Introduction

Alienware is a company whose name is likely familiar to most gaming enthusiasts, often drawing both stares of lust as well as scorn - lust for the performance being offered, but scorn for the typically high price tags. Originally founded in 1996 and headquartered in Florida, Alienware has built their reputation on offering no-holds-barred performance levels, customized and unique looking computers, and of course gray headed creatures with almond shaped eyes. They made headlines in March of last year when they were purchased by Dell, but besides a redesigned web site it doesn't seem like much has changed. While they have grown quite a bit from their humble beginnings, they remain committed to building some of the fastest computers around. For people that don't want to spend the time and effort assembling and tweaking their own PC, companies like Alienware essentially provide a way to buy into the enthusiast level performance market.

A few months ago, Alienware asked us if we would like to take a look at their new top-end laptop, the Area-51 m9750. We were naturally interested to see what they might be able to offer, and we spent the past several weeks putting the laptop through its paces. Make no mistake: this laptop is blazing fast! It's also pretty large, and portability rather than mobility seems to be the focus. The base level m9750 starts out at around $2100, but purchasing an entry level Alienware m9750 would be a lot like picking up a sports car but only getting a four-cylinder engine, four speed automatic transmission, and basic Goodyear tires. Since we're enthusiasts at heart, we wanted a little bit extra and Alienware obliged.


Flash back with us for a moment to one year ago, and imagine putting together a high-end gaming desktop computer. Core 2 Duo wasn't on the market yet, so you would have been looking at an Athlon X2 AM2 setup. As most gamers know, of course, graphics processing power is generally far more important to frame rates than getting the fastest CPU on the planet. GeForce 8800 cards weren't an option yet either, so your choices for top-end graphics consisted of two NVIDIA 7900 GTX cards running in SLI or a couple of ATI's X1950 XTX cards running in CrossFire, with an appropriate motherboard depending on your choice. Put in a couple Gigabytes of RAM, two hard drives in RAID 0, and a few other accessories and you're pretty much done. Pick up a basic display, speakers, and input devices and you'd probably be looking at spending somewhere in the vicinity of $3000 - though you could easily spend more - for such a computer. Fast forward to today, and while a few things have changed you can now get essentially the same type of system in laptop form.

Of course that's not the whole story. While it's more or less true that last year's top-end desktop hardware is now available in laptops, the price is quite a bit higher. You also miss out on some of the newest technologies that have become available - one year ago we were on the cusp of several technology updates. Quad core processors? Sorry, Intel doesn't offer those yet in their mobile line. DirectX 10 graphics? Sure, you can find laptops that have DirectX 10 hardware, but you're not going to find any 8800 GTS/GTX or HD 2900 XT GPUs in any laptops just yet. 10,000 RPM hard drives and 1TB storage capacities are also missing. So not only do you have to deal with a higher price than a comparable desktop system, but you're also giving up one year's worth of technological advances. Still, some people are willing to make such sacrifices.

The system we were sent for review sells for approximately $5,000, and that's going to be a pretty major hurdle for most people to get over. That's especially true when you consider that you can get a very good notebook for about $2000 and spend another $3000 on a quad core, DirectX 10 desktop system. You'd still have to figure out a way to carry around a large desktop if you want to get gaming performance on the go, but otherwise we would have to say that purchasing a separate desktop and laptop setup makes more sense for the majority of people with $5000 to spend on computers. If you're still willing to live on the bleeding edge of desktop replacement notebooks, though, read on as we take the Alienware Area-51 m9750 for a test ride.

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  • MissPriss - Monday, August 27, 2007 - link

    Who are *you* to correct misspellings?! Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 27, 2007 - link

    I'm Jarred Walton, and I think Yyrkoon knows I'm only kidding around. (I hope?) Who are you? :) Reply
  • PeteRoy - Friday, August 24, 2007 - link

    I hate these graphs that you have to look at the legend and remember the colors to be able to compare the systems.

    Bring back the old bars that are easy to understand with the system name on the left of the bar without it going up and down in the chart.

    Please.
    Reply
  • Frumious1 - Friday, August 24, 2007 - link

    I think the charts are fine! If anyone finds the graphs in this review to be too difficult to understand, I'm not sure what they're doing reading Anandtech in teh first place. The technical jargon is a lot more confusing than a graph that shows the Alienware laptop consistently at the top, but most of us manage to deal with that. Reply
  • customcoms - Friday, August 24, 2007 - link

    99% of your graphs, including all of the ones in this article, are very easy to read and make the most sense for the data conveyed. And if anyone has tried making graphs on a computer before, you can understand the often annoying, time-consuming process it takes, and appreciate the work Jarred and the other anandtech editors go through so we can spend 10 seconds looking over a graph that probably took 10 minutes to make.

