Alienware Area 51m (2019) full review

The Area 51m is a stunning, noteworthy machine. On one hand, it’s unmistakably Alienware: huge, imposing and eye-catching. On the other, several big departures mark this laptop out as a new chapter for Dell’s gaming arm.

As ever, though, this Alienware is not light or cheap. The model we’ve reviewed costs £3,799 or $4,149, and it tips the scales at nearly 4kg so let's see if either of those are justified.

Price & Availability

The £3,799 model we’ve reviewed here is the most expensive UK model. It’s got an i9-9900K desktop processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics and 32GB of memory alongside the 144Hz screen. Our model has a single 512GB SSD, but buyers get a boot drive that uses two 512GB SSDs in RAID 0.

Models with the RTX 2070 start at £2,599 and rise to £3,149. Price variations are determined by different components elsewhere: at the lower end you get the slower, locked Core i7-9700 CPU, while the two pricier machines have the i9-9900K. Storage and memory allocations also change.

The most affordable UK models include the RTX 2060. They cost between £1,948 and £2,199. As before, price differences are determined by different CPUs, although all three of these machines only have 8GB of memory and 256GB SSDs.

As well as buying from Dell, you can get the laptop from Currys PC World, Littlewoods and Very.

US buyers also have several options. The most affordable model costs $1,949 and includes a Core i7-9700 CPU, an RTX 2060 GPU and a 60Hz Full HD display. Spend $2,949 and you upgrade to the i7-9700K which is unlocked for overclocking alongside an RTX 2070 and better storage and memory options.

The $3,249 machine maintains those core components but adds the 144Hz screen and a larger SSD. For US customers, the $4,149 model is another step up: Alienware deploys the Core i9-9900 and an RTX 2080 alongside 32GB of memory. This model is closest to the version reviewed here. It doesn’t have a Core i9-9900K, so you miss out on a little bit of speed and overclocking, but that’s not going to make much real-world difference.

At the top of the stack is a $5,149 machine. For that money you get the previous machine’s components but with more memory and storage.

All of these laptops, on both sides of the Atlantic, can have most of their specifications customised. Different CPUs, GPUs, memory configurations and storage options can be picked. Buyers can also opt for less ambitious displays without G-Sync or Tobii eyetracking, or with a lesser 60Hz refresh rate.

Check out our best gaming laptops chart to see what else is available.

Design & Build

The Area 51m uses a new style called Alienware Legend, which is sleeker and less aggressive than previous Alienware notebooks.

It looks fantastic. The wrist-rest and lid both have a soft, matte black coating, and everything else is made from magnesium alloy. The outrageous vents and angles of older Alienware machines have largely gone, and you get slimmer screen bezels on this new design.

Of course, this is still an Alienware, so there’s still some extravagance. The logo-shaped power button, keyboard and trackpad still have RGB LEDs, and the Alienware head on the lid is similarly illuminated. The model we’ve reviewed is black, although Alienware calls the finish ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Unusually, a white model is also available, called ‘Lunar Light’.

Alienware Area 51m internals

The Alienware’s most outlandish design lurks behind the screen. The rear bulks up to a thickness of 31mm, and the metal is peppered with hexagonal cooling vents. The vents are ringed with a band of RGB LEDs – the largest area of lighting on the laptop.

The screen is sturdy and the base is solid, and the wrist-rest only budges slightly with a lot of applied pressure. The Alienware’s build quality should be good, because it’s huge: it weighs 3.87kg and it’s 31mm thick. Few machines are this large. Even the Aorus 15 X9, which relied on the full-power mobile RTX 2070 and had a 15.6in screen, weighed 2.4kg and was 24mm thin.

One of the Alienware’s big draws is the ability to easily upgrade the internals. Only six Phillips screws secure the base, and you do get good internal options. There are two spare memory slots alongside the two occupied sockets, and the battery, storage and wireless card are easily accessible.

Because the Area 51m uses a desktop CPU, that chip can be swapped – although there’s nowhere to really go from a Core i9-9900K. The graphics card can also be swapped, although the Alienware uses a bespoke mobile form factor and Dell currently doesn’t sell any alternative GPUs. There’s also no word on whether future Nvidia cards will be supported.

Connectivity is fine, although it could have been much better. You get three USB 3.1 ports, a Thunderbolt 3 connection that supports USB 3.1 Type-C and DisplayPort, and an HDMI 2.0 output. Elsewhere, there’s an audio jack, a 2.5Gbps Ethernet output, and a port for Dell’s Graphics Amplifier – somewhat redundant in a machine with this much on-board horsepower.

Alienware Area 51m ports

However, there is spare space everywhere on this chassis, so you could easily have had more USB ports, more Type-C connectivity, a second audio jack and a card reader. That’s not the only design compromise. The Alienware uses two power bricks – so that’s an extra 1.5kg of weight.

