Alienware Area-51m first look: The very first fully upgradeable gaming laptop

The Alienware Area-51m heralds a new era as the very first fully upgradeable gaming laptop

Early Verdict

The Alienware Area-51m's capability of upgrading components is a huge game-changer, and for the first time ever, we now have a laptop that’s a full-fat gaming rig in portable form.

Key Features

  • Up to 9th-Gen Intel Core i9-9900K
  • Up to NVIDIA RTX 2080
  • Up to 64GB RAM
  • 17.3in, 1920x1,080, up to 144Hz
  • 31 x 410 x 402.6mm
  • Weight: 4.4kg

What is the Alienware Area-51m?

Dell might have just changed the outlook of gaming laptops forever with the Alienware Area-51m. The very first fully upgradeable gaming laptop, not only will you be able to swap in a new CPU, you’ll be able to throw in a new graphics card.

Gaming desktop purists have long pointed out the limited lifespan of a gaming laptop due to an inability to swap out the graphics card once a more powerful model hits the market. The Area-51m, the very first laptop of Alienware’s revolutionary Legend range, bids goodbye to this flaw in spectacular fashion, allowing gamers to ensure their hardware never goes out of date.

That said, you’re likely to be waiting a while before the ultra-beefy components in the Alienware Area-51m become obsolete. With the options of an RTX 2080 graphics card and a 8-Core 9th Generation Intel Core i9 processor, Dell really isn’t using hyperbole when boasting that the Alienware Area-51m is the most powerful gaming laptop on the market.

During CES 2019, I was able to get my hands on this powerhouse portable and see whether the Alienware Area-51m truly will prove to be a monumental game changer for portable machines.

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Alienware Area-51m – Release date

There isn’t yet a confirmed release date for the Alienware Area-51m in the UK, but it will launch in the US on 21 January 2019.

Alienware Area-51m – Price

There are no confirmed pricing details for the Alienware Area-51m in the UK just yet, but prices in the US will start at $2549.

Alienware Area-51m – Design

The Alienware Area-51m may be portable on a technical level, but personally, I wouldn’t want to get in a brawl with any man happy to haul this thing to the office and back. It weighs a staggering 4.4kg. Having picked it up myself, I reckon it would make a great substitute for my dumbbells.

But while it’s a big ol’ thing, the Alienware Area-51m isn’t as chunky as you’d expect. Its super-skinny bezel and sleek chassis help to ensure this laptop is unlikely to dominate your whole desk space. Sure, it’s still too large to fit in a typical rucksack, but this isn’t the point of the Area-51m – it’s a stay-at-home rig that will only occasionally leave the comfort of your home.

Alienware Area-51m

Unlike most super-powerful gaming laptops, the Area-51m is actually a rather attractive device. The “Lunar Light” and “Dark Side of the Moon” colour options may sound ridiculous, but they look gorgeous and compliment the sci-fi aesthetic for which Alienware is aiming.

The RGB backlit keyboard also helps in this regard, and while the light-up touchpad may be a tad overbearing for some gamers, I think it looks slick. Plus, I’m almost certain you’ll be able to turn this feature off if desired.

Dell has upgraded the Alienware TactX keyboard too. Now featuring 2.2mm of travel, I absolutely loved hammering away at the keys at the product display. Sure, I only spent a few minutes doing this, but my initial impressions are that this is one of favourite keyboards I’ve used on a gaming laptop in a good while. Of course, my opinion may well change when I get to put the keys to action for an extended period of time.

Alienware Area-51m

The one area where the Area-51m does look a little ugly? The rear. The result of having to accommodate numerous fans and ports is a bulky posterior, which looks as if someone’s glued a soundbar to the device’s back. The honeycomb-shaped vents and oval LED light found on its rear do add a helping of edgy sci-fi personality though. 

On the positive side, such a design feature has helped the Area-51m accommodate cutting-edge thermal and cooling technology. Dell claims this results in a 50% boost in performance and 32% less volume than the previous iteration. I haven’t been able to put this to the test though, since I wasn’t able to boot up any games at the product showcase.

