Alienware has a knack for creating gaming designs that'll appeal to just about anyone.
The Alienware Area-51 m9750 ($4,708 direct), for instance, is a testament to how a touch of simplicity can enhance the design. It moves away from the flashy neon paint jobs in favor of a stealthier look Batman would love.
Stealth Black, as Alienware likes to call it, is an intuitive approach to adding subtlety while retaining the unearthly look of an Alienware gaming rig.
There's a lot to like about the design, but pulverizing the gaming opposition is still the main objective. That's why an SLI-enabled graphics chipset and a high-performance, mobile dual-core processor are ready for the task at hand.
For this, the m9750 supplants the Dell XPS M1710 as the gaming king, or at least until Dell can come up with a new rig.
Speaking of Batman, it may not be Alienware's intention, but I look at the m9750 as an ode to the Dark Knight himself.
I say this in jest, because last year the company released a Superman limited-edition laptop that drew a lot of hype.
The Stealth Black (yes, that's really the name of the color) exterior is reminiscent of Batman's ensemble, particularly the rubber-like layer draped around the chassis and the ridges that, to me, resemble his rib cage. (Again, this is my take, not Alienware's.)
The outermost layer also repels smudges, unlike the fingerprint-prone HP Pavilion HDX9000. The frame is held together by a magnesium-alloy composite, which safeguards your laptop from commutes between LAN tournaments. Of course, the design wouldn't be complete without the LED-lit alien-head logo.
Gamers usually demand large, bright, wide-aspect displays, with a heavy pixel count. The m9750 sports a 17-inch glossy widescreen with a 1,920-by-1,200 resolution.
Anything larger would require rolling suitcases, as evidenced by the HDX9000's 20-inch screen and 15.4-pound frame.
The m9750 weighs a manageable 9.2 pounds, which is lighter than both the HDX9000 and the Eurocom D900C Phantom (11.6 pounds).
The Dell XPS M1710 (Blu-ray) is lighter at 8.8 pounds, but its design definitely is no longer turning any heads.
I expect a design refresh very soon from Dell. Until then, the m9750 takes the throne.
I like the way the m9750's keyboard responds using the W, A, S, D keys, Arrow keys, and Shift and Enter keys. These keys are typically associated with shoot-'em-up games such as "Unreal Tournament," "Half-Life" and "Prey."
On the other hand, I found the mouse buttons difficult to press and impossible to use — this went for other tasks as well as gaming. Most gamers will use an external mouse, anyway.
The m9750 is as much a media center as it is a gaming rig. To start, it has three dedicated audio ports for a set of analog speakers and a subwoofer. It includes an optical-out port for digital audio, in case you want to hook up your system to your home theater.
I was hoping for an integrated ATSC (HD) tuner instead of the standard NTSC one. The inclusion of a standard tuner is still better than the Dell XPS M1710 (Blu-ray), which doesn't offer one at all.
You can find an S-Video-in port that'll connect a gaming console or camcorder. A DVI-D port is typically the norm for a gaming rig, but since the m9750 has an option for a Blu-ray Disc burner, I think an HDMI-out port would've been a better fit because it would let you stream both video and audio from the same cable.
The hefty feature set also includes a swivel 1.3-megapixel webcam and a cavernous 320 GB hard drive in a RAID 0 array. There are touch-sensitive volume control buttons, music, DVD, and TV toggle buttons above the keyboard.
The m9750 is easily one of the most media-rich gaming laptops available.
This is all well and good, but performance is the thing that really counts when your opponent is talking trash.
The Area-51 line uses Intel processors, which is what you want, as they tend to be faster than the AMD Turion X2 processors you find on Alienware's Aurora line.
Alienware does not use the latest Intel Santa Rosa processors or chipset, instead opting for the previous-generation Intel components.
Regardless, a 2.33-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 is a fast processor that will help drive up those frame rates.
If fast processing is a must, the Eurocom D900C Phantom uses an Intel Extreme Edition desktop processor (Core 2 Duo Extreme X6800). It also requires four fans to cool the system, but at least you have the bragging rights with processor speed.
Most gamers will tell you that the processor isn't as important as the graphics card.
The m9750 integrates two SLI-enabled nVidia GeForce Go 7950GTX cards.
The Eurocom Phantom has the same graphics setup, but its overall gaming scores were slightly behind that of the m9750. The m9750's 3DMark 06 scores (at 1,024-by-768) surpassed the Eurocom's by 3 percent.
The gap grows wider against the Toshiba Satellite P100-ST9772 and its single nVidia GeForce Go 7900GTX card. The m9750 nearly doubled Toshiba's 3DMark 06 scores. Its "Prey" scores are significantly higher (23 percent) than those of the Eurocom at 1,024-by-768 resolution.
Oddly, results for "Company of Heroes," a DirectX game, were dead even between the Alienware and Eurocom.
On SYSmark 2007, the Alienware's overall scores beat the Eurocom's by a very slight margin, despite the Eurocom's Extreme Edition desktop processor. One reason could be that the Alienware has dual 7,200-rpm hard drives.
Last, as with all gaming laptops, don't expect too much from the battery. The 96-Wh battery can get you only 1 hour 15 minutes into a DVD movie, which is the system's only pitfall.
After numerous paint jobs, performance configurations and media bundles, Alienware finally got it right with the Area-51 m9750. You'll need to cough up nearly five grand to buy one, but that's the price range you can expect with an Alienware machine.
The Stealth Black look is simple yet elegant, and its media components are some of the best in the industry.
What matters most for gamers is that their laptop can eliminate any kind of performance lag in a gaming tournament.
With its SLI graphics configuration, Alienware is primed and ready for that task.
BOTTOM LINE: A new Stealth Black design and SLI graphics allow the Alienware Area-51 m9750 to take its rightful place on the gaming throne.
PROS: SLI-enabled graphics. Dual 160GB hard drives rated at 7,200 rpm. 1,920-by-1,200 resolution. Awesome gaming performance. Home theater connectivity ports. Stealth Black is in vogue.
CONS: Mouse buttons need work. Price tag is fair but can turn you away.
COMPANY: Alienware Corp.
Price: $4,708.00 Direct
Type: Gaming, Media
Operating System: MS Windows XP Media Center
Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo T7600
Processor Speed: 2.33 GHz
RAM: 2 GB
Weight: 9.2 lb
Screen Size: 17 inches
Screen Size Type: widescreen
Graphics Card: nVidia GeForce Go 7950GTX SLI
Storage Capacity: 320 GB
Networking Options: 802.11n
Primary Optical Drive: DVD+R DL
EDITOR RATING: Four and a half out of five stars.
Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.