Alienware Area 51m Review

Ever wanted a gaming laptop you can upgrade? Enter the Alienware Area-51m. We took this sci-fi wonder apart before putting it back together again and blasting through some triple-A games.

Sections

Verdict

The Alienware Area 51m is the most powerful and stylish gaming laptop available, and the fact you can swap in new components gives it potentially incredible long-term value. If you’re happy to pay a premium price and don’t care that its monstrous weight cancels out its portable credentials then the Area 51m is a top class pick

Pros

  • The most powerful gaming laptop available
  • Can be upgraded
  • Stylish and premium design
  • Excellent keyboard

Cons

  • Incredibly expensive
  • Extremely large and heavy
  • Underwhelming display

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £3799
  • 17.3-inch Full HD, 144Hz display
  • Up to Intel Core i9-9900K
  • Up to Nvidia RTX 2080 GPU
  • Up to 64GB DDR4 RAM
  • Up to 2TB RAID0
  • Dimensions: 42 x 403 x 319 mm
  • Weight: 3.87kg

What is the Alienware Area 51m?

The Alienware Area 51m is a gargantuan new high-end gaming laptop from Dell, which looks so futuristic and boasts such a lightspeed performance you’d swear it belongs in a science-fiction novel.

Weighing up to 3.87kg, the Alienware Area 51m is considered more of a desktop replacement than an on-the-go laptop. With top-of-the-line specs, this is one of the most powerful portables on the market, going head-to-head with the Acer Predator Helios 700 colossus.

There’s always been a sticking point for desktop replacements compared to bona fide desktop computers, though, and that’s upgradability. If you want the newest processor or graphics card beyond checkout you’ll have to shell out on an entirely new laptop. That’s not the case with the Alienware Area 51m, with Dell’s revolutionary laptop allowing you to swap the SSD, RAM, CPU or even GPU whenever you fancy.

The upgrade capability isn’t the only futuristic feature here, with the Alienware Area 51m also kitted out with Tobii eye-tracking technology, ray tracing credentials and support for the Alienware Graphics Amplifier so you can add next-gen AMD or Nvidia graphics cards to the party. With such luxury features glossing up a seriously powerful package, this is easily one of the greatest gaming laptops ever created – but it’s also got a planet-sized price.

Related: Best gaming laptops 2019

Alienware Area 51m’s design rocks science-fiction style

The Alienware Area 51m laptop looks absolutely gorgeous – especially compared to similar-sized devices. The metal chassis looks classy, while both the Lunar Light and the Dark Side of the Moon colour options (on display here) contribute to the sci-fi styling Alienware is evidently aiming for.

Weighing in at 3.87kg, there’s no question this is a hefty laptop, but it’s remarkably lighter than rival machines such as the Acer Predator Helios 700, which hits the scales at 4.9kg. The Alienware laptop is still too big to realistically accompany you on a commute. I had to dedicate a whole rucksack to get it back to my flat, with no spare space for the power cables. The Alienware Area 51m is designed to be a stay-at-home desktop replacement.

Alienware Area 51m

The Alienware Area 51m has a large rear, which expels heat and flaunts lots of ports

Large laptops often have a chunky bezel encasing the screen and can easily look tacky and old-school. The Area 51m doesn’t suffer such issues, with a thin and glossy bezel looking as sophisticated as they come.

The power button, which resembles the Alienware logo, can be found on the main chassis just above the keyboard. The alien head features RBG lighting, pulsing between blue and orange while the laptop is charging, and remaining a steady blue once the battery is fully juiced.

The RGB lighting can be customised via the Alienware Command Center, while you can also personalise the colours and effects for the keyboard, lid logo and the light bar encircling the rear vent.

Speaking of the rear, the Alienware Area 51m has an unconventional large booty and is easily the most controversial design choice here. I warmed to it eventually, but the rear was victim to a lot of grief from my colleagues. You can’t accuse it of lacking personality though, with the honeycomb-shaped vents and oval LED light looking as if they’ve been inspired by a spaceship.

You also get a selection of ports on the back, most noticeably dual power inputs. That’s right, you need two plug sockets to get the Alienware Area 51m running at full-throttle power, which is not only a pain when your extension cable is already overcrowded, but also problematic for the eco-conscious.

Alienware Area 51m

The Alienware Area 51m has an abundance of ports, including USB-C, HDMi and headphone jack

You’ll also find ports on the rear for HDMI, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet and the Alienware Graphics Amplifier (sold separately) – the latter allows you to add next-gen AMD and Nvidia graphics cards to the setup, and also hook up additional peripherals.

