The all-new Area 51m from Alienware is one of the most powerful gaming laptops out there, sporting a gorgeous design, beefy specs and a fitting price tag expected of such features. How does it stack up against its competitors in the market and is it the laptop you need? Here’s our review to help you decide.
- Processor: 9th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-9700K (8-Core, 12MB Cache, up to 4.9GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
- GPU: NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2070 8GB GDDR6 (OC Ready) (Not the mobile version)
- Memory: 16GB, 2x8GB, DDR4, 2400MHz
- Storage: 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD + 1TB (+8GB SSHD) Hybrid Drive
- Display: 17.3″ FHD (1920 x 1080) 144Hz, IPS, NVIDIA G-SYNC, Eyesafe® Display Tech + Tobii Eyetracking
- Colour: Dark Side of the Moon
- Operating System: Windows 10 Home Plus Single Language, English
- Weight: 8.54 lbs. (3.87 Kg)
- Starting Price: ₹2,53,890
Body, Design and the Chassis
Right off the bat, this particular piece of work has been designed way more elegantly than most gaming laptops in the market. That’s not to say it isn’t bulky, but it does not hold the visage of a huge piece of glowing RGB rock which threatens to maul you down. No fancy edges or anti-workplace looks about it, it’s smooth, with rounded edges, and a subtle design that’s just enough to make those heads turn but not in confusion. You’ll probably catch a few people on their coffee break coming down to admire it, yet packing enough style to flaunt amidst fellow gamers.
The edges have been rounded off and the chassis is a beauty to look at with the ovular exhaust-styled airflow ducts. Seriously, someone could capture a carefully angled photograph to make it look like a bunch of neon studded sports-car nozzles. The front has been clearly defined, and there’s a nice hinge to hook it all together. And of course, we have the flashy RGB strategically placed all across it, from the power button to the keyboard (with individual LEDs for each key, more on that below), the touchpad, the logo at the back and the ducts at the bottom. It’s full-scale RGB which is individually configurable for each of these components and that is not common on many laptops. For a heavy-hitter, it sure packs in decent elegance.
You’d love to carry it around, except it’s a bit heavy. Weighing in at a maximum of 8.54 lbs. (3.87 Kg), depending on the configurations, it’s not an easy task lugging it around unless you’ve already been practicing for it at the gym or something. Still, this laptop is lighter than a bunch of its competitors in the market, such as the HP Omen X (4.9 kg, 10.7 lbs) or the Asus ROG series G703GX (4.7 kg, 10.3lbs), and thus on the lighter side of a high-specced gaming laptop, giving it leeway for the weighty crime.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is a standard desktop layout complete with the num-pad and the configurable Alienware specific command keys, useful in operations such as selecting an AlienFX lighting scheme. It has a comfortable key-travel, soft and quiet to the touch. But where the keyboard specifically ‘shines’ is its per-key RGB LED lighting scheme. That’s right, you can choose any color in the world for each individual key meaning an infinite possibility of combinations you can create to your liking and save as presets.
The AlienFX proprietary software is responsible for driving these and all the other RGB doodads fixed all across the laptop. The power button, the Logo on the lid and of course the fancy ovular design on the back of the laptop chassis. Games can also be configured to actually follow the lighting scheme dynamically in-game, kind of like the light on a console controller, so, for example, it’ll dim down in dark areas and light up, based on the light in the game, or flash red if you’re hurt. With the room lights dimmed down, we found it to actually enhance the gameplay rather than detract from it. You can, of course, choose to turn it off if you may wish so.
The touchpad is also a standard affair in functionality, similar to the responsive touch found on Dell laptops and the clicky buttons at the bottom. You’ll probably be using it sparingly anyway considering you’re buying this expensive beast of a laptop for gaming and will prefer to use a mouse or other controllers. But it does have its own RGB treatment as well. You heard it, the whole touchpad glows up according to the color scheme as you touch it, giving the laptop a futuristic look.