Keyboard & Trackpad

The Alienware’s exterior is new, but the ergonomics will make old Alienware fans feel right at home.

It’s a traditional keyboard rather than a chiclet unit, and it has a good layout: you get five discreet macro keys, large cursor buttons and four more customisable buttons above the number pad.

The keys have a generous 2.2mm of travel, and a steel plate installed beneath makes the unit feel robust. It’s got anti-ghosting and n-key rollover, so it’s well built for the demands of gaming. Typing is consistent and fast – but they’re a bit too soft. This keyboard may look a bit like a mechanical unit, but it doesn’t feel like one.

Alienware Area 51m keyboard

With more low-profile mechanical options available these days, and with the Alienware’s huge price, that’s a tad disappointing – even if most gamers will be sated by the Alienware’s typing hardware.

The trackpad is smooth and responsive, and the two discrete buttons are comfortable. However, the buttons are soft and press down too far. If you’re serious about gaming, use a mouse.

Screen & Speakers

The Alienware has a Full HD IPS panel with Nvidia G-Sync that peaks at 144Hz and that's a good specification.

The addition of G-Sync means games will run with butter-smooth framerates, and the graphics hardware easily has the power to take advantage of this feature. However, there is a missed opportunity here – because the Alienware isn’t available with a 4K screen. The RTX 2080 has the power to run most games at 4K and at 60fps.

Quality levels are very good. The screen delivers a Delta E of 1.69, which is beyond the point where human eyes notice deviation. The colour temperature of 6,950K is a bit cold, but it’s not wayward enough to make an impact. In short: colours are very accurate with an ample 95% of sRBG.

The brightness level of 337cd/m2 is great, too – high enough to cope with all situations. The backlight only deviated by around 12% in the corners, too, which is not high enough to prove noticeable.

Alienware Area 51m screen

The black measurement of 0.3cd/m2 is the only negative. It’s a little too high, which means that darker areas will lack a tiny bit of depth. It also contributes to a contrast ratio of 1123:1. Let’s be clear: those two latter figures are still good, and they won’t impact gaming negatively – this screen is punchy, vibrant and has good depth. It’s just that some other laptops will be a little better.

The speakers are excellent: they’re hugely loud, with great clarity. They’re easily good enough for games and movies.

Specs & Performance

Unusually, the Alienware uses desktop components. The Core i9-9900K has eight Hyper-Threaded cores that can address sixteen threads, and it runs at a base clock of 3.6GHz with a Turbo peak of 5GHz.

Compare that to the familiar Core i7-8750H: it’s a six-core part that runs at 2.2GHz with a Turbo peak of 4.1GHz. Even the high-end mobile Core i9-8950HK has six cores and speeds of 2.9GHz and 4.8GHz.

The desktop-class Nivida GeForce RTX 2080 is deployed here, which means you get 2,944 stream processors and 8GB of GDDR6 memory. The Alienware also has a slight GPU overclock – the original base speed of 1,515MHz has risen by 30MHz, with an extra 15MHz applied to the original 1,710MHz Boost pace.

Laptop GPUs have no answer to this. A mobile RTX 2080 retains the 2,944 stream processors and 8GB of memory, but its base speed of 1,380MHz is reduced. The mobile RTX 2070 has 2,304 stream processors and a base clock of 1,215MHz.

Alienware Area 51m gaming laptop

Elsewhere, there’s 32GB of memory that runs at a mediocre 2,400MHz alongside a 512GB SSD. The drive delivered read and write speeds of 3,149MB/s and 1,376MB/s – good pace. Customers will get a RAID 0 array made from two 512GB drives, so you’ll get more space.

These components produce fearsome performance. In Geekbench 4, with the laptop at default settings, the Alienware scored 30,256. That’s sensational: at least 7,000 points better than laptops with conventional mobile chips, and sometimes more than 10,000 points faster.

In PC Mark 10 the Alienware delivered a result of 7,332. That’s a couple of thousand points ahead of any other gaming laptop.

You can do virtually anything on this rig. It’ll run software for streaming, video editing, multi-tasking or handling databases alongside loads of other productivity tasks.

The Alienware matches its muscular CPU performance with lightning-quick gaming. It averaged 92fps in Total War: Warhammer II and 100fps in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided with both running at Ultra settings. In a tougher game, like Ghost Recon Wildlands, the Alienware still averaged 73fps with every setting at maximum.

Every game will run smoothly, with 60fps averages or better. Every e-sports title will easily run at beyond 140fps – so with framerates high enough to master that 144Hz screen. More demanding single-player titles will also run at that pace with only minimal reductions to graphical quality. This machine will also handle widescreens, 4K panels and VR headsets.

Elsewhere, the Alienware also handles Nvidia ray-tracing: its 77fps result in Metro Exodus dropped to a still-playable 66fps with that setting activated. In 3D Mark Port Royal, which tests ray-tracing, the laptop scored 5722.