There’s also a smattering of ports running down the sides of the Alienware Area 51m laptop, including connections for USB 3.1, as well as jacks for your headphones and microphone. There’s no dedicated connection for DisplayPort, but the Thunderbolt 3 port does support it, so 4K gaming is still possible with the right cable.

Alienware Area 51m’s keyboard is perfect for both gaming and typing

One of the most surprising features of the Alienware Area 51m is the quality of the keyboard. The Alienware TactX keyboard excels in every department, offering a delicious amount of travel, practically silent when you hammer it and sporting a lot of features such as RGB lighting and anti-ghosting.

With most gaming laptops I’d suggest opting for an external keyboard, but I honestly believe you’ll be more than happy with the Alienware Area 51m’s offering – it’s easily the best I’ve used on a portable. You even get a dedicated number pad and a column of macro keys down the left-hand side thanks to the large amount of space this laptop colossus offers.

Alienware Area 51m

Alienware TactX keyboard is one the best found on a gaming laptop

The touchpad is impressive too – ultra-responsive and a pleasure to glide my fingers across. You even get two physical hardware clickers underneath, which make a satisfying noise to let you know your input has been registered. Of course, you’ll probably still want a gaming mouse for most games, but the trackpad is perfectly usable for strategy games and the like.

The touchpad will also start glowing blue when you touch it, fading away after a few seconds of being left idle. This can be customised via the Alienware Command Center so you can alter the colours and effects, or even turn it off completely if you’re sick to death of RGB lighting.

Related: Best gaming keyboards 2019

Alienware Area 51m can be upgraded with next-gen hardware

The crowning feature of the Alienware Area 51m is the ability to upgrade it. Turn the laptop upside down, loosen the screws and you’ll gain access to all the components underneath.

Be warned, though: if you’re not experienced at tinkering with computers, upgrading the Area 51m laptop is likely to be a daunting process. To reach the processor and GPU, I had to unscrew various components. The Area 51m may not have a simple modular design, but Alienware deserves credit for including clear labels while also providing a really useful guide online.

Alienware Area 51m

It’s not easy to access the Alienware Area 51m CPU or GPU, with newbie PC builders likely to struggle

You’re free to remove and replace any component you wish. In fact, the laptop uses Intel desktop processors rather than mobile variants, which is absolutely bonkers. I swapped the Intel Core i9-9900K for an Intel Core i7-8700K and it worked without a hitch. The ordeal of opening up the laptop and installing the CPU took a long time to complete, though, with the many, many screws slowing momentum.

You’re required to pull out the battery, SSD and wireless card in order to reach the CPU, which brings the risk of damaging one of these components. In fact, the wireless card in my laptop had issues connecting to one of the antennas after several installations altered the shape of the pin. Of course, a consumer version of this laptop will be opened up a lot less than a review unit, which is distributed to multiple journalists. Still, it’s frustrating you have to uninstall multiple components if you fancy upgrading the GPU or CPU.

As you probably noticed, I actually downgraded the laptop by swapping the processors – that’s because there isn’t a more powerful alternative to the Intel Core i9-9900K on the market. The good news is Intel’s more powerful 10th-generation CPUs are on the horizon. The bad news is there’s no guarantee these chips will be compatible with the 115X socket found in the Area 51m.

Such a scenario would mean the Intel Core i9-9900K would forever be the best CPU compatible with the Alienware laptop, making the ability to upgrade the chip feel wasted. That said, it’s possible to replace the system board inside the laptop, but whether Dell will offer next-gen alternatives to support future processors remains to be seen.

Alienware Area 51m

The Alienware Area 51m remarkably uses desktop processors, with a 115X socket ensuring compatibility with Intel’s 9th and 8th generation Intel Core CPUs

Swapping out the GPU brings its own headache-inducing problems too. The Alienware Area 51m only supports proprietary graphics cards made by Dell, and so users are limited by what the manufacturer releases to market. This means if Dell ever decides to stop selling its own adaptions of Nvidia’s graphics cards – most probably due to poor sales – then users won’t be able to upgrade the GPU further.

The ability to replace components with more powerful options is an incredibly cool feature then, theoretically allowing the Area 51m the same lifespan of a desktop computer. In reality, though, the long-term effectiveness of this modular design depends on a number of factors, some of which are out of Alienware’s hands.

Related: Best gaming PC 2019

Alienware Area 51m’s screen sadly lacks a 4K option

The Alienware Area 51m is limited to a Full HD display, no matter which configuration you opt for. That’s a big disappointment considering the graphical power this laptop is capable of, with frame rates surpassing 100fps with almost any game at 1080p.

