Alienware Area-51m hands-on review

A true gaming desktop replacement? The Alienware Area-51m gets closer than ever

With desktop processors and swappable components, the Alienware Area- 51m is a gaming laptop like no other.
With desktop processors and swappable components, the Alienware Area- 51m is a gaming laptop like no other.
With desktop processors and swappable components, the Alienware Area- 51m is a gaming laptop like no other.

Highs

  • Premium, comfortable build and design
  • Powerful, desktop-grade processor
  • Easily upgradable components
  • Smart cooling systems
  • Fancy RGB lighting all around

Lows

  • Very expensive
  • Uses a proprietary graphics format

Gaming laptops keep getting thinner and lighter, but what about power? What if you want the best possible gaming performance, bar none? That’s where Alienware enters the picture with its Area-51m gaming laptop.

With an overclockable desktop-grade processor, the ability to swap out components, and a new industrial design, Alienware calls the Area-51m a true gaming desktop replacement. We spent some hands on time with it ahead of CES, and here’s more on what we think.

Industrial design and cooling that just stands out

Going with angular cuts and finishes, the Alienware lineup of laptops has always featured a DNA linked to a futuristic look and feel. But with the Area-51m, Alienware shakes things up with a new “Legend” design language. Like the white-colored robots out of i, Robot, the Area-51m is light and sticks out from the crowds of black and chrome-colored laptops.

When we were first handed the Area-51m, it was unlike anything we’d ever seen.

When we were first handed the Area-51m, it was unlike anything we’d ever seen. With what Alienware calls the “Lunar Light” and “Dark Side of the Moon” color options, its thick back hump, and sloped design, it stood out to us from thin gaming laptops like the Razer Blade 15. The magnesium material is built as solid as a rock, and when we pressed down on the lid there was no flexing.

For something this powerful of its class, the material keeps the laptop relatively light at just under 8.5 pounds, and as thin as 1.23 inches in the rear.

Still, it wouldn’t be Alienware without some fancy lighting. The entire back portion of the Area-51m is outfitted in a “infinite loop” ring of light which can be customized via the Alienware Command Center to a gamers own liking. Alienware clearly wanted to put on a light show, down to the ability to customize the colors of the power button and the Alien head on the front of the lid.

The design also serves a purpose as the fancy hexagonal vents on the rear of the Area-51m help increase air flow up 10-13 percent. Alienware is using a dual-intake, dual- exhaust air flow design, which prioritizes performance and pulls in cool air from the bottom and top vents, and exhaust air along the rear and side vents. Elsewhere, there is a high voltage driving fan, load balancing heat pipes, copper fin stacks, and thermal control to ensure desktop level quality gaming and cooling.

We weren’t able to get hands-on with any games in our time, but in our general usage of the Area-51m, it stayed as cool and quiet as you’d expect.

A desktop processor and GPU inside for more power, but with a catch

Other than the design, the Alienware Area-51m is taking gaming laptops to a new place — with a desktop processor. Coming with options for the insanely fast 9th-gen Intel Core i7-9700K and Core i9-9900HK, you can expect some serious performance gains across the board. With the i9 variant packing eight cores and a 5.0 Ghz turbo boost, this should enable high-quality gaming on the go in ways we haven’t seen before. It’s the fastest gaming processor we’ve ever tested, but for budget minded folks, Alienware will still offer last year’s six-core Core i7-8700 series CPUs as well.

Alienware Area-51m review
Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

On the graphics side, things are equally impressive. Unlike other gaming laptops that come with Max-Q variations of Nvidia’s desktop cards, the Alienware Area-51m is packing the full, unlocked GPUs. In our previous testing of the desktop version of the new Nvidia’s RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti, it was the most powerful consumer-grade graphics card ever. Though we couldn’t benchmark the processors in a game on the Area-51m, our expectations are high.

Alienware makes it easy to upgrade the processor and graphics card.

As if these next-gen components weren’t enough, Dell is also making it so gamers can easily upgrade both the processor and graphics card on the Area-51m. We weren’t able to take our hands on unit apart but were shown that the upgrade process is as simple. The bottom housing even includes a map of all the screws and the cables. There’s a catch, though.

Even though the GPU can be pushed up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, 2070, or 2080, it is not using a standard form factor. Instead, it looks to be something you’ll have to buy directly from Alienware. That is a bit of a shame, but as older MXM architectures aren’t supported anymore, it’s a great way of bringing replaceable GPUs back into the conversation.

Ports and a keyboard for everyone

Alienware included its TactX keyboard on the Area-51m. It sits at a 15 degree angle, and when we tried it out, the keys provided a soft and super comfortable feedback. With a plentiful 2.2 mm of travel, anti-ghosting technology, and per-key RGB lighting, it’s the kind of keyboard we expect from a desktop gaming keyboard. There’s even a number pad on the right side.

The port selection is also impressive. On the rear, are HDMI 2.0 outputs, a mini-Display 1.4 output supporting Nvidia G-Sync, the RJ45 Ethernet port, Alienware Graphics Amplifier port, and Dual DC Power Inputs. As for the right side, there are two SuperSpeed USB A 3.1 ports. On the left, you’ll find Thunderbolt 3, another USB A 3.2 port, the global headset jack, and headphone and mic jack.

With the most important ports going on the rear, cable management should be easier for gamers. It also is nice to see the addition of two DC ports, since it means that the laptop can be used with two chargers, a 180 watt for when in a coffee shop, or a 330 watt for more demanding tasks like gaming. In another first, the Area 51-m is the first laptop to support 2.5GB Ethernet wired-networking.

Availability and Pricing

Alienware wasn’t specific on which model the introduction pricing covers, but the Area-51m will be available in January for prices starting at $2,549. Lower priced configurations will be coming later. That is a high price to pay, but there are various configurations available, with up the Intel Core i7-8700, Core i7-9700K, or Core i9-9900K processor and up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, 2070, or 2080 graphics. There’s even support for up to 64GB RAM, the first Alienware laptop with that much mind-blowing memory.

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