Alienware Area-51m Review Editor's Choice

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Stunning space station aesthetic; Excellent graphics and overall performance; Lightning fast SSDs; All major components upgradable

The Cons

Exorbitantly expensive

Verdict

The Alienware Area-51 offers unparalleled power in a sleek, redesigned chassis with the option to upgrade both the CPU and GPU.

"High above the ground but I'm under her charisma" - Pink Floyd "Dark Side Of The Moon"

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Alienware came to kick ass and chew bubblegum. You know the rest. Sporting a new look and the first-ever design that enables upgradeable graphics Alienware is ready to take its place as the king of semi-mobile gaming. The Area-51m (starting at $2,549, $5,099 as tested) doesn't look like anything we've ever seen from the brand. It's less Independence Day and more Flight of the Navigator. But there's more to this baby than just a pretty new visage.

Armed with a desktop Intel Core i9 processor and one of Nvidia's superpowered RTX GPUs, it absolutely demolished every test we put in front of it with graceful aplomb. It will also make a big dent in your wallet.But you consider that this is the first future-proof gaming laptop, it seems a small price to pay for a truly upgradable system and what Alienware is calling its first real desktop replacement.

We even added the Area 51-m to ourBest VR-Ready LaptopsandBest Gaming Laptopspage.

Alienware Area 51-m Price and Availability

Having this much fun with a laptop should be illegal. I got to play with one of the more extravagant models of the Area-51m. Priced at $5,099, the system has and overclockable 3.6-GHz Intel Core i9-9900K desktop chip with 64GB of RAM, two 1TB PCIe M.2 SSDs in RAID 0 configuration with a 1TB (+8GB SSHD) Hybrid Drive, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU with 8GB of RAM, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU and a 1920 x 1080 144Hz display.

The $2,549 base model has a more reasonable price and specs. You get a 3.6-GHz Intel Core i7-8700 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB (+8GB SSHD) Hybrid Drive, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 GPU with 8GB of RAM, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU and a 1920 x 1080 60Hz display.

Design

"I'll be waiting for you, On the dark side of the moon"

This is something that's been two years in the making. At long last, we bid a fond farewell to Alienware's familiar Epic design language and give a warm welcome to Legend. It's a bittersweet end to what became a familiar friend, but when you take stock of what Alienware's come up with, I think you'll find this beginning way more sweet.

For starters, all the pointy edges and sharp bisecting angles have vanished in favor of rounded corners and silky smooth finishes. And instead of anodized aluminum, the majority of the Area-51m's chassis is constructed from magnesium alloy in a color dubbed Dark Side of the Moon. The soft touch finish invites you to touch while rebuffing even the oiliest of fingerprints. It's all very V, but without the subversive alien occupation by lizard people disguised as humans.

These are by far the slimmest I've seen on any Alienware. It really puts the focus on the lovely display.

And while this presentation is mild by Alienware standards, this is still Alienware as signified by the glowing turquoise alien head near the top of the lid. In the bottom left corner, you'll find rather large embossed lettering spelling out A51. There's more customizable LED lighting outlining the rear vents, showing off a fun little honeycomb pattern.

If you've ever seen an Alienware laptop, the interior will be familiar to you. The palm rest and keyboard deck are coated in more of that smoky black soft touch. The touchpad and keyboard, complete with macro keys and a num pad glow expectantly. Another alien head sits at the top of the deck and pulls double duty as the power button. The 17-inch display is surrounded in glossy bezels -- all the better to show off the silver Alienware lettering at the bottom and the Tobii eye tracker module just below. And speaking of bezels, these are by far the slimmest I've seen on any Alienware. It really puts the focus on the lovely display.

Although Dark Side of the Moon is a beautiful color, I'm really over the moon (pun totally intended) for the white pearlescent Lunar Light. It has this serious "I come in peace" vibe that I really dig. Plus, it just makes the RGB backlighting pop even more. For those of you that are wishing the system had a bit more lighting since this is Area-51m's first showing, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we won't get some lighting accents along the sides in the future. Stay tuned.