Moving on to the build quality, it’s a magnesium alloy chassis with a touch of matte finish on the top. Neither too metallic, nor plasticky. The whole build feels pretty rigid too. You’d be okay with letting it fall off the table without worrying too much about its parts getting displaced (of course, the price says otherwise, don’t drop it really). The lid has much lesser side-to-side flexing compared to its competitors and is not an issue unless you like twisting screens. There is a wee bit of space towards the edge of the hinge and you should be careful not to let anything get near it while closing the lid, as it may get clamped between it.
The Backplate and Upgradeability
The backplate of the chassis is easily removable. Just a bunch of screws and you’re through to the components. This is a big feature that has been introduced into this iteration of the Alienware laptop design and the mantra behind it is supposed to be for allowing users to be able to swap out the components with a lot more ease than ever possible on a laptop. And it really is pretty nifty. With a simple screwdriver, and a bit of twisting (one particular screw refused to come out easily) the backplate was out in no time.
Here is how it looks. There are the RAM sticks and the battery, with the fans on either side. You can swap out even the CPU and the GPU, though that does require going a little deeper. Still, that’s pretty nifty and should help keep this particular laptop future-proofed for a long-long time. It does cost that much after all. (You listening, Apple?)
Web-Camera and Tobii Eye-Tracker
Moving back to the top of the laptop, there’s the standard webcam on the bezel up-top. It’s a standard HD camera and gets the job done if you ever need it. Audio is passable as well. Though you probably wouldn’t like to use it for streaming anything, it appeared a bit grainy under dim lighting. It works for a simple chat or session with your friends.
Below the screen, strategically tucked away right beneath the Alienware logo, is the Tobii eye-tracking device. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a state of the art eye-tracking device which helps locate where on the screen your eyes are focused at. It’s a nice addition to the laptop and doesn’t feel too gimmicky. For example, it detects when you look away and dims the screen, lighting it up when you get back. Tapping the touchpad with your eyes pointed at something makes the cursor jump to it. And a bunch more features. A lot of recently released games also support this feature, though it takes a while getting used to and may or may not be something you appreciate. It depends on the game as well.
Speakers, sound quality and noise levels
To the forward of the chassis we have the stereo speaker system, and they do get pretty loud if needed. They lack a dedicated subwoofer though, meaning you won’t get much of the bass frequencies. These tend to get muddy at certain frequencies if the volume is turned up too high. It is highly likely that you’ll be using headphones while gaming, so that more than makes up for it and shouldn’t be an issue. It’s not particularly noticeable unless you’re doing sound editing or there are a lot of elements in action.
The fans are tucked away underneath, as seen when we removed the backplate, behind the honey-comb duct structure. To support it are the ovular vents at the back, an excellent design feature giving the laptop a defining look. This is by no means a quiet laptop though. When the fans kick in at full speed, it’s practically a jet. A very obvious need considering the high-performance components inside guzzling all that power and producing a lot of heat as the stress increases, and the lack of a liquid-cooling system(it has a “Cryo-Tech” cooling that’s not exactly standard liquid cooling but some polymer). But that means you might get glaring looks if you decide to power it up in say, a library. The fans can, of course, be controlled to slow down the speed, which is not recommended unless you’re sitting in an air-conditioned atmosphere, but by default they’re noisy. The first time it kicked in I thought I’d entered an airlock or something.
Connectivity and Ports
Coming to the ports, the Area 51m features all the goody ports that you’d need to extend the awesomeness of this beast, and that’s a blessing in this age of disappearing ports.
To the left starting from the back there’s a noble lock, a Thunderbolt 3(40Gbps), a USB 3.0 Type-A (with power-share), a 3.5 mm microphone and a 3.5 mm headset jack.
To the right we have two USB 3.0 Type-A’s (no power-share in these).
The back is where the bigger slots are. From the left to the right, there’s the HDMI 2.0 port, a mini-displayPort 1.4, an ethernet port (2.5Gbps), the Alienware Graphics Amplifier and TWO AC adapter ports. Yes, this laptop can be connected to two AC adapters simultaneously which are supplied by default and you need to plug them both in if you want to hit those ultra settings without compromise.
