Field Testing Features
In terms of general usage, the Area-51 m5500 did not disappoint. One glimpse at the notebook's specifications and you quickly see that this system is capable of handling nearly any task or application with ease. At first glance we realize that the screen on the Alienware system does not come with any special coatings or finishes. Often times, these contrast enhancing coatings do more harm than good as they make the screen reflective to the point it interferes with general viewing, so we can't knock Alienware for foregoing this feature. Despite lacking any contrast enhancing screen coating, the 15.4" WSXGA+ LCD on the system did a very respectable job of keeping images vibrant and accurately reproducing colors. Here, the widescreen LCD's additional real estate versus conventional 4:3 aspect ratio panels comes in handy as it allows for multiple windows to be viewed at the same time.
When the focus turns to gaming, the Alienware Area-51 m5500 is able to satisfy all but the most hardcore gamers. Without question, the use of the integrated Intel graphics is not an option and users will be forced to flick the switch on the front of the system to enable the discrete NVIDIA graphics. Although no benchmark records should be expected, the 128MB GeForce Go 6600 with full DX9 and Shader Model 3.0 support makes every game playable at some level. As illustrated in the gaming benchmarks further in this review, the Area-51 m5500 is an acceptable choice for LAN parties or emergency gaming fixes on the run. When playing fast paced games like UT2004 or Enemy Territory, the system's LCD was able to keep up with framerates and showed no ghosting or trails throughout gameplay.
Watching DVD's on the Alienware notebook proved to be an enjoyable experience. Using the bundled Power DVD software, the system was run through a barrage of various DVD's. By far, the DVD which illustrated the system's prowess the best was Black Hawk Down. In this combat movie, the notebook's Intel High Definition audio truly shines as small intricacies such as shell casings hitting the ground and footsteps on varying terrain were preserved in great detail. Often times throughout the film, we found ourselves looking for hidden additional speakers as the sound produced by the stereo speakers nested in the LCD panel was surprisingly good. The only complaint we have with the audio in general is the obvious lack of low end muscle given the absence of any substantial speaker size or discrete subwoofer like the one found on the previously reviewed the ASUS W2V. Regardless, the Area-51 m5500 is an excellent choice for those looking for a solid platform for viewing their favorite DVD's.