Despite its rather beefy components, the Area-51m is on the lighter side of the desktop replacement spectrum at 8.5 pounds, 16.1 x 15.9 x 1.2~1.7 inches. That's lighter than Origin PC Eon 17-X (8.6 pounds, 16.4 x 11.6 x 1.6 inches) and the massive MSI GT75 Titan (10-pound, 16.9 x 12.4 x 1.2~2.3 inches). Still, the Aorus X9 is the thinnest and lightest of the bunch at 8.1 pounds, 16.9 x 12.4 x 1.2 inches.

The Area-51m needs quite a bit of power to feed its powerful specs which is why there are not one, but two DC jacks in the back.

Ports

Bring on the mice, external displays and hard drives! The Area-51m can handle all the peripherals you've got and then some. Along the system's right, you'll find a pair of USB 3.1 ports.

Another sits on the left with a Thunderbolt 3 port, and jacks for the headphone and microphone.

The two DC jacks can be found between the rear vents with an HDMI 2.0 port, a mini DisplayPort and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.

And on the off chance the Area-51m isn't powerful enough for you, you can connect the company's Graphic Amplifier.

Display

Come for the backlighting, stay for the display. As usual, Alienware graced gamers with a lovely 1920 x 1080 panel that delivers big color and crisp detail. The trailer for Little on the 17.3-inch panel was a font of color. My favorite bit of eye candy (outside of Luke James' chocolatey self trying his hand at exotic dancing) was the painting of Regina Hall. The emerald, magenta and gold were gorgeous, but the electric blue was the true star of the image. Details were so clear I could see the pleats and most of the pattern in Issa Rae's houndstooth pant.

War has never looked so good. From the bronze, sun-scorched deserts to pristine white snow dunes illuminated by the ethereal emerald glow of the aurora borealis, Battlefield V was devastatingly beautiful. I got a taste of the level of detail through the scope of my sniper rifle. I watched an enemy soldier lurch forward as his head exploded in a bright red spray of agony, the consequence of an accurate headshot.

The Area-51m's panel also has Nvidia's G-Sync technology with a 144-Hertz refresh rate that produced buttery-smooth images while gaming.

From the bronze, sun-scorched deserts to the pristine white snow dunes illuminated by the ethereal emerald glow of the aurora borealis, Battlefield V looked devastatingly beautiful.

During our testing, we learned the Area-51m's panel can reproduce 117.5 percent of the sRGB gamut. It's better than our 100-percent threshold but is short of the 138-percent average. The X9 and Titan were much more colorful at 122 and 178 percent. The Eon 17-X had the worst result at 104 percent.

MORE: Laptops with the Most Colorful Screens

Measuring for brightness, the Area-51m averaged 284 nits, which is brighter than the 278-nit average. It was also better than the Titan (271 nits), Eon 17-X (252 nits) and X9 (243 nits).

Audio

"Her sound is in surround when I'm in her solar system"

All hail front-firing speakers! Hidden behind a pair of black glossy vents, the Area-51m's hiding a powerful pair of speakers. Kevin Ross' almost acapella rendition of "Prototype" flowed through my speakers with bright highs and dynamic mids. The singer's tenor was lush with plenty of room for the harmonies and the snares to shine through.

When I switched to J. Cole's "Middle Child," the trumpets sounded somewhat distorted at max volume. The rapper's sing-songy delivery was clean while the hi hats and snares attacked the track. The lows were a bit boomy, but I appreciated that I could hear them at all.

A few people tried talking to me while I was playing Battlefield V. It didn't end well. Our lab festooned with the sound of cannon fire, with the steady staccato of gunfire. When I wasn't fighting and running for the nearest cover, the voice of a gravelly-voiced narrator cut through the mayhem, carried along by forlorn strings which slowly translated into a cadre of hopeful-sounding flutes.

Alienware has bundled its audio software into its Command Center software hub, making it a one-stop shop for all your gaming and (now) audio needs. The app comes with eight presets (Com, Movie, Music, Strategy, Racing, Shooter, Role Play and Alienware). While you should definitely try out every preset, I found myself using Music and Alienware the most. Music produced the best all-around audio performance.