The Alienware Graphics Amplifier is another port which might look intriguing. It’s basically a proprietary e-GPU port, to which you can connect an external GPU case/tower to massively power up the graphics performance if needed. It is supposed to be faster and offer higher bandwidth than the standard thunderbolt 3 powered e-GPUs available on other laptops.
The wireless front consists of a Killer™ AX1650 Wi-Fi and a Bluetooth 5.0. The wifi adapter offers unto 1.73 Gbps on paper and has a good range compared to standard Intel ones.
Moving on to the screen now, the Area 51m features a 17.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) non-touch screen at up to 144Hz refresh rates and Nvidia G-Sync. The resolution is slightly disappointing as a higher resolution would have helped output all that beefy power in a better fashion (Higher-resolution screens are purportedly being developed for releases later this year).
But it’s a quality screen, using an IPS panel with an “Eyesafe” Display Tech, supposed to be able to reduce the eye strain by cutting down on blue light and still maintaining the color vividity on the panel. Response times for black-white and gray-gray are good enough to avoid any major ghosting issues. At 300 nits of brightness, it’s similar to many other gaming laptops. The contrast ratio is a bit of a drawback at 500:1, which is not that great compared to some other Dell screens out there. There is minimal backlight bleeding. For example in our model, there was a wee bit at the bottom, not much of a concern. The bezels are thin and the top edges are rounded off iteratively.
Overall a nice display and more than gets the job done, though the contrast and resolution could have been better. You can use the Nvidia DSR technology to play at 4K in this screen (intelligently scaled down to 1080p), or of course, connect an external display as this laptop can easily power a 4K display.
Now for the part that matters the most for this laptop, the performance. And this is where the laptop truly shines and beats pretty much every competitor to the dust, and that includes desktop PCs.
Since this laptop features a desktop-level CPU and GPU, not the mobile versions usually included in laptops, it can be compared to a desktop. All of the following games were tested at the ultra settings, with RTX turned on to ultra wherever applicable unless mentioned otherwise, at 1080p and then DSR 4K.
(Dark blue = Min FPS, medium blue = Avg FPS, light blue = Max FPS)
So one can expect buttery smooth 60 FPS performance at 1080p ultra unless the RTX effects knock it back, and around 30 FPS on 4K DSR (which has similar performance to an external 4K).
Battery performance and thermals
To test out the battery life of this 90Wh battery house we tried playing Metro Exodus with all settings maxed out at 1080p. Note that on battery power the performance drops significantly and in this particular case around a 15-20 FPS drop even at high-performance mode enabled, compared to the mains supply. From a full charge, the laptop ran into the final 20 percent within 60 minutes at which point the battery saver functions kicked in and reduced the performance to the extent it became unplayable at those settings. With a bit of tweaking one could get around 15 minutes more. With a less demanding game, you could go up to 2 hours of gaming before the battery runs out. At normal usage expect around 3 hours. The idle time would be a bit more than that.
Coming to the thermals, the laptop is efficient in handling the heat it generates thanks to those powerful fans and the ‘Cryo tech’. We never felt uncomfortable placing our hands on the keyboard or the palm rests. If any, the heat generated was above the keyboard area and to the sides. This laptop is not meant to be placed on your lap due to its weight or the exhaust at the bottom which could give you burns if you’re not careful. Even under the high-stress we put it through, there was practically no throttling. Cryo-tech separately cools the GPU and CPU, not common in the laptop market, and it shows. Excellent thermals!
The Dell Alienware Area 51m is an absolute beast in the laptop gaming market and delivers powerfully where it matters while sporting a great design. The price is on the premium side but if you’re really looking for a laptop for pure gaming prowess with as well as some other tasks on the side, it’s justified with its upgradability practically making it a portable desktop PC. Of course, it begs the question- Why buy a desktop-level laptop when you could probably build an actual desktop PC for a cheaper price? The portability is a big factor and it comes down to your needs of usage. But in the end, this laptop is currently unbeatable in the gaming department and if you can afford it, you should probably go for it.
- Excellent performance
- RGB lighting
- Tobii eye–tracking
- Battery Life
- Monitor Resolution
- Weight (For a general laptop)
- Keyboard and touchpad