Alienware Area-51m review: an upgradeable behemoth


For the past couple of years, the trend in gaming laptops has been to go thinner and lighter, turning a powerful gaming machine into something that you
can carry around all day and even consider using
for productivity work. Alienware’s new Area-51 is not that. The Area-51m is the polar opposite of a thin and light laptop. It feels like a throwback to when gaming laptops
were thick, heavy machines that never left the
comfort of a sturdy desk. It is really a laptop in name only. In fact, you probably shouldn’t even think of this as a laptop because, inside, it’s
got desktop components that will run laps around
any other laptop you can buy and even give true desktop
computers a run for their money. It’s more like a portable
desktop than anything else. I mean, even the power brick weighs more than most laptops that I spend time using, and there are two of them. This computer is so much like a desktop that you can actually open it up and upgrade not just the RAM and storage, but even the processor
and the graphics card. My colleague Sean has
already taken the Area-51m apart and showed you all what’s inside, and you should really go
watch that if you haven’t yet. I’m not going to do that here. What I’m going to do is
tell you what it’s like to actually use this
behemoth of a computer. The Area-51m has a new
design for the company, but it’s still unmistakably
an Alienware computer. It does look modern and fresh, but you’ll never really confuse it for anything but a gaming laptop. And it’s got lots of
different lighting effects, a giant fan exhaust, which
I’ll talk about a bit more, and, of course, Alienware
heads all over the place. In terms of basic specs and layout, it has a 17-inch 1080p display, and the model that I have
has a 144Hz refresh rate, Nvidia’s G Sync technology,
and Tobii eye tracking, a full-sized keyboard with a number pad and programmable macro buttons, a traditional trackpad
with physical buttons that actually lights up when you touch it, three USB-A ports, a
Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port, 2.5GB Ethernet, a MiniDisplay port, HDMI, and Alienware’s
proprietary Graphics amplifier for an external GPU. I’m actually a bit disappointed
that it doesn’t have even more ports, and
possibly an SD card slot. That would have made this
machine really attractive to content creators that
need to crunch through lots of video edits
and need the horsepower that this thing provides. There’s clearly room for
more ports on this chassis. I’m also personally not
a fan of the traditional non-chiclet keyboard and trackpad. Both feel like something that would’ve been on a
laptop from 10 years ago. But they work fine for what most people will be using this laptop for. The keyboard is pretty standard
for Alienware machines, so if you’re coming from an older one, it’ll be familiar. And since most people will
instantly plug a gaming mouse into the side of this, the trackpad isn’t really
that much of a problem. In terms of size and bulk, the Area-51m weighs 8.5 pounds, and it’s about 1.7 inches thick. The 330-watt power adapter
weighs just over three pounds, while the smaller 180-watt brick weighs another pound and a half. That means in order to bring the Area-51m from one place to another, you need to lug around almost 13 pounds, or six kilograms, worth of stuff. Plus your headphones, and mouse, and whatever else you want to carry. That why it’s best to think of this as a portable desktop
computer than a laptop. You can move it from one place to another, but you’re not going to be
using it along the way. You’ll need to lug both of
those power bricks along if you want to game. But if you want to just use the Area-51 for productivity work,
spreadsheets, etc., you can get away with just
using the smaller brick. And believe it or not, the new magnesium alloy chassis design actually makes this about a pound lighter than the old Alienware
17 that it replaces. Still, this thing is
really not all that portable. Inside all of that bulk is
where the good stuff is. Configurations for it
start at just under $2,000 for the Core i7-8700 processor and an RTX 2060 GPU. And they go all the way up to a Core i9-9900K and an RTX 2080 GPU. Remember, this is a desktop processor and full-power mobile GPU, not the lower-power slim Max-Q stuff or mobile processors you’ll
find in those thinner and lighter gaming laptops. So if you wanted to buy the lower-end spec and upgrade that at 8700 to a 9900, or whatever processor
that fits down the road, you can actually do that. Same with the GPU. Dell developed a modular
graphics card inside of this that can be upgraded and
replaced with newer components, which is what really
makes the Area-51m unique. There’s also a large 90
watt-hour battery in this, but that doesn’t mean that the
Area-51m has great battery life. For productivity work,
you can expect 90 minutes, maybe two hours max, between charges. I actually struggled to
write this video script on battery power before