MORE: Best Gaming Headsets

But if you want a more immersive audio experience, use the Alienware setting. The preset created a surround sound effect that added depth to whatever I was listening to. However, some of the more delicate track elements could get lost in the shuffle. The company has also added a feature called Sound Recall, which adds an overlay that will give you a visual cue when enemies try to creep up on you in game. It really comes in handy for first-person shooters like Battlefield V and Call of Duty: Black OPS 4.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Good news, Alienware kept its traditional keyboard. When it comes to gaming laptops, Alienware has consistently been at the top of our list for keyboards, thanks totheir firm feedback and sheer comfort via its TactX keyboard. The company even managed to fit both a full number pad and its column of macro keys without shrinking any important keys.

The Area-51m lives up to that pedigree boasting a key travel of 2.2 millimeters, which is well above our 1.5mm minimum. The actuation was also above average at 71 grams (60g is our minimum).

I scored slightly above my average 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test with 73 wpm.

The 3.9 x 2.2-inches touchpad responded to my gesture inputs almost as quickly as I performed them and scrolling through documents and webpages was nice and smooth.

Meet Nvidia RTX

Finally, mobile gamers can get a taste of what desktop gamers have been enjoying since last year. Nvidia's new RTX chips are here and they're in our laptops. Dubbed Turing by Nvidia, the company says these are its fastest ever, thanks in part to structural efficiencies and advanced shaders. Powerful performance and smoother, faster gameplay are some of the most obvious benefits. Software like Optimus and Battery Boost have gotten a boost, making for more power efficient systems. There's even a WhisperMode to keep even the most monstrous gaming laptop purring like a kitten.

But hands down, RTX's most important (and exciting) features are Ray Tracing and DLSS (Deep Learning Super-Sampling). In layman's terms, Ray Tracing tracks in-game light from the game's virtual camera back to the original in-game lighting source. The technology mimics how a real light would interact with in-game objects creating more photorealistic effects. The best example of this would be in-game reflections. In many popular games, reflections either look weird or don't show up at all, something I'm calling the Nosferatu effect.

Although normal looking reflections seems small in the grand scheme of things, it's a serious step forward when it comes to rendering graphics. But Ray Tracing is more than reflections; the ability to recreate how light behaves in the real world means more realistic animations, which means better looking games. Currently, there are 11 games on tap that will work with Nvidia's Ray Tracing tech including Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Metro: Exodus, Control and Battlefield V to name a few.

MORE: Nvidia's Scary AI Generates Humans That Look 100% Real

But Ray Tracing wouldn't be possible without DLSS technology. It's Nvidia's proprietary artificial intelligence -- that the company's calling the first AI for games. The technology is trained to play games at super high resolutions, capturing a large number of scenes. When it's time for the consumers to play the finished product, DLSS takes what it learned from those hours of training sessions and renders those super high-res scenes at a much lower rate, constructing high quality graphics from elements of many different scenes. The shortcut translates into improvements on the graphics and performance front.

DLSS technology will debut in 20 titles including Anthem, PUBG, Darksiders 3, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Hitman 2.

Gaming, Graphics and VR

The numbers are in for the Area-51m's RTX 2080 graphics, and this rig is at the head of the class. I crept up to an enemy base in Battlefield V (1920 x 1080, Ultra settings). But it wasn't long before my cover was blown and I was tossing a grenade at a group of explosive barrels, which went up in a cloud of red, yellow and orange flame at 122 frames per second.

The laptop continued its commanding performance on our synthetic benchmarks, achieving 92 fps on Rise of the Tomb Raider, toppling the 63-fps premium gaming laptop average. Even the MSI Titan with its own RTX 2080 was no match at 76 fps. Equipped with GTX 1080 GPUs, the Aorus X9 and Origin PCEon 17-X notched 73 and 69 respectively.

When we ran the Hitman test, the Area-51m maintained its lead with 143 fps. It edged out the Titan (140 fps) while blowing past the Eon 17-X and X9, which tied the 96-fps average.

The Area-51m achieved 105 fps on the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, surpassing the 75-fps category average. The Titan remained in second place with 91 fps, while the X9 (86 fps) and Eon 17-X (55 fps) settled into third and fourth.

On the Middle-Earth: Shadow of War test, the Area-51m produced 132 fps, topping the Titan (112 fps), X9 (99 fps) and the category average (86 fps).

As far as virtual reality, feel free to whip out those Oculus Rifts and HTC Vives. The Area-51m cruised through the SteamVR performance test, maxing it out at 11.

