Alienware Area-51 m15x review

5 May 2008

Alienware's latest blends obscene power with surprising portability, but both come at a cost.

Price when reviewed: 
1,843(£2,165 inc VAT)
5

With your average gaming desktop PC boasting a heat output which would rival that of your average space heater, the very idea of cramming hot, powerful components into the tiny confines of a laptop seems faintly ridiculous. But, that's exactly what Alienware has been successfully doing for years with their range of gaming-focussed notebooks.

Its newest model, the Area-51 m15x, goes one step further by cramming an assortment of top-of-the-range components into a relatively portable 15.4in chassis.

Sitting next to the gigantic Asus G70s, which we previewed a couple of days ago, the m15x looks impossibly compact for such a highly specified machine.

At 3.57kg it's still pretty weighty, though, and no smaller than your average 15.4 inch laptop. But considering the high-performance components inside it's impressive that it's anything less than huge and intimidatingly heavy.

The looks will divide opinion though. The silver chassis looks neat enough, but the lighting is less so. Strip lights surround the trackpad and glow along the display's edge, and the alien head and Alienware logo all light up with colours of your choosing.

The novelty is that this 'AlienFX' lighting, is customisable, but it's easy to abuse: select uncomplimentary shades - the previous reviewer seems to have favoured pink and green as his or her particular favourite - and you can make the m15x look strikingly horrid.

The lights aren't just there for decorative effect. They can do useful things, too, like flash a different colour when your inbox receives a new email, or change hue when the battery has fully recharged.

And, while our review model didn't seem to have it installed, Alienware also offer a backlit keyboard option - a £29 extra - which also illuminates in a range of different colours.

It's also possible to change the colour of the row of touch sensitive buttons above the keyboard but here it's certainly a case of form over function.

We often found ourselves prodding away repeatedly waiting for them to respond - it's a relatively minor issue, but when you're spending nearly £2,000 on a laptop, you'd expect every aspect to feel slick and assured.

And while we appreciate the clean lines of the silvery chassis, and even began to warm to the initially risible array of multi-coloured lighting, the build quality isn't quite so reassuring. Sitting flat on a desk the m15x's lid has a bit of give in it, not excessively so, but it is still noticeably pliant.

Flip up that lid though, and the average build quality seems much less forgiveable. Grip the display with both hands and even gentle twists to and fro elicit show through on the display accompanied by a slightly unnerving creaking noise.

Grappling with the base produces a similarly audible creak too - it's a far cry from the impressively sturdy Dell XPS M1530.

But, despite our reservations, it's clear that the custom-designed chassis is pretty special in many regards.

When it comes to gaming, it's all about the specifications and the m15x's are enough to satisfy even the most power-hungry of users.

The Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme X9000 partners a 2.8GHz clockspeed with 6MB of L2 cache and, with 2GB of system memory in tow, it produced the highest benchmark score we've ever seen from a laptop - an undeniably impressive 1.48.

With the prodigious heat output of the X9000 processor and 8800M GTX graphics chipset it's a wonder the m15x's chassis doesn't melt at the first sign of trouble, but it remains amazingly cool under pressure.