it ran out of juice on me. And if you’re gaming, you can expect well less
than an hour of battery life, probably closer to 30 minutes. You can easily spend over $5,000
equipping the Area-51m, but the model I’ve been
using has the i9 processor, the 2080 GPU, 32GB 2,400MHz DDR4 RAM, a terabyte of SSD storage, which is actually two
512GB drives in a RAID 0 configuration
for maximum speed, and a 1TB hybrid
drive for more storage. All of that will run you
about $4,500 before any sales or discounts or whatever. And that’s a lot of money for what amounts to a lot of computing power. If you wanted this kind of power in a traditional desktop, you could spend a lot less to get it. So, how does it all perform? Well, in short, really, really well. Now, traditionally, you wouldn’t
expect desktop components crammed into a portable laptop to form as well as if they
were in a much larger box. But Alienware has done a really good job with the cooling design
so that the CPU and GPU can perform nearly as well as when they’re in a desktop computer. That’s why the Area-51
has these giant grates on the back and the sides.
When the fans start ramping up, they get loud, like, this kind of loud. (fan roaring) Now that’s not really
unusual for a gaming laptop and if you’re in the
market for the Area-51m, you probably expect it. There are some powerful speakers up front that can overpower the fan noise, but most people will just want
to use a headset while gaming so you don’t have to hear the fans at all. But you might not have
many friends in your office if you try to use the
Area-51m in there. (upbeat music) The Area-51m is able to play virtually any modern AAA game I throw at it, with the settings maxed out and not have any problems
maintaining high frame rates. Even games like Battlefield 5
and Shadow of the Tomb Raider with all of their eye candy and
ray-tracing lighting effects can be played with virtually
every setting turned on and maxed out and still
maintain frame rates between 60 and 80 fps. That’s not quite the full 144Hz that this screen can push, but it’s still high enough for a great experience in those games. Competitive shooting games like Apex Legends,
Overwatch, CSCO, and yeah, even Fortnite, can run at
hundreds of frames per second, well more than the native
refresh rate of the display. There really isn’t a game that can bring the Area-51m to its knees. And if you really want to, you
can either overclock the CPU or the GPU to get even
more performance out of it. All of that performance headroom actually makes it feel
like the display here is mismatched to the components. And I have no doubt that the Area-51m could easily push a 1440 panel or maybe even a 4K
display in lots of games, but the only resolution
available is 1080p. If you’re after the fastest
frame rates you can get the high refresh rate screen
is definitely what you want. But if you’re more into visual
presentation and eye candy, you might be interested
in more resolution. Now, for what it’s worth, Alienware tells me that
there just aren’t any higher-res 17-inch display
options with the narrow bezels and high refresh rates available yet, and when they are, it will make them an
option on the Area-51. But for now, if you want a
game at a higher resolution, you’ll just have to use
an external display. So where does that land
us with the Area-51m? It has indeed fulfilled the two goals that Alienware set out with it: make a portable machine that’s just as powerful
as a desktop computer and make it possible to upgrade the parts in that machine down the road. There is a bit of an asterisk
on that last point, though. We don’t know for sure that the next generation
of Intel processors or Nvidia or AMD GPUs will
actually fit in this computer. But Dell has said that if it’s possible to
physically fit the chips onto its swappable graphics boards, it will offer upgrade options. The other thing we don’t know yet is how much those GPU
upgrades are going to cost. And that takes me to the
real conflict with Area-51m: it’s just expensive. You could go out and buy a
desktop computer and monitor with this kind of power and still have enough money left over to buy a more mainstream
thin and light gaming laptop for when you want to game on the go, and you’ll probably still
have some money left over in your pocket compared to the Area-51. That makes this machine,
unrealistic for most people. The kind of gamer that’s going to demand this level of performance and a portable machine and put
up with all the compromises and cost necessary to get it is probably going to be a
competitive e-sports player or maybe even a hardcore VR fan. That all said, the Area-51m is
a really impressive machine. And I’m very curious to
see where its new ideas and upgradability and
performance and portability go in the future. Thanks for watching. Given all the compromises with Area-51, weight and size and cost, do you think it’s worth it? And if you haven’t watched Sean’s video on how to tear apart the Area-51 and pull out its guts and upgrade them, be sure to go check that out. It’s really cool.

