Alienware Area-51m R1 review: Fast, big and upgradable

Alienware's redesigned powerhouse laptop promises the Holy Grail of gaming laptop features.

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Area 51m Ray Tracing Performance

With RTX-based gaming laptops so new, it's been hard to get a bead on how just how well they'll perform in the Promised Land of hybrid ray traced gaming. We were especially concerned after our review of the MSI GS75 and its RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU, which sacrifices so much in clock speeds.

We run 3DMark's Port Royal graphics test, which measures hybrid ray tracing. Comparing the results with some published desktop results, we can see the Area-51m's RTX 2080 is about five percent slower than a reference desktop RTX 2080 card. We'd say that's a pretty good win, especially compared to how the RTX 2080 Max-Q seems to fall.

rtx laptops the story so far IDG

We've tested only three RTX-based laptops so far in hybrid ray tracing, with the Area-51m offering the best performance to date.

Alienware Area-51m Thermals

The biggest enemy of performance in gaming laptops is heat. We ran the GPU stress test Furmark along with the CPU (the non-AVX version) stress test Prime 95 (using the in-place torture test.) We let it run with the fans set to Quiet, and then set to Full Speed.

On Quiet, the fans were far more restrained, and you can see the result on the GPU's performance below. The RTX 2080 would run up and down in clock frequency, while the CPU maxed out at about 4.3GHz to 4.4GHz. With the fans set to a roaring full speed, the CPU hovered in the 4.45GHz to 4.6GHz range, with the RTX 2080 settling down at about 1,500MHz.

The CPU on heavy loads will typically push 99 degrees Celsius. Some will see that as too hot, but it's not unheard of. Remember, this isn't a desktop with unlimited cooling capability and space. Laptops and space-constrained devices often push the envelope to chase performance. Some laptop makers will opt for lower temps—and lower performance—while others will opt for all-out performance. 

thermal1 IDG

We ran the laptop with a GPU and CPU stress test in its quiet fan mode and then switched to full speed. As you can see, the GPU's performance isn't quite the 1710 base speed but considering we're pushing the CPU and GPU, that's not bad.

The Area-51m sucks air in through vents on the bottom and exhausts hot air out behind and from the sides. The system works quite well. Even after more than an hour of GPU and CPU torture tests, the keyboard was a comfortable 101 degrees. That may sound high to you, but it's basically lukewarm.You can see from our thermal image that most of the hot air is vented out the rear, rather than parboiling your mouse and mouse pad.

area 51m keyboard 1 hour of prime and fur larger Gordon Mah Ung

After more than an hour of running both a CPU and GPU stress test, the Alienware Area-51m's keyboard topped out around 103 degrees Fahrenheit. That may sound like a lot, but if the cup of coffee or burrito you ordered was that temp—you'd send it back to the kitchen.

Should you buy the Area-51m?

There are three main metrics for judging the Area 51m: performance, price, and upgrades.

On the performance front, it would be wrong to write anything other than flowery praise because, well, it's the fastest laptop we've ever seen. It truly crushes the more common Core i7-8750H-based laptops. It also has no problems stomping the Core i9-8950HK and Core i7-8700K. The surprise is how well it dispatches the Ryzen 7 2700, too. This thing is a beast.

The GPU is no less monstrous. The RTX 2080 easily outpaces GTX 1080s too and establishes itself as the new top dog. The caveat, of course, is that this is the first Core i9-9900K and RTX 2080 laptop we've seen, but given what we've seen, it'll be hard to beat.

The second criteria is price, and there it ranges from slightly expensive to unreasonable, depending on where you're coming from. We found mobile Core i9 and RTX 2080 laptops in the $3,600 range, which makes the Area-51m we tested pretty pricey. But, if your goal is to step into a Core i9-9900K with an RTX 2080, expect to spend no less than $4,000, with many charging $4,500 for comparable specs. 

The last criterion is the one that we really have a hard time judging, and that's future upgrades. Alienware officials are very careful to avoid saying future upgrades are guaranteed. But they all but walk up to the line, cross themselves, and say by the grace of the GPU and CPU gods, you'll get an upgrade or more. Lacking actual upgrades yet, it's hard to render a verdict.

What we can say is that we applaud efforts to make laptops with upgradable components, or even the intention of upgradable components. While not everyone needs to pay the premium for the capability, the ability to extend the life of a laptop should be something all vendors strive for.

area 51m back 1a Gordon Mah Ung
At a Glance
  • Alienware's redesigned powerhouse laptop promises the Holy Grail of gaming laptop features: It's big, fast, beautiful, and even upgradable, with a desktop CPU and a custom upgradable GPU design.

    Pros

    • Desktop 8-core Core i9-9900K rules all
    • GeForce RTX 2080 offers far better performance than Max-Q version and leaves GTX 1080 cards in the dust
    • Potentially upgradable graphics

    Cons

    • "Only" two M.2 slots and one 2.5-inch bay
    • Currently only 1080p options
    • Two different-sized power bricks feels funky
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