From Thunderbolt 3 to Ethernet, the Alienware Area-51 includes every port you’d need for your gaming marathons.

Related: Best Laptops 2019

Alienware Area-51m – Display

This beefcake laptop features a 17-inch 144Hz Nvidia G-Sync display to ensure a super-smooth performance, essential for competitive shooters. The G-Sync technology will help to prevent screen-tearing, too, by syncing up the monitor’s refresh rate and the graphics card’s frame rate.

Alienware Area-51m

However, a sore point is that Dell didn’t an announce a 4K option. Only a HD display has been revealed so far, which comes as a surprise since this laptop certainly has the grunt to play games in Ultra HD.

Ignoring the specs, how does the Area-51m display look in person? It’s a beaut. I was able to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on the thing and I’ve rarely seen this title looking so fantastic in Full HD. And even when when the on-screen action became hectic with enemy soldiers chasing me on horse, the visuals remained silky smooth and an absolute pleasure to behold. 

Since the Alienware Area-51m was on display at a showcase, I was unable to undertake a colorimeter test or test the display with other video game titles, but from I’ve seen so far, I’m expecting results to show that this is a top class screen.

Alienware Area-51m – Specifications

The Alienware Area-51m is a hulking beast when it comes to the spec sheet. With the option of a Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics card, an 8-Core 9th Generation Intel Core i9 processor and 64GB of DDR4 RAM, this machine boasts the very best components currently available.

By packing in so much power, the Area-51m should blast through any game with high frames. Plus, thanks to the RTX graphics card, it will be capable of ray tracing. I can’t offer any exact performance figures since I couldn’t fire up any games at the product showcase. However, on sight of the spec sheet I’d be very surprised if didn’t post jaw-dropping benchmark scores.

Alienware Area-51m

Clearly the headline feature of this laptop is that you can chop and change the components whenever you wish, never having to worry that your laptop will become out of date once a beefier graphics card is launched. This is the very first gaming laptop to be fully upgradeable, and could well spell a significant turning point for the industry.

The Alienware Area-51m has been designed to offer “full overclocking capabilities”, too, so you can crank up the performance even further if you’re completely power mad. With the very latest Alienware Command Center, customising your laptop should be a cinch too.

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Alienware Area-51m – Eye tracking

The modular capability of the Alienware Area-51m justifiably takes the spotlight here, but this gaming laptop has another innovative feature that should certainly not be ignored: eye tracking.

That’s right, this laptop is capable of tracking the movement of your pupil, using the same technology behind the Vive Pro Eye. Because this isn’t a pin-point method of control, it’s certainly not going to replace your mouse any time soon, but it’s still an interesting feature that could be implemented in exciting ways in the future.

Alienware Area-51m

During a demo of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I was able to tilt the camera using my gaze. This could be useful for quickly focusing on an point of interest in your peripheral vision. Interactive objects will also be highlighted if you focus on them. For example, when looking at a rope hanging from the tree, a bright white outline quickly alerted me to the fact that I could use it to climb up.

Admittedly, the accuracy of the eye tracking doesn’t seem great. Plus it can be bloody annoying when you look at the corner of the screen, and the camera automatically pans without you wanting it to. Since I was trying this out in a busy hall in CES 2019, performance may well be affected by the poor testing conditions. Plus it may just be the case of getting used to a new technology that feels intrusive to a traditional method of play.

Tobii’s eye tracking tech is currently only compatible with select games. These include Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Far Cry 5, Hitman and Warhammer: Vermintide 2. That’s an impressive list, though, which is only going to get longer in the coming months.

I’m not convinced by eye tracking just yet, but it’s still an exciting feature to have built into the Alienware Area-51m. It really does help it feel like a laptop straight out of Star Trek.

Related: Vive Pro Eye first look

First impressions

The Alienware Area-51m’s design and impressive spec sheet suggest this device will represent a major milestone for gaming laptops for years to come. The capability of upgrading components is a huge game-changer, and for the first time ever, we now have a laptop that’s a full-fat gaming rig in portable form.