The default Alienware Area 51m sees a 60Hz refresh rate, but a £180 upgrade at checkout will boost that figure up to 144Hz, which is recommended if you fancy playing FPS titles where a smooth visual performance is vital for racking up your kill count.

Nvidia’s G-Sync is supported here, syncing up the screen’s refresh rate to the game’s frame rate in order to prevent the ugly screen tearing artefacts that can occur after abrupt movement.

Alienware Area 51m

The Alienware Area 51m has a decent Full HD display, but it’s a shame there is no 4K option

How good is the picture quality? It’s solid but not spectacular. The display is brighter than your average laptop (with a white level of 326 nits), but dark colours aren’t quite as pungent as you’d like (with black levels of 0.38 nits) especially for a gaming laptop where shadows and dark environments are likely to feature frequently. These combine for an underwhelming contrast ratio of 867:1, which is way off the recommended 1000:1.

The Area 51m display is also a little cooler than I’d like, appearing slightly more blue than natural daylight. It’s not enough to be obviously noticeable – probably not at all while playing games – but it does mean photographs and videos won’t be displayed as accurately as professionals may want, especially with Adobe RGB and DCI P3 colour gamut ranges coming in at a low 65.8% and 68.5% respectively. That’s only for photo realistic pictures though – the sRGB colour gamut range of 93.4% proves digital design work will be no issue.

So while the Alienware Area 51m may not be up to the high standards of professional photographers and videographers, it’s still plenty decent enough for games. Sure, the lack of an Ultra HD resolution and the poor contrast are disappointing, but that can easily be fixed by hooking the laptop up to an external monitor.

Related: Best gaming monitor 2019

Alienware Area 51m’s configurations offer a great deal of options

Alienware has made a big effort with its configurations, offering a huge selection of components for your Area 51m laptop at checkout. There are three ray tracing-capable Nvidia RTX graphics card options, three 9th Gen Intel Core processor picks and a wide selection of RAM and storage. The cheapest model is available for £1949, while the most expensive costs an eye-watering £4883.80.

GPU Nvidia RTX 2060,
6GB GDDR6
Nvidia RTX 2070,
8GB GDDR6
Nvidia RTX 2080,
8GB GDDR6
CPU Intel Core i7-9700

Intel Core i7-9700KIntel Core i9-9900K
Intel Core i7-9700

Intel Core i7-9700K

Intel Core i9-9900K
Intel Core i7-9700

Intel Core i7-9700K

Intel Core i9-9900K
RAM 8GB DDR4 

16GB DDR4

32GB DDR4

64GB DDR4

8GB DDR4 

16GB DDR4

32GB DDR4

64GB DDR4

8GB DDR4 

16GB DDR4

32GB DDR4

64GB DDR4

Display 17.3-inch Full HD
60Hz / 144Hz
Nvidia G-Sync
17.3-inch Full HD
60Hz / 144Hz
Nvidia G-Sync
17.3-inch Full HD
60Hz / 144Hz
Nvidia G-Sync
Price From £1949 From £2199 From £2549

Unlike other laptops, you’re not locked into these specs after purchase. If you opt for the cheapest model but find yourself craving a slicker performance, you can just upgrade the RAM or processor yourself. The GPU is also upgradable, but you’ll have to use Dell’s proprietary versions, which are yet to be released.

I’m extremely impressed with the number of components Alienware has made available for the Area 51m. That said, since this is such a hefty beast of a machine, there’s not much point opting for a low-powered configuration when you can get a similarly powerful laptop that is far more portable. You should really only consider the Area 51m if you want an ultra-powered gaming system that will be rooted (for the most part) to your desk.

Related: Best Intel processor: Core i3, i5, i7 and i9 explained

Alienware Area 51m’s performance is out of this world

The Alienware Area 51m is one of the two most powerful gaming laptops we’ve ever tested, with the other being the Acer Predator Helios 700. Both are heavyweight laptops in terms of both form factor and performance.

The Alienware Area 51m boasts the superior processor performance, fitted with a desktop CPU instead of a mobile variant. Providing such incredibly high CPU speeds means I was never waiting around for apps to load, while game load times were kept brisk, which is a godsend for strategy titles such as Civilization 6.

It was a much closer contest between the titans for GPU performance, but the Alienware Area 51m stole the edge in most tests – with the RTX 2080 GPU my configuration was rocking. It saw frame rates exceed 100fps in 1080p (with settings scaled to the max) for both Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Dirt Rally, while it achieved a respectable 71fps for The Division 2. These scores are so high you should be able to output to a 4K monitor with no issue.