    The only graphs I have a problem with are the cooling graphs in the heatsink reviews, and the problem with those is there is too much data for the graph!
    Reply
  • sc3252 - Saturday, August 25, 2007 - link

    Graphs are some of the easiest things to make in articles, writing should be the long part. At most they take 3 minutes or less in any decent office program. As far as their readability, I didn't have any problems, but I did just skim the article. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, August 26, 2007 - link

    Mwahahahahaaa! 3 minutes for the graphs!? Wow, you need to try doing one of these things. That, or I seriously need to get a clue on how to do Excel graphs faster. Let me give you a rundown of how it goes.

    1) Take spreadsheet from last article and insert a new row (or two) for every benchmark with the name of the new tested system. Then input the new results. This usually takes 15 minutes and is the easiest part.

    2) All the stuff done with the AnandTech graphing engine is relatively straightforward: export the Excel to CSV, then import that into the graphing engine. Go through and size all the graphs as necessary and change line coloring. 15-30 minutes depending on the article, usually.

    3) The graphs in Excel. Wow, where to begin? First, since I'm now using Excel 2007, there are some MAJOR graph bugs. If you just right-click a chart and try to change the source data, the charts go nuts. I have no idea what MS did, other than adding some nice line antialiasing, but the Excel 2007 chart UI is garbage as far as I'm concerned. So, I start (on a second PC) in Excel 2003. *IF* all of the benches are the exact same as a previous article, it's pretty simple: you change the source data for each chart to include the new laptop. Modify the line for that laptop so that it's thicker, and make sure all the line colors and thickness settings are correct (i.e. so that the same laptop is always the same color). This usually takes at least 30 minutes.

    In this article, there were several sources for the benchmarks. The gaming stuff was mostly from the Dell M1710 article, while some of the other benchmarks came from elsewhere (i.e. the PC Club article). (Sometimes, adding another system can make the legend too big, so then you're stuck with resizing and such.)

    4) Once the charts are done in Excel 2003, I save and open in 2007 (to get the nicer looking lines). Then I take screen captures, paste into Photoshop, and crop off the excess white space and other junk. (This involves a lot of select/copy/past stuff, plus a couple macros to help with the cropping.) I spent at least a couple hours getting all of the gaming charts updated and making sure they look right. I wish Excel communicated better with Photoshop, but I find that when I just copy the chart and paste into PS, things usually get resized a bit in random ways. Since I want all the charts to be the same size, that just doesn't work for me.

    As an aside, the LCD results alone typically take a couple hours to get ready, adding the data, resizing, tweaking, etc. (Not to mention running the benchmarks for all of this stuff multiple times, but I'm sure everyone realizes how much time that can take).


    Bottom line, I find that getting *all* the graphs ready (plus often rerunning a few tests at the last minute because the results don't look right initially) is an all-day affair. Then there's the images... that's easily another day or two, taking, retaking, and then Photoshopping the pictures. (Let's just say that the laptop pictures aren't taken against a pure white background with no texture, so there's a lot of cleanup involved.) This article was intended to be done by Wednesday, but over the course of the week it ended up getting finished Friday morning.

    Running the tests is still the longest part of any review, however, especially if there's any back-and-forth between the manufacturer, or some issues come up that need to be addressed. (For example, I tried to review an Alienware notebook last year and eventually had to give up because of some testing issues I kept encountering on that model.) If someone could give me all the data I needed - and I trusted the source - and all I had to do was write the text, I think I could get the text done in two days at most. Basically, I count on three weeks of testing and benchmarking (I don't even want to think how often I install Windows in any given week....) followed by a solid week's worth of writing. If I cut out certain tests, I could probably reduce the testing significantly, but then I wouldn't be as sure of the results.

    If any of you really think this stuff seems easy and would like to give it a shot - realizing that proper benchmarking and the ability to get repeatable results is very high on the list of priorities - drop me a line. Gary has talked with a lot of people about doing motherboard reviews, but by the time they realize everything involved, many decide it's not worth the effort. No guarantees or anything, but if you know hardware and can write coherently, there's a good chance we can use you. Convincing us that you're worth hiring: that's the hard part. :)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 24, 2007 - link

    I tried to make sure all the colors were consistent in the scaling graphs. I just can't imagine that stretching the gaming results into nine pages with 36 graphs would really help that much, especially in this type of article. The scaling graphs are so clear that I'm not sure what the difficulty is. Alienware is the bar at the top, XPS M1710 is next, ABS Z5 is below that, and the ASUS A8Js and G2P occupy the bottom area. These charts actually require quite a bit more effort to create than a simple bar chart, but the data density is higher, conveying information in a much more concise fashion. For example, it allows everyone to quickly see whether we're CPU limited or not.

    I'm curious, how many other readers out there really dislike these types of charts? If no one thinks they're useful, I could save myself quite a bit of effort. Or is this just a case of a vocal minority, and most of you agree with me that the scaling charts are better? Let me know.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - link

    I like these charts better. Lots of bar charts would take forever to compare across charts and pages.

    Not shown in this review, but occasionally your results have a bar chart for one resolution and then the line graphs for all resolutions. The Bar chart seems redundant when the numbers are listed in the line chart and you have the line.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, August 24, 2007 - link

    The charts look fine here. However similar charts used in the CPU heatsink articles have gotten out of hand... Reply

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