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Alienware Area-51 m9750 Desktop Replacement Laptop

At a Glance
  • Alienware Area-51 m9750

    PCWorld Rating

The ruggedized Alienware Area-51 m9750 desktop replacement laptop is a tough, stylish rig designed for serious gamers. It offers a unique combination of mobile-workstation and entertainment features not often found under one hood. For such an expensive machine, however, it has a few too many flaws to forgive. We weren't too surprised to see that its battery life was short, but the screen was on the dull side. Gaming frame rates, while good, were disappointing for a laptop with two graphics cards. You might be willing to put up with these problems in exchange for the m9750's 'tude and world-class configuration options--just be forewarned.

The m9750 is a big, black, almost muscle-bound unit with a thick, rubberized Batmobile-like exterior, complete with hand grips. The interior surfaces--even the touchpad--have a soft, buttery leather-like finish. Overall, the many features are well laid out. All of the application and media shortcuts are responsive one-touch controls located in a panel above the keyboard. On the downside, the one-piece mouse rocker is a bit stiff, and the front-ejecting optical drive tray sometimes gets in the way. The laptop's sound is only so-so quality but plenty loud. Our unit's 17-inch screen, with 1920-by-1200-pixel resolution (a $200 upgrade included in the price of our test unit), displayed readable, fine detail but had a dark cast.

In the customization game, the m9750 is hard to beat. You can outfit the stripped-down, $1699 starter unit with thousands of dollars' worth of upgrades, including an $1800 pair of supposedly crash-proof 64GB solid-state hard drives. Alternatively, you can choose traditional storage up to 640GB ($420 more), or one of many different combinations of solid-state and traditional-hard-drive RAID setups. Tack on a few games ($20 to $60 extra), a Sprint Cellular Mobile Broadband ExpressCard ($230) to stay connected wherever the party takes you, and a Media Center remote control and ATSC TV Tuner ($230) to enjoy other types of entertainment.

Our 9-pound (11.3 pounds with the power adapter) Windows Vista Home Premium review unit cost $4258 (as of November 16, 2007), including several expensive options such as a single 64MB solid-state drive ($1100 more than the standard 80GB hard drive) and one of the first rewritable Blu-ray Disc drives ($450) we've seen in a laptop.

The 1.4-hour battery life, more than an hour shorter than the 2.5-hour average for this laptop class, was disappointing. But the speed of our 2.33-GHz Core 2 Duo T7600-equipped unit was very good overall, earning a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 84, three points higher than the average mark of desktop replacement laptops we've tested. 

We expected the dual nVidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX 512MB GDDR3 SLI-enabled graphics cards ($250) to set off some fireworks, and the m9750 did manage above-average frame rates in Doom 3 (101 frames per second) and Far Cry (118 fps). It did not break any new ground, however. For instance, last year Alienware's own Area-51m 5750 and an HP Pavilion dv9000t (both now discontinued) turned in Far Cry rates of 152 and 129 fps, respectively, using slower processors and single video cards. We did not test the m9750 with its more expensive nVidia GeForce 8700M GT SLI dual-card option (an additional $150).

The money that Alienware spends on the bundled baseball cap, mouse pad, and leather binder might be put to better use providing a better manual. The user documentation consists of a few printed pages and a hard-to-use online reference that don't do justice to the features.

If you must have the newest technology, such as solid-state drives and Blu-ray, in your gaming laptop, belly up to this all-you-can-eat bar. Otherwise, keep looking.

--Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Brawny customized gaming rig pulls out all the stops, including solid-state storage, but has a dark screen and other flaws.

    Pros

    • Some of the fastest gaming in town
    • Solid-state storage

    Cons

    • Heart-stopping price tag
    • Screen a tad dark
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