Not enough power for you? Alienware offers an easy way to overclock the laptop, with the Alienware Command Center offering two overclocking profiles. By using the second profile, I saw a frame rate boost of up to 6fps.

Alienware Area 51m

The Alienware Area 51m can play virtually any game in Full HD with a frame rate exceeding 100fps

The Alienware Area 51m is also capable of real-time ray tracing. This is a new rendering technique which sees improved lighting, shadow and reflection effects for more immersive environments. Currently, there’s a short supply of supported video games available that make use of the technology – Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Battlefield 5 and Metro Exodus being the most noticeable – but more titles, including the likes of Control, are expected to arrive over the coming months and years.

The Alienware Area 51m fans make noticeable noise when booting up a game, but I think it’s quieter than most laptops of this pedigree. Hardly any of my colleagues noticed the fans, while the Acer Predator Helios 700 is a noise-pollution criminal.

On the downside, the Area 51m gets uncomfortably warm. Since the heat is more noticeable in areas where your hands won’t rest (i.e. above the keyboard) it doesn’t become bothersome, but it can throttle performance, with Shadow of the Tomb Raider bizarrely seeing a decrease in frame rate when I boosted up the overclocking profile.

The 256GB PCIe M.2 SSD also offers a superb performance, posting read speeds of 2910.3 MB/s and write speeds of 1329.6 MB/s, ensuring reduced loading and saving times for both applications and video games. The accompanying 1TB hybrid drive isn’t so slick, offering sluggish speeds – but I’m still happy it’s been included as it offers a lot of storage space without driving up the price. There’s a massive range of storage options here, with single, dual and triple-drive options all available.

Alienware Area 51m

To achieve max performance, you’ll need to plug in two charging cables to the Alienware Area 51m which is a bit of a pain

Another cool feature the Area 51m offers is Tobii eye tracking. This technology, as its title suggests, tracks eye movement and can be utilised in multiple ways. The most basic is brightening up the display as soon as your eyes fixate on the screen, which is a great power saver.

Multiple games are confirmed to support Tobii’s technology too, including Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Far Cry 5 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The most common use of Tobii tracking is moving the camera via your eye movement to get a better look at your peripheral vision, and more creative implementations include aiming a weapon and commanding your character to take cover.

Honestly, most of the in-game features Tobii eye tracking brings to the table feel very much like a gimmick. I’d much rather use a controller to do all of the above, but it’s still a nifty luxury to have and only makes the Area 51m feel more premium and futuristic.

Related: Best graphics cards 2019

Alienware Area 51m’s battery life is another blow for portability prospects

With great power comes a pitiful battery life – it’s just the nature of gaming laptops. For a portable that requires two power connections to reach peak performance, it’s no surprise the Alienware Area 51m struggles away from the mains.

All of our benchmark tests point towards a two-hour battery life, which matches the stamina of the Acer Predator Helios 700. This only emphasises the point that the Alienware Area 51m was not designed with portability in mind, and is very much a desktop replacement instead of a gaming laptop you can bring into work every day.

I attained this two-hour battery figure by running the PCMark 8 battery test. I then tested it myself, playing Crusader Kings II non-stop, which saw the battery fall at an identical rate. Of course, playing a more intensive video game – The Division 2 for instance – may well drain the battery even quicker.

Should I buy the Alienware Area 51m?

The Alienware Area 51m has a very niche audience. With such a large and heavy form factor, it lacks the portability a laptop typically offers. This is a desktop replacement that will stay rooted to your desk, and thanks to its new upgrade capability, it can genuinely be considered an alternative to a traditional gaming desktop PC.

This computer is mighty expensive, sure, but you’re getting a hell of a lot of quality for the price. Out of all the gaming laptops Trusted Reviews has ever tested, this is the most powerful (ignoring overclocking), the most feature packed, boasts the best keyboard and is arguably the best-looking too. It’s not perfect, though, with an underwhelming display and lack of 4K option, but this can be sorted by using your own monitor.

What’s most exciting about this laptop is its long-term future. When a new, more powerful graphics card, processor or RAM is released, you won’t necessarily need to buy another laptop to reap the benefits. There are still a lot of questions left to be answered on that front, such as the restrictions of the motherboard and Dell’s supply of its proprietary GPUs, but it’s an exciting prospect, nonetheless.

Verdict

The most powerful, stylish and innovative gaming laptop ever created, with its upgradability a possible game-changer. But with its intimidating price and the heft to disqualify itself as a portable, the Alienware Area 51m is certainly not for everyone.

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