Dell Alienware Area 51m review: the most powerful gaming laptop in the world

ByDaniel Camilo 2019-05-27 1612

Incredible hybrid machine, the Alienware Area 51m is one of the best desktop PCs for video games. The machine is based on the best current components and can even be updated thanks to its modular design. Overpriced, yes, but what a marvel!

The good

The bad

The very high level of performance

The exorbitant price

The perfect finish

High electricity consumption

Reasonable noise from ventilation

Difficult access to internal components

 

In a simple way, Dell presents it as the "most powerful gaming laptop in the world". And it's true that it's a monster, this Alienware Area-51m. An amazing hybrid machine weighing nearly 4 kilos, halfway between a "classic" 17-inch laptop and a desktop computer.


To give it maximum power, Dell is equipping it with Intel processors (Core i7 and Core I9) designed for tower PCs, as well as Nvidia's new 3D chips, the GTX 2060, 2070 and 2080. This ultra-powerful engine is obviously complemented by the panoply of any recent good computer: SSD modules in M2 format, from 16 to 64 GB of RAM, a large set of USB 3 and Thunderbolt plugs and very high speed wired or radio network modules.


Even stronger, the Alienware Area-51m can be upgraded with a system of removable modules. The Intel processor itself, the hard disk or SSD module...and even the video circuit. A good idea, even if, as we will see later, the update process is anything but simple.


Like all Dell computers, the machine is available in multiple versions and can also be configured "tailor-made" from the manufacturer's website. In any case, the invoice is as huge as the machine. In its basic version, equipped with a Core i7-8700 and a GTX 2060, the Alienware Area 51m already costs nearly 2300 euros. For our tests, Dell loaned us the most high-end model (Dell reference: n00aw51m12), equipped with an 8-core Core i9 processor and a GeForce GTX 2080, with 32 GB of RAM and 1 TB of SSD storage. The price? Nearly 4440 euros, with no play in the box!


What is this luxury gaming machine really worth? Can it really replace a big tower for hardcore gaming? Here is our opinion, with tests to back it up.

An imposing, yet elegant case with an excellent level of finish

The Alienware Area 51m is a beautiful beast. With nearly 4 kilos on the scale, 40 centimetres long, 32 cm deep and 47 millimetres thick, the case is too big for many backpacks and totally impossible to fit on a train or plane tablet. A poor traveller, therefore, the Dell is no less elegant and very well finished. We love the matte black housing colour and its soft touch velvety coating, very pleasant to the touch. We also like the sleek lines and wide vents of the case, which are a little reminiscent, depending on taste, of the look of a race car... or a spaceship.


Alienware Area 51m design


Of course, the Dell's case is also dotted with many colourful loupiotes that are very fashionable on gaming machines. For those who don't like this kind of garland, rest assured, the light effects can be dimmed, or suppressed, with an excellent Dell utility.


The only "small" aesthetic problem of this new Alienware Area 51m is its mains charger. Its chargers, to be precise. Because it's not one large power supply unit, but two, that are needed to power Dell's new monster. Almost the size of a brick, the larger of the two alone weighs nearly 1.5 kg and provides 330 watts of power. A little "lighter" with its 746 grams, the other charger generates 180 watts.


That is a total nominal power of 510 watts to power the machine, about as much as for a PC in tower format.


However, it should be noted that the Area 51m is indeed a portable computer - or rather a portable one - capable of operating without its huge power supply units. It includes a 7500 mAh battery, which is supposed to provide up to 3 hours of autonomy.

Connectivity: almost as rich as that of a desktop PC

Distributed between the rear and sides of the machine, the connection system is very complete, with three USB 3.1 type A sockets (the classic rectangular socket) and a Thunderbolt connector (on the left side) in USB-C format. There are also the "good old" audio jack jacks, one for the microphone input, the other for the analog output.


At the rear, Dell places two digital video outputs -HDMI 2.0 and mini DisplayPort- and a network jack. The manufacturer adds a proprietary connector (to the right of the network socket in the photo below) for its optional "Alienware Graphics Amplifier". It is an external 3D card housed in a case that is connected to the computer to boost its 3D capabilities. This box has little interest on the machine tested here, given its very high level of performance.


Dell Alienware Area 51m Connectivity


The Dell is very well equipped for both wired and wireless communications. It is the first gaming laptop at Dell to feature a 2.5 Gbps Ethernet socket, perfect for very high speed data exchange over a local network (with a compatible router or box). For wireless links, we are entitled to an excellent Wifi ac module "Killer 1550", with a maximum speed of 1.73 Gbits/s, and a Bluetooth 5.0 chip.

A modular box... not so easy to update

After this little tour of the housing, let's take a look inside the machine! Dell is very proud of the modular design of its Alienware Area 51m, which allows you to update some of its components after purchase: SSDs, RAM, but also the processor and 3D chip. On paper, therefore, you can buy the "basic" version of the machine for 2300 euros, then change the Intel chip or Nvidia card a year or two later. That's not untrue... but the procedure is quite complicated!


