Dell Alienware Area-51 M17X

The coolest notebook in the galaxy

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Alienware Area-51 M17X
  • Alienware Area-51 M17X
  • Alienware Area-51 M17X
  • Alienware Area-51 M17X
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Great looks, illuminated keyboard, HDMI, Blu-ray, SLI graphics, RAID 0, high-definition screen

Cons

  • Blu-ray drive sometimes had problems closing, touch buttons didn't always work, indicator for 'stealth' status isn't immediately clear, no e-SATA, expensive

Bottom Line

High frame rates and fast performance are hallmarks of this high-definition notebook, but it also looks fantastic. If you don't already have the funds for it, you might want to start saving like you've never saved before!

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Another button can put the notebook into 'stealth' mode. This reduces the speed of the CPU and, in turn, of the cooling fans, making the system much quieter (and slower) to run. In stealth mode, the two-thread Blender 3D test took 3min 47sec to complete — a whopping 2min 43sec longer than it did when running at full speed.

For storage, the unit's hard drive system not only provides plenty of space, but also plenty of speed. It comprises two 250GB hard drives, which are installed in a RAID 0 array and which both spin at 7200rpm. They combined to produce an average transfer rate of 48 megabytes per second in our tests, which is a very fast result.

If you want to add more storage to the unit, you can plug in external USB 2.0-based, or even FireWire 800-based hard drives. The fastest external interface of all — e-SATA — is disappointingly absent.

Still, the Area-51 can brag about its wealth of ports: four USB 2.0, one FireWire, one FireWire 800, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, S-Video, TV-in, optical audio, and headphone, microphone and line-out ports. You also get a webcam, 802.11n wireless networking and an ExpressCard/54 slot. The ExpressCard slot will be handy if you want to add an e-SATA card later on.

As for its size, the 4.9kg Area-51 is big enough to be a landing strip for a Super Hornet, or a resting place for a half-eaten Hungry Jacks Quad Stack burger. It's not at all suited for travel, especially if you will be using public transport. It's approximately 42cm long, 30cm deep and 4.5cm thick, and it has a huge power adapter (20x10x5cm) so it'll need a huge laptop bag or backpack for safe travels. If you'll be taking it to a mate's place for a LAN session, it's best to drive or cab it there and back; carrying $7000 worth of equipment on a bus or train is just not recommended.

The overall build quality of the unit is of a very high standard. A lot of care has been taken to make it look good as well as feel sturdy. The only gripe we have is with the Blu-ray player/DVD burner, which sits in a modular bay and sometimes didn't close properly. As we mentioned previously, we're also not fans of the touch buttons at the top of the keyboard, as they sometimes required more than one press to work properly; they sure do look good, however.

The unit's base is decked out with two speakers and a subwoofer (even though it looks like it has four speakers), but they're no substitute for external speakers. In fact, they are quite weak considering the large size of the notebook. The Realtek audio chip is also a bit of a let-down; it would be nice to see a Creative Audigy-based chip in a high-end system like this one.

Away from an outlet, the unit will last approximately 50min, so it's not something that can be used extensively while outdoors, for example. However, its large size and vast features make it ideal as a high-end desktop replacement or even a media centre unit — albeit an expensive one, even for the most dedicated and cashed-up enthusiasts.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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