More conventional laptop GPUs will run most games at 60fps, with many titles also hitting 100fps or beyond. But none of them will do that with the consistency of the Alienware, and none will be as adept with ray-tracing, VR or 4K outputs.

Check out the benchmarks below compared to the Aorus 15X and Razer Blade 15. We've also included the MateBook X Pro as a regular laptop that has as MX250 graphics card.

And then there’s the overclocking. The Alienware’s first overclocking mode runs the CPU at 5GHz – so you get its Turbo speed all the time – and adds 100MHz to the GPU clock. Its second ups the CPU to 5.2GHz and adds 150MHz to the GPU’s speeds.

Using these modes delivers a modest performance boost. Running the CPU at 5GHz improved the Geekbench 4 score to 30,410, while upping the chip to 5.2GHz improved its result to 30,681.

Increasing the GPU clock by 100MHz saw its 3D Mark Sky Diver score improve around 3,000 points to 56,397, while running the GPU with an extra 150MHz revised that score to 57,089.

In the real world these boosts will give you a handful of extra frames in games, but that’s it.

Manual tweaking was less successful. The Alienware can run its CPU at a peak speed of 5.5GHz and to add a total of 200MHz to the GPU, but we were never able to hit these speeds without crashing.

The Alienware’s thermal performance is inconsistent. First, the good: this machine is never loud. No matter the stress-tests we ran, in stock or overclocked modes, the fan noise is fine. It’s present, of course, but it’s quieter than most other gaming laptops, and it’s easy to drown out with the speakers or a headset. When idling and handling easier tasks, it’s basically silent.

The exterior heat levels were fine. The exterior remained cool, the keyboard only had a tiny bit of warmth, and not much heat was ejected from the right-hand side vent – so your mouse hand won’t get warm.

Alienware Area 51m cooling

The graphics card impressed. Even when overclocked and in the middle of full-system stress-tests its peak temperature of 81°C is fine, and its speeds were good – it always ran at 1,725MHz or higher.

The CPU is a different matter. When running at stock speeds and when overclocked its peak temperature during stress-tests hit 99°C, which is too high. That means throttling, with speeds being reigned in to between 4.1GHz and 4.4GHz.

If you’re using the Alienware for games then you likely won’t run into these issues. But if you want to use this machine for intensive productivity tools, too, it’s worth bearing in mind.

As ever, the Alienware Command Center app remains an intuitive tool: one tab optimises installed games, another handles lighting and a third is used for overclocking. You also get Tobii eye-, which is used for dimming the screen, unlocking the laptop and for moving the camera in supported titles.

Battery life

Alienware uses a 90Wh battery here. That’s sizeable – the Aorus only had a 62Wh power pack – but it’s not enough to provide any real longevity.

In our standard video looping test with the screen at 120cd/m2 brightness the Alienware lasted for two hours and twelve minutes. In a gaming test that lifespan was halved. That’s no different from most gaming notebooks, and no surprise for desktop replacement.

The lesson remains the same: stay close to the mains.

Verdict

The Alienware Area 51m is an impressive, frustrating machine. It’s very good, of course, but it’s not as good as it should be – especially at this price.

Performance is stellar, with more gaming ability than any other laptop. It’ll handle everything, from today’s toughest single-player games to the fastest competitive titles, and it’ll output to VR headsets and 4K panels. The CPU will run virtually any work application, the screen is excellent, the internals are accessible and the speakers are stonking.

Elsewhere, though, good attributes are undermined. The Alienware looks great and build quality is decent, but it’s extremely heavy – especially with two power bricks. The keyboard and trackpad are fine, but underwhelming, and the Alienware’s overclocking features don’t always work.

Battery life is expectedly poor, and the port selection could have been much better considering the size of this laptop.

Also remember that much cheaper laptops will play games smoothly too, and while also handling plenty of work tasks. If you’re not going to fully exploit the Alienware’s components you could save loads by opting for a more modest notebook.

This is a very good desktop replacement, and a certain demanding niche will be more than satisfied with the Area 51m. But, for this money, we expect perfection – and the Alienware doesn’t quite deliver.

Specs

Alienware Area 51m (2019): Specs

  • Processor: Up to 3.6GHz Intel Core i9-9900K
  • Graphics: Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2870 8GB
  • Memory: Up to 32GB 2400MHz DDR4
  • Screen: 17.3in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS 144Hz Nvidia G-Sync
  • Storage: 512GB SK Hynix PC400 M.2 SSD
  • Ports: 3 x USB 3.1, 1 x mini-DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI 2.0, C, 2 x audio jack, 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x Alienware Graphics Amplifier
  • Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ac, Gigabit Ethernet 2.5Gbps, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Dimensions: 403 x 319 x 31mm
  • Weight: 3.87kg