threw at it over the past two weeks.

Of course, you’re going to pay a lot for a device as well equipped as this one. Currently, this configuration sets you back just under $4,500. Ouch. If you’re not willing to spend that much on a portable gaming workhorse, Area-51m configurations start at $1,949 for an Intel i7-8700 CPU with an RTX 2060, a 60Hz display, 8GB of memory and 1TB of storage. That’s a competitive price for those specs.

Oh, and that doesn’t include the additional weight of its two power supplies.

To match the desktop-like internals, the Area-51m is a sizable device. Measuring 16.1 x 15.85 x 1.7-inches and weighing 8.54 pounds, you’re going to need a big laptop bag and a strong back to haul this thing around. Oh, and that doesn’t include the additional weight of its two power supplies. You can get away with a single power supply if you plan on using the Area-51m for routine school or work tasks, with the system defaulting to the integrated GPU when a lone power supply is used. However, if you want to game, you’re going to need both power supplies.

  • The keyboard boasts individually lit RGB keys, with a column of user customizable shortcut keys on the left side, and a number pad on the right. There’s also an RGB light ring around the rear of the Area-51m.

    Speaking of the rear, that’s where you’ll find a handful of the Area-51m’s ports. Specifically, an HDMI 2.0 port, a miniDisplay port, an Ethernet port, a proprietary Alienware Graphics Amplifier port, and the two charging ports.

    Down the road if you feel the Area-51m is underpowered, you can connect an Alienware Graphics Amplifier with an external GPU to boost its performance. My lone gripe about this approach is that the connector is proprietary so you’ll need to use Alienware’s eGPU solution, but there is also a Thunderbolt 3 port, which allows you to go with an eGPU of your choosing. Nonetheless, being able to upgrade the Area-51m without having to open the casing is reassuring.

    On the right side is where you’ll find aformentioned Thunderbolt 3 port, a USB 3.1 port with PowerShare (meaning you can charge your phone even when the laptop is powered off), and audio in/out jacks. Flanking the left side is two more USB 3.1 ports, sans PowerShare. There’s a healthy mix of ports on this system, and is enough to connect a pretty wide range of accessories and peripherals.

    Alienware Area-51m – Software

    Outside of Alienware’s own software, you won’t find any bloatware on the Area-51m (thank you). The Alienware Command Center is the main software attraction on the Area-51m. It’s through this program that you can adjust the thermal settings, overclocking, keyboard and perimeter lighting themes, and gaming profiles.

    As was the case when I reviewed the Alienware m15, I still find both color schemes of the Command Center hard on my eyes. The light background with small, dark text (or flip that if you use dark mode) makes it hard to navigate and use.

    The two main features I could see myself using is AlienFX to adjust the system’s lighting themes, and the overclocking section. Outside of that, I don’t really see myself using Command Center.

    Alienware Area-51m – Performance and Gaming

    There’s no debate here; the Area-51m is one of fastest laptops I’ve ever tested. Perviously, the fastest laptop I had tested was the MSI GT83VR Titan SLI equipped with GTX 1080 SLI, and the Area-51m not only keeps up with it, but in some cases simply overpowers it.

    Here’s a benchmark comparison, pitting the Area-51m against the GT83VR and the ROG Zephyrus S.

    The Area-51m’s results were recorded with overclocking off, and thermal mode set to Balanced in the Alienware Command Center. I also ran with tests in Performance mode (how the the Area-51m arrived), but those results were nearly identical, with at most a 5% performance boost. As you can see from the chart, the Area-51m is easily one of the most powerful gaming laptops in the universe.

    There’s no debate here; the Area-51m is one of fastest laptops I’ve ever tested

    Gaming on the Area-51m’s 17.3-inch 144Hz display combined with the power of the RTX 2080 is an experience I want more of. With all settings set at High in Apex Legends and Epic for all the things in Fortnite, the Area-51m stayed over 144 frames-per-second without any issue. Fortnite actually stayed between 170 and 180 FPS, while Apex hovered right around 150 FPS.

    There’s a small handful of games that support the real-time ray tracing capabilities of Nvidia’s RTX-series GPUs. One of which is Battlefield V. With the recent addition of the battle royale Firestorm mode to the game, I spent most of my testing time jumping out of the old school planes and fighting my way to victory. With graphics set to Ultra, including DXR, I experienced 130 to 140 FPS, and it was glorious. Everything had a refined, realistic look to it. From the water, to the surrounding fire, to the wood panels on the houses.

    • With 2TB of total storage on the system I was sent, the idea of running out of space was non-existent. However, for configurations with less storage, keep in mind that you can upgrade the RAM, storage, CPU, and even the GPU (which you must buy from Dell).

      Alienware Area-51m – Battery Life

      The Area-51m’s battery life is one of the only blemishes on an otherwise impressive machine. When looping a video on 50% brightness, the battery lasted 94 minutes before powering off the laptop. That’s not terrible, but it’s hardly enough to get through a movie. It’s not terribly surprising on a laptop with this many ponies under the hood, but still a bit of a disappointment.

      Purchasing Guide

      Alienware Area-51m configurations start at $1,949 direct from Dell. The version used for testing comes in at a whopping $4,499.

      The Verdict

      The Area-51m is a beast of a laptop. It’s heavy and awkward to carry around, but it’s also capable of tearing through whatever you throw at it. If you have a budget of $4,500 and need a laptop that performs like a desktop, the Area-51m won’t disappoint.

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