Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Alienware Area-51 m15x-R1
- Very fast performance, impressive LED lighting system, Blu-ray writer
- Expensive, lacks older ports, small screen, touchpad is slow without Mylar
Once you get over the fact that you could buy several PCs at this price, the Alienware Area-51 m15x-R1 is an extremely capable desktop replacement for the keen gamer.
Price$ 5,870.00 (AUD)
For any serious computer gamer, the name "Alienware" is instantly recognisable. When you glance at the specifications of the m15x-R1, you'll see why. It delivers very high performance, but for $5870, it's at the top end of the price scale.
The m15x-R1 sports the trademark Alienware skull on its lid. Under the lid is a touch-sensitive control panel for managing sound and wireless connections. The touch-sensitive power button is an alien skull whose flashing eyes indicate system activity. LEDs beneath the keyboard provide illumination in one of 12 different colours, ranging from white to hot pink.
The notebook is powered by a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 CPU with a 6MB L2 cache and a front side bus speed of 800MHz; it's the latest 45 nanometre offering from Intel. It features four gigabytes of 667MHz DDR2 RAM and 1GB of Intel Turbo Memory, which is designed to reduce start-up times (though this is barely noticeable on such a powerful system).
The graphics card is a 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800M GTX, which can run all the latest games on the market. The notebook's 200GB Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive spins up at a desktop-worthy 7200rpm. A secondary 160GB SATA hard drive is included and can be swapped with the Blu-ray burner in the Smart Bay.
The 15.4in widescreen offers 1920x1200 resolution, which will display Blu-ray movies in all their glory. However, the high resolution makes normal Windows operations difficult due to the small text and icons. Its viewing angles are very wide and reflections are minimal, but the screen can be too dark at times.
When it comes to speed, this notebook is a rocket! In WorldBench 6 tests it scored 106, meaning that it'll easily handle almost anything you throw its way. In our iTunes test, where we convert 53 minutes worth of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3s, it recorded a blistering time of 64 seconds.
In 3DMark06 it scored 9127, and card-munching games such as Crysis can be played without noticeable frame lag, except at high resolutions.
After any period of use, the unit becomes warm, and while playing games the temperature rises even higher. To combat this, Alienware has introduced binary graphics. By pressing the Fn and F7 keys, the system switches between the GeForce 8800M GTX and the integrated graphics, thus saving energy and reducing heat when working on things that don't require high-end graphics power.
Another usability issue is the touchpad, which is made out of the same plastic as the palm rest. This leaves it feeling too slow. Alienware's solution is to include a Mylar sticker that is placed on the touchpad to make it more slippery.
Our model also suffered a production error that removed the GeForce drivers. The solution was to re-install the drivers that were included on the system drive. Alienware says this problem won't effect the majority of its machines. We also found that watching Blu-ray movies wasn't possible out of the box. The activation code required to use the bundled player was buried in a folder on the hard drive.
Thanks to the power-intensive nature of all these components, in our worst-case scenario battery tests, where we loop a DVD, the m15x-R1 lasted a low 59 minutes.
For device connectivity, the m15x-R1 offers one HDMI port, three USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire B port. It's a modern unit with modern ports; you won't find D-Sub, S-Video or modem ports on the chassis. An IR receiver is built-in, which means it's ready to be used as media centre, although a remote control is not supplied.
The unit offers Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi for the fastest possible networking at LAN events. A four-in-in card reader (MMC, SD, MS, MSPro) is standard. Expansion is handled by the ExpressCard/54 slot. The single microphone port, built-in array microphones and one optical audio-out port facilitate sound; a 2-megapixel webcam can be used for online rendezvous.
This notebook is too heavy for use while on the move — it weighs 3.5kg without its power supply and 4.3kg with it — but with so much power under the hood, the Alienware m15x-R1 is the perfect desktop replacement.
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