Dell Alienware Area 51m modular box


The problem is that this Alienware is quite complicated to dismantle, even for an experienced user. No major problems to access memory modules and SSDs. But to access the processor base and the Nvidia GTX 3D card (a model specially designed for this machine, which has nothing to do with 3D desktop PC cards!), you have to remove a large number of screws, disconnect a lot of cables and tablecloths that are sometimes tiny and very fragile The risk of damaging something during the operation is quite high.


During our own disassembly, we accidentally cut (and then soldered!) a group of cables by pulling a little too hard on them. Dell France has not yet been able to tell us whether the update can be done by its own services or at what cost.

Display: a 144 hertz G-Sync compatible panel...limited to Full-HD

On the screen side, Dell has a 17.3-inch IPS slab of fairly good workmanship, correct brightness (300 cd/m² according to our probe) and a fairly high level of contrast (1500:1). The image is sharp and perfectly readable even at a high viewing angle, without parasitic reflections thanks to the matt coating of the slab. In play, we appreciate the compatibility of the screen with Nvidia's G-Sync technology, which allows the screen to synchronize with the 3D chip's speed, up to 144 frames per second (144 Hz).


 Dell Alienware Area 51m Display


For a machine at nearly 4400 euros, however, we are rather disappointed that the native definition does not exceed Full-HD (1920 x 1080 pixels). Dell clearly favored the frame-rate at stake over the finesse of the display. Too bad, because the GTX 2080 chip of the Area m51 could largely animate a slab in Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) or even in 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels).


Another small disappointment, the screen does not offer a very accurate color rendering. According to our X-Rite probe, the screen draws clearly on the blue, and the delta-E (the difference between the ideal color and the displayed hue) reaches 5.43. For comparison, the delta-E of a well calibrated screen is 1 or less.

A solid keyboard, a very responsive touch zone

Unlike the display, the keyboard with a numeric keypad is not reproachful. It extends almost the entire length of the housing, without any lost space, which allows you to integrate very large keys...and add special functions.


There are 9 keys dedicated to game macros, which can be programmed via the "Alienware Command Center" utility, which is also used to customize the keyboard's RGB lighting. Very comfortable, this one is also very strong. According to Dell, keys can handle up to 10 million keystrokes. The touch zone, which is also backlit, responds perfectly to the slightest touch and supports "gestures" with several fingers to control Windows 10.

Highest level of performance thanks to exceptional equipment

After a good week spent with Alienware Area 51m, our assessment is clear. The machine is beautiful, comfortable to use... and of astonishing power! Dell didn't exaggerate, it's clearly the best gamer laptop of the moment. In fact, the machine is more to compare to large PC gaming tower format.


Not so surprising in fact, when you remember that Alienware includes an Intel...desktop PC processor. On our test model, it is the excellent and very expensive Core i9-9900K: 8 physical cores, 16 logical cores... and nearly 600 euros alone! With 32 GB of DDR4 RAM and the largest current Nvidia 3D chip, the Nvidia GeForce 2080, the Dell atomizes the scores of the best gaming laptops already tested by our lab.


We measured 125 frames per second in Ultra quality under Tom Clancy's The Division, compared to 60 to 70 frames per second for recent good laptops like Asus' ROG Zephyrus or Gigabyte's Aero 15X V8. For Rise of the Tomb Raider, the Alienware Area m51 carbides at 154 fps versus just under 100 fps for the best "classic" gamer laptops, around 2000 euros.

High power consumption, but low noise

Attention, the exceptional performance of the Alienware Area 51m goes hand in hand with very high power consumption. In our tests, we measured peaks of nearly 450 watts during large game sessions and intensive multimedia work. At rest, the consumption is fortunately much more reasonable, around 41 watts. Not surprisingly, battery operation time is very short, just over 2 hours according to our tests for office automation or video playback.


The good surprise about this Dell is its well-controlled sound level. For basic office automation or Internet surfing, the ventilation is practically inaudible, with only 29 decibels according to our measurements. In game, the fans are clearly audible (up to 41.4 dB), but the noise is much more bearable than the Dell Alienware m15 we presented to you last January.

THE VERDICT OF THE TEST

The Dell Alienware Area 51m is the most powerful gaming laptop in the world today, as the American manufacturer claims. This incredible "portable" PC can run all the big games of today - and even tomorrow - thanks to its very high-end configuration, based on a desktop PC processor and the 3D GeForce RTX chip from Nvidia. Beyond the 3D game, the machine is also an excellent working tool, responsive and pleasant to use. But at this price level, we regret that the screen does not offer more accurate colors. Another concern is that the machine is not as easy to dismantle and update as Dell announced....

 

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