100 thoughts on “Alienware Area-51m review: an upgradeable behemoth

  1. I own an Alienware 17 R5 and I like think the design is worst on the new flagship. Those rounded shapes, honeycomb vents, letters on the chassis, white body and shinny plastics aren't that good looking. I wish they kept the design.

  2. Got it for 17% off (9900k, 2080) bought 64GB of 2666mhz Corsair vengeance RAM, 1TB Samsung 970 pro, 1TB 970 EVO for upgrade for a total of $4300 🙃

  3. You should note that the upgradeable GPU will only be upgradable if Nvidia releases the next gen mobile GPU's with a similar size. It's not a future proof GPU by any means which is why it supports the Alienware Graphics AMP still. Still a solid machine.

  4. face it, it's called laptop just because it has a hinge below its display connected to the reat of its body

  5. Outstanding! I was not aware of this. Upgradability is the name of the game here! Thanks for the excellent video, Dan/Team Verge!

  6. As soon as I saw this reporter, I thought this review is gonna be full of hate for this product!. Haven’t forgiven him for all the Samsung reviews!

  7. BTW, the Area 51m doesn’t replace the old 17 inch Alienware laptops. The Verge is just computer illiterate.

  8. Say the truth and you shall always win… Man people don't want a laptop they want a portable desktop in the first place. If I had the money this would be the exact computer I would buy.

  9. Don't think it's worth it….even for an eSports gamer. Lighter, faster and more battery life, that should be all laptop designers goal.

  10. i'm surprised this guy didn't end with a "you are better off with an apple product"… hahahahaha…. the verge, The apple channel

  11. Hi The Verge….. do you remember Acer Predator 21x that was a big powerful machine…..but when it comes to portability it was a joke even it was marketed as a laptop……. Alienware area 51m is comparatively only on portable side and it has better components than the former…… don't you think…… either way it's relatively a better one as it's portable and powerful than Acer Predator 21x

  12. I think that 1080p on a 17" is perfectly fine. And in regards to the whole desktop argument… I'm a university student, I'm in a dorm, there's no space for a desk and a monitor and a tower. So this is the next best thing 🙂

  13. That’s a gargantuas Laptop. Still looks cool . I will consider buying one ☝️ but
    Next year after initial price settle down . Right now , it is more likely to burn a
    Hole in my pocket.Finally , the fans sound like a vacuum cleaner. I guess majority
    Will carry this beast to flaunt their wealth . Alien 👽 man . Lol

  14. Where the f do you find that disassembly video? Is it that hard to put a useful link in the description or as an info card? All these video effects and you can't get the basics right.

  15. Owned an Alienware r17 before and definitely worth every penny. Not sure why there's so much hate for the Alienware products

  16. On the bright side, you wouldn't have to pay for a gym membership once you buy this… should I even call it a laptop ? XD

  17. You can get these things for up to 25% off. I got mine (9700k, 2080) for about $2,900. Still pricey, but really a great value for the performance in a laptop form factor. Anybody buying these things at retail price aren't doing their homework.

    I really feel like reviewers completely overlook how big the discounts are and how often they are available on these kinds of laptops. Alienware's website has had 17% discounts on these things almost every other week and that's on top of any other discounts you can find.

  18. Has an ex IT these upgradable laptops are stupid, after 2 years what cpu are u going to upgrade?
    And the gpus mxm are expensive asf!
    All this depending on dell also and we know how that goes!

