Summary

Our Score

7/10

Review Price free/subscription

Alienware Area-51 m5500 - Alienware Area-51 m5500

External connectivity includes three USB 2.0 ports, a 4-pin Firewire port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a modem socket. There’s also a PC card slot, useful for 3G data cards, and a 4-in-1 memory card reader at the front. D-Sub VGA output and an S-Video TV out is also present.

Alienware includes a set of recovery CDs called AlienRespawn, which is cutely named, though it’s not standard and you can choose to do without if you wish to save 30 quid. Kaspersky Anti-virus is another cost option included with our review sample.
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Performance wise we were keen to see how the two graphics chips compared with each other. The Intel ‘Extreme’ graphics lasted for 128 minutes is the MobileMark 2005 battery life test and only 92 minutes on nVidia, which is a fair difference. It was also longer than the Rock, though that machines faster processor would be more of a drain.

On the DVD playback test, the Intel graphics lasted an extra 52 minutes, though even so at 164 minutes in total you’ll only be getting to the end of the standard editions of the Lord of the Rings movies, not the Extended Special Editions.

In terms of SYSmark scores the Alienware keeps pace with the Rock. However it’s clear from the results that this is because we tested the Rock in SYSmark and PCMark with the slower Intel graphics enabled when we should have done so with the faster nVidia graphics enabled. Had it been apples to apples the Rock’s faster CPU and greater memory would have pulled it ahead.

The 3D scores were tested with the nVidia chip enabled and this provided healthy scores of 6288 in 3DMark 03 and a reasonable 2636 in 3Dmark 05. It’s better than the Rock but a mid-range ATI Mobilty chip would beat both. The X700 in the Acer Ferrari 4000 got 6358 and our early look at ATI’s Mobility X1600 produced 7,206 and 83803 in 3DMark 03 and 05 respectively.
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So the Alienware is a reasonable performer. However, when you compare it to the Rock, it’s clear that it’s not fantastic value for money. The Rock does cost over £100 more but you’re getting a faster CPU, double the memory, a higher resolution screen and a DVD Burner. With the Alienware you get a glowing blue alien head and rubber grips. To really throw salt into the wound, Rock also offers a free Vodafone 3G data card.

The trouble is then that the Alienware doesn’t feel special enough to justify the extra cost. Sure you get a cool designed lid, but it comes in a very generic notebook box and is attached to a generic notebook chassis. You do get some cool custom Alienware skins for Windows that are fun, but I don’t want to spend extra bucks just for that.

Verdict

A decent notebook in and of itself, but for an Alienware it’s just not special enough, unfortunately making it poor value compared to other manufacturers.

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