As any true hardware enthusiast will attest to, a brand new system can only remain together for so long before curiosity forces us to take a peek at the internals. Turning the system over and removing a handful of screws, we soon became familiar with the inner workings of the Area-51 m5500.
With the back panel of the system removed, we get our first look at the notebook's primary heatsink assembly and the core hardware. Our eyes first drift to the copper heatpipes on the heatsink assembly as they stretch from the aluminum heatsink over the GPU to the copper radiator to the left of the CPU fan. Directly below the CPU rests the two 1GB DDR2 SO-DIMMs as well as the Intel 2915 802.11a/b/g wireless NIC.
After removing the heatsink assembly we expose the CPU, Northbridge, and NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 MXM module. Somewhat surprisingly, we see that Alienware does not use a thermal paste between the heatsink and the components. Rather, a very thin fabric-like thermal tape is used which leaves an oily residue behind on the cores and especially the memory chips on the graphics card. The 2.0GHz Pentium M and the appropriate socket can also be clearly seen.
Easily one of the most exciting aspects of the Area-51 m5500 would be the inclusion of an NVIDIA MXM discrete graphics module. When configuring a system, consumers have the option of choosing either an NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 in 128MB or 256MB varieties or a 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X1600. Our test system was equipped with a 128MB GeForce Go 6600 module which appears to be a MXM-I form factor according to this document from NVIDIA. Unfortunately, this means that the notebook cannot accept flagship level GPU's as their thermal and voltage requirements demand an MXM-II or higher form factor. This is a shame as with the card removed, we can see there is more than enough room for the larger form factor of the higher-end MXM formats.
To exploit the Alienware Area-51 m5500's ability to actively swap between the integrated Intel graphics and the NVIDIA GPU, you simply slide a switch on the front of the system with the notebook powered down. With the switch positioned to the left, the notebook uses the Intel IGP to maximize battery life. Should you wish to game or need some 3D horsepower, you can move this switch to the right to enable the GeForce Go 6600 module. Conveniently enough, the system is smart enough to channel video from the correct source to the single 15-pin VGA connector on the back of the system.