With a high level look at the Alienware Area-51 m5500, it is hard to not be pleased with its combination of portability and performance. On one hand, traveling with this notebook is nowhere near as effortless as carrying a 12" ultraportable. However, the Alienware system is still very portable, easy to manage on the run and brings with it a level of performance that is touch to match with a smaller system. On the other hand, the Area-51 m5500 is far from delivering the level of performance brought by the bulkier desktop replacement notebooks. Despite this fact, the system is certainly capable of handling any game at lower resolutions and can be a solid LAN platform thanks to its combination of size, weight, and performance.
Were we to change anything with the Area-51 m5500, we would focus our attention towards the MXM graphics module. Although voltage and thermal constraints prohibit the use of the flagship MXM: HE format, we certainly should be able to make accommodations for at least MXM II or the faster MXM III. Were we able to have this level of MXM slot, there could possibly be upgrade options using the latest mainstream and even flagship GPU's such as the GeForce Go 7600, 7800, or 7900 series. In doing so, the Alienware notebook would become a dramatically more potent system as it would have excellent battery efficiency using the Intel IGP and could turn in some impressive framerates thanks to the higher level NVIDIA MXM graphics module.
In its most basic form, the Alienware Area-51 m5500 can currently be purchased for a very reasonable $899 after $100 instant rebate. For those looking for a viable gaming platform, they can upgrade the basic Intel IGP to also include a 128MB GeForce Go 6600 for $150 or get a 256MB version of the same card for $200. Should you wish for even higher performance, you can opt for a 256MB Radeon Mobility X1600 for a painful adder of $350. At this time, these options represent the only GPU's that are available for the system. However, factoring in the MXM capability, it would not be surprising to see new GPU's become available for the system. Those looking to maximize efficiency and get the longest battery life possible would do well to spend the $99 to get a 9-cell additional battery to augment the smaller 6-cell version that comes standard.
Given the tested system configuration's current price of $1963 as of April 1st, 2006 we would recommend the Area-51 m5500 to anyone looking for a solid notebook platform with a clear upgrade path in terms of graphics. The only grip we have with the system's potential configurations is the lack of any dual-core CPU availability. With more applications and games slowly gaining dual-core support, this could put this Alienware notebook at a distinct disadvantage. However, for the time being, we are more than pleased with the performance provided by the system and are confident that future updates to this platform will address this issue. With this in mind, along with the solid bundle and highly rated support backing the system, we have no reservations recommending the Area-51 m5500. Add to that the additional stability the company's latest acquisition by Dell affords, we'll award the Alienware Area-51 m5500 a rating of 8 on the Hot Hardware Heat Meter.
|•_Flexibile GPU choice to suit application
•_Unique Alienware aesthetics
•_Solid bundle and OOBE
•_MXM upgrade path for discrete GPU
•_Strong support and backing by Dell
•_Relatively light and easy to carry
|•_No dual-core CPU options
•_Small 6-cell battery standard
•_No next-generation GPU options (at this time)