I was surprised to learn that the Area-51m comes with an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU. When you're not gaming or doing some other GPU-intensive task, Nvidia's Optimus technology kicks in and switches to this lesser graphics chip.

Performance

Damn, Alienware wasn't kidding when they said they were making a true desktop replacement. Rocking a 3.6-GHz Intel Core i9-9900K desktop chip with 64GB of RAM, the Area-51m is ready to do it all. Crunch numbers, encode video and steam some games -- you name it, it can do it. Thanks to the inclusion of Intel Z390 chipset, this is the first Alienware to support 8 cores. This might be the most powerful laptop I've ever reviewed.

To put the system to the test, I opened up 40 tabs in Google Chrome -- some running Twitch streams, YouTube videos, Tweetdeck while I watched Fyre: The Greatest Festival that Never Was on Netflix. There wasn't a hint of latency until I launched Battlefield V and even then it was pretty minimal. And if you need more power (I can't imagine why though), the CPU is indeed overclockable.

The processor continued chewing its way through our synthetic benchmarks, achieving 29,989 on Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance. The X9 with its i9-8950HK CPU obtained 25,915. But the Area-51m left the Titan (i9-8950HK, 22,765) Eon 17-X (i7-8700K, 21,273) and the premium laptop category average (21,118) in the dust.

MORE: Xbox One Games: Our Staff Favorites

On our file copy test, the Area-51m's pair of 1TB PCIe M.2 SSDs in RAID 0 configuration took only 4 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia files. That translates into a blistering transfer rate of 1,272.3 megabytes per second. It's more than double the 590.6 category average. The Titan's 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD was a distant second at 848.2 MBps. The Eon 17-X (512GB NVMe PCIe SSD) and X9 (1TB m.2 PCIe SSD) reached 566 and 424 MBps, respectively.

The Area-51m continued to amaze on the Handbreak test, taking a mere 6 minutes to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. It absolutely dusted the 9:44 average as well as the 8:15 and 8:00 from the X9 and Titan.

Upgradability

Alienware has taken one of the best things about a desktop and brought it to the laptop in grand fashion -- upgradability. It's not the first to let you get at a gaming laptop's interior, particularly the RAM and storage. But it's the first in a long while that will let you swap out the CPU and GPU.

Alienware has taken one of the best things about a desktop and brought it to the laptop in grand fashion -- upgradability.

And while most DIYers will have the ability to switch out the cards on their own. But for those who aren't so comfortable playing around in the guts of their system, Alienware is working on a solution to send a technician to your house to do the work for you. Stay tuned for more information.

Battery Life

Even with an integrated graphics chip to fall back on, the Area-51m still has a power hungry desktop CPU to contend with. Unplug this baby at your own risk. The system only lasted 2 hours and 36 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness.

It's shorter than the 3:15 premium gaming laptop average, but longer than the Eon 17-X (1:59) as well as the X9 and Titan which both tapped out after 2:20.

Heat

For such a large laptop, the Area-51m stayed pretty cool all things considered. That's due to the company's Alienware Cryo-Tech v2.0 system that uses a mix of fans, clever design and components to keep the laptop from overheating.

Towards the bottom of the laptop is a large cluster of honeycombs hiding several fire-resistant, liquid-crystal polymer high voltage fans. The fans bring in air through the bottom and expel the resulting hot air along the sides and the back of the notebook, away from where your hands usually reside. In addition to the fans, the Area-51m has a whopping 8 heat pipes and several copper fin stacks to assist with heat dissipation.

So I wasn't too surprised at the relatively cool temps after spending 15 minutes punching through the enemy line in Battlefield V. The touchpad measured 84 degrees Fahrenheit while the center and undercarriage rose to 102 and 106 degrees, respectively. It's several degrees above our 95-degree comfort threshold, but compared to other laptops in this weight class, it's downright chilly. And despite playing a fairly-taxing game, I could barely hear the fans.

After a brief cooldown period, we reran our heat test, only this time with a 15-minute HD video. This time when we measured the touchpad, middle and bottom hit temperatures of 84, 86 and 84 degrees.

Webcam

The Area-51m's integrated webcam takes decent shots and I'd use it for streaming if I couldn't find my external shooter. The 720p cam accurately captured the color of my light blue shirt and purple hair.