  19. hey guys anybody owns this laptop? like a daily user or something? planning to buy and heard lots of complain about Quality issues…….. motherboard burn due to high temps?

  20. Ok , if you think that it being heavy is a problem then you aren't a gamer. If you are a true gamer then you only care about performance

  21. Ordered over a month ago from dell UK .. My estimate delivery date being pushed back three times so far all I am getting from dell sorry we have shortage of parts in factory but estimate shipping time on the site and when I spoke to the sale guy was4 working days.. It's a joke..

  22. even the base version is faster than any desktop/laptop that i have used to date. i feel a little sad now.

  23. just bought one,waiting impatiently!!
    keeping my moody m17xr3,its got hdmi input so dual screen fun,sooooon

  24. For the cost issue you just buy the base version and you upgrade
    People who want to have transportable desktop will buy it
    The thing that could be cool is a way to use watercooling, so less noise.

  25. I'm an international student in the US and I have to move often. I might move again for PhD and internships in between. Always used a desktop before. I have a portable laptop but now need a desktop that I can easily travel with after a few months from place to place. Guess what I'm gonna buy!

  26. Ordering laptops for work, I can get whatever I want for our VR laptop and I think I'm going for this :O

  27. Here is my experience with this laptop and Dell customer service.

    Update: I posted the same review on Dell's website and I received an email that my review is against their guidelines. So they cannot publish my review on their website. I did not use any vulgar language or gave any inaccurate information. Tactically, they sent me the email to which I cannot reply. I am going to call them up and ask which part of my review is against their guidelines. They simply don't want us to put negativity be reviews. If they moderating what reviews we are supposed to put, what's the point in having such an option? No wonder they only have positive reviews for this laptop on the Dell's website.

    My model: i7-9700k, RTX 2070, 16GB RAM

    If you are planning to do some serious work on your laptop. I would suggest stay away with this Area 51m. It is still in the first generation and I can see there are too many defects with this model. I am a doctoral candidate in mathematics education and bought this laptop a month ago thinking it will be perfect to render my video lectures, animation, and also might as well finish writing my thesis on it. I don't play a lot of games. The laptop was faulty from the day I received it. I had to reinstall Windows 10 to make it work. Now a week ago there are artifacts appearing on the laptop screen. I thought it is a driver's issue and updated it. It didn't help. I cannot even get into the windows desktop as all I can see a black screen and weird artificats after login. I bought premium support from Alienware and contacted them via email. I told them how important this laptop for my academics but they didn't reply promptly. Their responses are days apart. They gave a set of tests to run to make sure it's not a big issue. They are just waiting time as after all those tests, it is apparent that I had a faulty GPU. I gave up and called the customer care and told them the issue and updated with run tests. Then they created a job order where I had to send the laptop to their repair center. They promised me that end to end service time will be less than 5 business days. After four days, I received an email saying that there are some failed parts in the laptop and they don't have stocks of those parts right now, those parts MAY arrive in five business days. They have no idea how it is affecting my academics. I relied on this thinking it is a powerful computer. They are ignoring customers suffering because they will have to answer for packing defective parts. I searched Reddit and other forums only to be surprised that I am not the only victim here.

    The bottom line is : buy this laptop at your own risk and don't rely on this for serious works. If you badly thinking to buy this laptop, I would wait for the next generation of this model so that they will have some time to understand customers sufferings and ensures not to pack defective parts.

    Another update: I received an email saying that they may get a hold of new parts in another 4 days and if the laptop still has an issue after replacement, they are going to extend the repair time to another 10 business days. I spent more than three thousand dollars on this laptop thinking it will help with my doctoral projects. I had to spend more time in the repairing than actually work on my academics.

  28. There is one game that kills all GPU’s; it’s Metro Exodus on Extreme Settings and RTX Global Illumination enabled

  29. I am planning to get the cheapest option of the area 51m because its fully upgradable? if it is, I won't get the highest option and upgrade the cheapest option when time comes. Which one do you recommend?

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