The Alienware name is almost legendary in PC gaming circles. Along with Voodoo, Alienware has tried to make gaming PCs look as good as they perform and has built up a following from users that want to take something special out of their rucksack when they hit the latest LAN party. But this time around Alienware had its work cut out, because making this particular chassis look cool, is far from easy.
The Area-51m 7700 is built into the same Clevo chassis that I've seen previously in the shape of the MV Ixius and the Rock Xtreme Ti. Now, to be fair to Alienware, it's understandable why this chassis is being used, since it's the only one currently available that can handle the latest, high-end graphics chipsets, but I for one am looking forward to some new designs for high-power gaming notebooks.
Of course Alienware has done its best to make the Area-51m 7700 stand out from its similarly specced competitors, with the lid sporting the usual alien head, rubber ribbing and embossed logo. In fact, it has to be said that when you're looking at the machine from the rear, the glowing blue alien eyes do look cool, in the same way that the glowing apple does on iBooks and PowerBooks.
So, the Area-51m 7700 doesn't represent the freshest design in notebook technology, but sometimes beauty can be more than skin deep. Peeling back the epidermis of the 7700, you'll find the kind of spec that a modern desktop gaming PC wouldn't be ashamed of. Central processing duties are handled by a 3.6GHz Intel Pentium 4, while 1GB of 533MHz DDRII memory is also thrown in for good measure - so far pretty much the same spec as the Rock Xtreme Ti. There's also a pair of matched 60GB 7,200rpm hard disks striped in a RAID 0 array for maximum performance.
Where the specifications of the Alienware and the Rock machines do get very different is in the graphics card department. Whereas the Rock Xtreme Ti was the first production notebook that I'd seen using the ATI Mobility Radeon X800 chipset, the Alienware Area-51m 7700 employs the nVidia GeForce GO 6800 chipset. There's 256MB of memory to keep the GO 6800 flying along, just like with the Mobility Radeon X800. However, it does appear that the ATI solution produces slightly faster results.
I only ran 3D benchmarks on the Area-51m 7700, because that's really what the target market is interested in. Looking at Half-Life 2 first, it's clear to see that the Rock is well ahead, but that's no surprise, given that ATI hardware always performs better in this game. The gap closes considerably when it comes to Doom3, but the Rock still manages edge ahead in all but one of the tests. OpenGL performance is an area where nVidia has traditionally outperformed ATI, so this is an idication that the Mobility Radeon X800 is definitely the faster mobile chipset. This is compounded by the Far Cry scores which show the Rock soaring ahead, with a score almost double that of the Alienware.The numbers produced by 3DMark03 and 05 don't change too much either, with the Rock managing to beat the Alienware convincingly accross the board.
However, there's one very good reason why you shouldn't read a great deal into these benchmark scores, and that's the fact that Alienware offers a choice of graphics solutions for the Area-51m 7700. So, if you would rather have your machine built with an ATI Mobility Radeon X800 card instead of an nVidia GO 6800, you can, and it won't cost you a single penny extra. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that if this Alienware system had been configured with an ATI solution, the scores would have been pretty close to the Rock Xtreme Ti, since the rest of the specification is more or less identical.