Alienware Area 51 Notebook Turnkey Editing Computer Review

Desktop on the Run

Are you a road warrior, or aspiring to become one? Do you always have access to a wall outlet? If you answered "yes" to both of these questions, Alienware would like you to know about its new Area 51 M7700 notebook. It's a monstrous machine, but it's a fair deal at $3,150.

Heavy, Man

The Area 51 M7700 tips the scale at 12 pounds (16 pounds in its supplied soft case with its power supply pack), making this a luggable machine. When removed from the case, you immediately notice the four fans on the bottom of the computer and the big, shiny copper heat sink fins at the back of the machine.

The machine starts up quickly and quietly, but there are indications that this is more than your average notebook. Case in point: the appearance of a Promise FastTrak RAID screen during POST. We delved into the FastBuild utility to see that the machine includes a pair of 40GB Hitachi 7200 rpm Travelstar hard drives, set up as a stripe set.

As soon as you plug the machine into the wall, you'll notice that the 17-1/4″ display is big and bright. However, once you unplug the power supply, the display brightness dims noticeably. We could also literally watch the battery indicator decrease with the passage of time. Poking around on the machine for half an hour to see what makes it tick decreased the battery charge to 50%. Yes, you read that right — in the time it takes to bake a lasagna, get a pair of glasses made or to fly from Sacramento to Burbank, your battery will be depleted; hence, our recommendation to have a wall outlet handy. On the other hand, using this machine as a desktop replacement could be a great solution if you were in a location where you had a somewhat unreliable power source and had bad luck with UPSs or surge protectors.
We said "desktop replacement," and we meant it — the machine packs a HyperThreaded 3.4GHz Pentium 4 and includes a dual-format DVD burner and a huge, gorgeous display. This machine puts many edit bays we've used to shame.

Our test machine arrived with only Windows Movie Maker installed, but Alienware offers a wide array of editing software. The machine's configuration pages on the Web show some Pinnacle Studio variations, but most other editing applications are available for the asking (prices vary).

Other observations

On the desktop, one of the first things you'll notice is an icon titled "My Alienware PC Information", which points to a complete inventory of the system, including performance scores and frame-per-second rates observed in specific hot video game titles. However, the "My Alienware PC Information" for our machine claimed that it had ATI graphics, when it actually includes an nVidia GeForce 6800GO chipset for graphics.

The notebook also includes a small built-in camera, called a BisonCam, just above the display. This is the first time we've seen a device like this on a laptop. As we're not big Web cam users around here, we thought seeing ourselves on our computer screen as we worked was slightly weird, but it could be fun, as well as being useful for applications like video conferencing.

In addition to that, you digital still camera users planning to create a slideshow will be happy to see that the machine includes CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD and SmartMedia slots to quickly import your digital photos without using external readers. Unless, of course, your camera uses XD cards, in which case you'll still need a reader.
One thing that troubles us is that while no antivirus software is installed (and for best editing performance, it shouldn't be), Windows XP's Security Center was set at the self-monitor mode to prevent the "danger" icon from appearing in the tray. This could potentially put your data in a dangerous place, unless you know exactly what you're doing with the machine's Wi-Fi capabilities.

We also noticed some older software on the system. Nero was still at 6.3.1.19, CyberLink PowerDVD and Adobe Acrobat Reader were still at 5.0 and Windows Media Player was still at 9. While 3 out of 4 of these programs have free updates to get to the most current versions, we're a bit surprised that they weren't up-to-date out of the gate. Happily, though, when we ran Windows Update, there was only one critical update that had not been installed.

Rip-Roarin' Fast

The Alienware Area 51 M7700 is definitely not like any off-the-shelf notebook you'll come across. If you're looking for battery life, then we imagine that those nice, mainstream Toshiba, Acer, Apple, Fujitsu, Gateway and WinBook machines on your list will probably still be looking pretty good. If, however, you want a small (but heavy) machine with high performance, this is your machine. In spite of a few oddities, we enjoyed using this machine, and depending on your needs, it's likely you'll find it enjoyable as well.

TECH SPECS

Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP2

RAM: 1GB

Chipset: Intel 915

Processor: Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz HyperThreaded

Number of Physical Processors: 1

Hard Drive Capacity: 80GB (striped IDE drives)

Video Editing Software Included: Microsoft Windows Movie Maker

Analog video input: S-Video

DVD Burner: NEC ND-6500A DVD-/+RW

DVD Authoring Software Included: Nero 6.3.1.19

Display: 17.25" widescreen LCD, 1680×1050

Display adapter: nVidia GeForce Go 6800, 256MB, 16-lane PCI Express

External Monitor Connections: DVI

STRENGTHS

  • Great performer
  • Outstanding display

WEAKNESSES

  • Short battery life
  • Heavy

SUMMARY

A desktop replacement notebook that is very powerful but isn't exactly portable.

Charles Fulton is Videomaker's Associate Editor.

$3,150

Alienware

12400 SW 134th Ct., Bay 8

Miami, FL 33186

(800) ALIENWARE

www.alienware.com

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