Although there was some graininess, detail was sharp enough to see the individual locs in my braids.

Alienware Command Center

The refreshed Alienware Command Center continues to impress. The aggregate hub has gotten a new look that's clean and easy to use. This is still where you come to trick out the lighted portions of the laptop as well as create macros. This is now also the place where you'll launch your games, check system diagnostics, create power profiles, control fan speeds and even overclock the CPU and GPU.

Tobii Eye Tracking

Tobii has teamed with Alienware once again to bring its innovative eye tracking technology to gamers. The 5th generation of the eye tracker is smaller than its predecessor, blending in nicely below the Alienware logo on the bottom bezel. Tobii setup is the same as before; you do some quick exercises so the tracker can properly calibrate your eye position and you're good to go. The tracker is represented by a translucent blob, but you can disable it if that's too distracting.

You can still control the in-game camera in titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Hitman, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and Project Cars. And thanks to the stream overlay, fans of your livestream can follow your line of sight. And if you're tired of biting it in the same spot, the Game Analyzer feature records your gameplay and keeps track of where you look with helpful game statistics. Tobii is currently compatible with over 100 titles with more on the way. The Game Analyzer can be used with four games: Dota 2, CS:GO, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and League of Legends.

But Tobii is also useful during non-gaming activities. For instance, I set the laptop to dim when I looked away and unlock the system with a glance. Some features like scroll with gaze and touch at gaze, which allow you to move the cursor by keeping a finger on the touchpad and looking where you want the mouse to go, were a little erratic, but overall, the technology works very well.

Software and Warranty

Although Alienware Command Center is a one-stop shop of gamer-centric utilities, the company also preinstalled a few apps focused on keeping the system as a whole running smoothly. There's Alienware Digital Delivery to ensure your software is up to date. While Mobile Connect lets you shuttle files between your phone and laptop as well as access apps like Lyft from your desktops.

The laptop also features Nvidia GeForce Experience with its gamer-centric software suite, including BatteryBoost, Whisper Mode, In-Game Overlay and Game Optimization. There's also Killer Control Center, which lets you prioritize network bandwidth as well as test its speed and strength.

The Alienware Area-51m ships with a one-year warranty. See how Dell/Alienware fared in our Tech Support Showdown, Best and Worst Brands and Best and Worst Gaming Brands special reports.

Bottom Line

It's a brand new day for Alienware. One that separates the brand into two specific tracks. With its high cost of entry, the Area-51m is decidedly in the realm of enthusiasts. It's the company's first laptop to wield an eight-core processor and one of the first equipped with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU -- its power is undeniable. It's Alienware's first true desktop replacement and the most powerful and upgradeable laptop I've reviewed to date.

But $5,099, is a lot to ask. Hell, even the $2,549 base model is a bit pricey. If you can live without the latest and greatest specs, I'd suggest checking out the Aorus X9. For $3,899, you get a sleek, lightweight system with good graphics and overall performance. But if you've got the cash squirreled away, consider the Alienware Area-51 as the ultimate gaming rig that will thrill you for years to come.

Credit: Laptop Mag


Author Bio
Sherri L. Smith
Sherri L. Smith,
Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.
Sherri L. Smith, on
CPU 3.6-GHz Intel Core i9-9900K processor
Operating System Windows 10 Pro
RAM 64GB
RAM Upgradable to
Hard Drive Size Dual 1TB
Hard Drive Speed n/a
Hard Drive Type NVMe PCIe SSD
Secondary Hard Drive Size 1TB
Secondary Hard Drive Speed 7200
Secondary Hard Drive Type SSHD
Display Size 17.3
Highest Available Resolution 3840 x 2160
Native Resolution 1920x1080
Optical Drive None
Optical Drive Speed n/a
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU/Intel UHD Graphics 630
Video Memory 8GB
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Wi-Fi Model Killer Wireless 1550 2x2 AC
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.1
Ports (excluding USB) Mini DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) Thunderbolt 3
Ports (excluding USB) Noble Lock
Ports (excluding USB) Alienware Graphics Amplifier
Ports (excluding USB) Gigabit Ethernet
USB Ports 4
Warranty/Support
Size 16.1 x 15.9 x 1.1~1.7 inches
Weight 8.5 pounds
Company Website www.dell.com