Alienware Area-51m Is the World’s First Laptop with Upgradeable Graphics

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The next evolution of Alienware is here, and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen from the brand. Sporting a jaw-dropping new design, a powerful 9th Gen Intel processor, Nvidia’s RTX graphics and up to 64GB of RAM, the Alienware Area-51m is being billed as Dell’s first true desktop replacement. The most exciting part is that you can upgrade the CPU, RAM and even the GPU -- a first for gaming laptops.

Starting at around $1,949, the impressive powerhouse will be available starting January 21. I had an opportunity to get some hands-on time with the Area-51m, and I’m giddy to get it in the lab.

Design: A whole new look

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It’s like a Formula 1 car had an illicit tryst with Max from Flight of the Navigator. It’s imposing, yet elegant –– hulking, yet sleek –– and most importantly a purposeful break from the Epic design of the last five years.

Over two years of work has yielded what Alienware is calling its Legend design language. Gone are the point angles of the previous system, replaced by soft, rounded corners. It’s a look that seems more sculpted than forged. Instead of LED lighting at every nook and cranny, the Area-51m is more demure, lighting only the Alien’s head on the lid, the rear vent and the keyboard.

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Instead of anodized aluminum, the Area-51m is constructed from magnesium alloy, which keeps  the 16.1 x 15.8 x 1.7-inch system’s weight down to a rather trim 8.5 pounds. It’s notably lighter than the 9.7-pound, 16.7 x 13.1 x 1.2-inch Alienware 17 R5 and the 10.1-pound, 16.9 x 12.4 x 1.2~2.3-inch MSI GT75 Titan. However, the Aorus X9 (8.1 pounds, 16.9 x 12.4 x 1.2 inches) and OriginPC Eon17-X (8.6 pounds, 16.4 x 11.6 x 1.6 inches) are both a tad lighter.

Outside of the totally different shape, the Area-51m is a laptop of another color –– specifically Lunar Light. Taking inspiration from the moon, the laptop is painted an ethereal white that plays up the futuristic A51 logo in the bottom-left corner of the lid. The laptop is also available in black, in a shade dubbed Dark Side of the Moon. On both version of the notebook, the rear vent is jet black with a honeycomb pattern on either side to dispel the hot air.

Opening the laptop reveals more of that interstellar white. It seems to make the RGB backlighting from Alienware’s traditional keyboard gleam brighter than usual.

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Specs: Totally Upgradeable

When it ships, the Area-51m will offer a bounty of choices. You can get up to a 9th Gen Intel Core i9-9900HK processor with a max of 64GB of RAM for starters. And where past Alienwares stopped at dual storage configuration, the Area-51m ups the ante to triple storage with up to a pair of 1TB PCIe M.2 SSD in RAID 0 configuration with a 1TB (with 8GB SSHD) Hybrid Drive. There’s even an option to get some Intel Optane storage in the mix. For graphics, you can get up to a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU with 8GB of VRAM.

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Thanks to Intel’s Z390 desktop chipset, this will be the first Alienware laptop able to support 8-core processors, making it one of the most powerful gaming laptops available when it launches. And that’s before you start tinkering with the overclocking software.

And to help futureproof the system, Alienware has made the CPU, GPU and RAM upgradable. That means you can swap out parts as you see fit –– well at least you can with the CPU and RAM. The GPU will be a bit trickier, so Dell will be offering a service to swap the graphics card out when you’re ready. But there’s no word on when this program will debut or how much it will cost.)

Display and Eye-Tracking: No more bulky bezels

Well wouldja look at that? At long last, Alienware has joined the slim-bezel brigade. The top and side bezels are much smaller than its predecessor, giving gamers more real estate to enjoy their games and video. 4K fans will have to wait, as the Area-51m is only available with 1920 x 1080p panels for right now.

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The main difference between the screens is the refresh rate. The base models will have a 60-Hertz rate while the top-tier display will go up to 144Hz. Just like most Alienware laptops, the display served up vivid hues, crisp details and captivating brightness. However, we’ll have to get it into the lab for some definitive results.

And speaking of eye-catching, Tobii’s 5th gen eye-tracking sensors have been integrated just below the bottom bezel in a glossy black oval. It’s noticeably smaller and more aesthetically pleasing than the blocky setup in the Alienware 17 R5. And I’m eager to see what new goodies, if any, Tobii has in store for gamers. As it stands, you can use the technology to control the camera in games, login and wake the system from sleep.

Keyboard

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Change is the only constant. Unless we’re talking about Alienware’s TactX keyboard. Then comfy, springy feedback is a welcome mainstay. According to Alienware, the traditional keyboard has an impressive 2.2-millimeters of key travel. During my brief time with the laptop, the keys felt really good, like jumping up and down on a firm mattress. And thanks to the white finish, Alienware’s RGB lighting has never looked better.

And in case you were wondering, the Area-51m will use the latest version of the Alienware Command Center. In addition to creating a plethora of lighting profiles using the 16.8 million colors available, you can create power and thermal profiles and overclock the CPU and GPU. Similar to Nvidia GeForce Experience, Command Center aggregates all the games on the laptop to one place, for quick, easy launches.

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Bottom Line

Alienware’s looking to kick ass and melt faces and with all the power the Area-51m is packing, the company is well on its way to accomplishing its goal. The Area-51m is a love letter to the people who made Alienware into the powerhouse it is today, the hardcore, DIY enthusiasts. The new design is unlike anything on the market and with all the innate power it’s a force to be reckoned with. The overclocking and upgradability is just icing on an already incredibly stacked cake.