Alienware Area-51m Review: Desktop-Class, Upgradeable Elegance

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Alienware Area-51m - Legend Design Aesthetics, Features And Build Quality

Underneath the epidermis of the Alienware Area-51m is a thoughtfully engineered chassis frame built of aluminum and magnesium alloy. However, the surface finish of this new Alienware gaming notebook is easily the best we've seen from the company yet. Our Area-51m is adorned in the company's Lunar Light color, with a matte, soft-touch finish that feels great and almost completely resists fingerprints, with the minor exception of the black rear of the machine and its glossy black but relatively thin display bezel.

Alienware Area 51m rear view closer
Alienware Area 51m keyboard

The keyboard area of the Area-51m is an individually-lit RGB backlit setup, with a backlit trackpad as well. The trackpad is large, smooth and accurate with large two-button click control. All of these areas are configurable in terms of lighting and various strobe effects via the Alienware Command Center software package that Alienware configures with the machine. The keyboard is solid and very spacious with a full numpad, zero flex and the same comfortable matte finish in the palm rest area. Key caps are slightly shaped with deep travel and good tactility. The Caps Locks key on the left side is a little large and prone to accidental activation, but after a slight bit of learning curve, most folks will be very comfortable and up to full speed on this machine, whether mashing its W,A,S,D quadrant or writing a Theoretical Physics thesis paper

144Hz, G-Sync And Tobii Eye-Tracking - All The Bells And Whistles

Alienware Area 51m Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Gaming

The 17.3-inch FHD 1080p, IPS display on board our machine sports a matte finish with anti-glare coating. The panel offers 300-nits of brightness and 72% NTSC color gamut coverage. Those are the basic specs for the display, but in practice we can tell you this LCD is bright and vibrant with good contrast and exceptionally-wide viewing angles, thanks to the IPS panel technology and aforementioned anti-glare coating. Also, this is a 144Hz panel so pixel response time, in tandem with its support for NVIDIA G-Sync technology, is lighting fast and the resulting game play is buttery-smooth and jitter free. Fortunately, this machine actually has all the horsepower you need to drive it at its optimal refresh rate as well, but we'll circle back to that on the benchmark pages ahead.

Alienware Area 51m tobii

Another key feature about this display, resides behind the glossy-black window underneath it and that's the system's Tobii Eye-Tracking camera array. This infrared camera setup recognizes whether your eyeballs are within the vicinity or not and will dim the display when you're away, or wake it up when you're not. It will also wake from sleep based on the position of your eyeballs as well, though it's not Windows Hello compatible so it won't unlock the machine. The other key feature with it obviously is gameplay control, but we'll cover that in our user experience section next.

area 51m exhaust lighting
area 51m left edge
area 51m right edge core i9 badge
area 51m bottom
Keeping the ventilation areas on the bottom, sides and rear of the Area-51m clear of obstruction is important if you want full performance. If choked off from proper air flow, it won't take long for the components inside to thermally saturate and throttle. However, we were somewhat surprised to see that performance of the Alienware Area-51m stayed relatively consistent over repeated benchmark runs. The machine's thermal solution is definitely up to the task of cooling its high-performance CPU and GPU, but you have to respect it, so to speak. More on this later in our Thermals and Acoustics section.

Further on the acoustics front, the Area-51m's stereo speaker setup offers excellent audio fidelity for laptop speakers, with solid bass response, good mid-range for vocals, and decent high-end reproduction. Interestingly enough, when you're positioned directly over the machine, its mids and highs are slightly muffled. However, if you back away from the machine a couple of steps or even just lean back in your chair, its slightly down-firing speakers open up nicely with good spatialization and better high-end output. Overall, you won't be disappointed with this laptop audio, for a refreshing change. So yes, movie watching is a definite checkbox win here for Alienware.

In terms of IO connectivity, the Alienware Area-51m has a decent array of options, sans an SDCard slot. From its Mini-DisplayPort 1.4 output with NVIDIA G-Sync to HDMI 2.0, Multi-Gig RJ45 wired Ethernet, multiple USB 3.1 ports, a Thunderbolt 3 port and Alienware's own Graphics Amplifier port -- if you actually need to break out external graphics horsepower beyond what's already under the hood of this beast -- there's a reasonable assortment of port expansion to work with here. Speaking of which, have a gander...

Alienware Area-51m Ready-Made For Proper Alien Autopsy

Alienware Area 51m internals

Alienware Area 51m belly of the beast

The bottom lid of the Area-51m removes easily with six screws, and once inside, many of the major components that a user might want to upgrade are easily accessible. The top image here shows you can gain quick access to the machine's SODIMM slots, two out of four of which in our machine are populated in a 2x16GB config for a total of 32GB of DDR4-2400 memory. You also have direct access to the NVMe Solid State Drives' M.2 sockets, as well as the 2.5-inch SATA drive bay, the WiFi NIC card, and the system's 90 Whr battery. And of course, before messing with any of this stuff, we'd suggest pulling the battery connector wire and taking proper ESD protection measures. 

Then, if you want to get deep inside the belly of the beast (check our teardown video on the first page here, or here on our YouTube channel), you can pull another 20+ screws and assorted wires connectors, which will get you into the CPU and GPU socket area underneath the machine's massive Alienware Cryo-Tech v2.0 heat pipe and fansink module. We would note that tearing the machine down to this level is not for the novice, but it's not overly complex either. You just need to be practiced in patiently removing screws and various connectors in orderly fashion to minimize the potential for damage. Fortunately, Alienware does a good job of providing a guided legend inscribed on the Area-51m's black, plastic sub-cover so you can easily identify each of the component areas and many of the screw locations.

In any event, our machine came configured with one the most powerful setups Dell-Alienware has to offer and we can't see needing to change or upgrade its Intel Core i9-9900K CPU or NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 GPU any time soon, but the potential is there down the road at least. How viable that future upgrade potential is all depends on how well Alienware supports the machine moving forward as new socket and interface-compatible chip architectures evolve. That said the Alienware team does seem heavily committed to its new platform. Also, we should note that if you opted for a lower-end config of either CPU or GPU, you could opt for an off-the-shelf upgrade down the road, though a GPU module upgrade would definitely have to come direct from Dell-Alienware.

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