Alienware Area-51M 7700
Alienware machines are renowned for their distinctive styling – you'd certainly never mistake one as coming from any other manufacturer – and high performance.
The Area-51M 7700 couldn't really be described as a desktop or a laptop: it's a compromise that fits somewhere between the two.
The machine is finished in a metallic silvery grey, and its two-inch depth is in stark contrast to the waif-like laptops that we're used to these days.
However, what the Alienware lacks in daintiness it makes up for with well-sculpted bodywork. The case features rubber grips and 'that' alien head with blue LED eyes.
Of course, it's what's inside that really counts, and the Area51m has more features than an intergalactic space cruiser. This is literally a desktop PC in the body of a laptop.
At the core of the system is a 3.6GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor with 800Mhz FSB and 1MB cache. This sits on an Intel 915P motherboard, and is ably backed up by 1GB of PC4200 RAM.
The processor creates a huge amount of heat, but a copper heat-pipe cooling system is in place to keep things chilled, along with a graphics card cooler.
This cooling configuration causes a stream of hot air to pour out of the vents at the side of the computer and the casing can get quite hot.
However, the noise level isn't overly intrusive, even when the fans are going at full tilt.
Our review model was fitted with a NVIDIA GeForce Go 6800 graphics card. The 256MB PCI-express card features a DVi output, so you can connect up another screen and run a dual-monitor setup.
There are also S-Video and CATV inputs in place for video capture, as well as an S-Video output.
The glossy 17-inch widescreen LCD complements the high-end graphics system nicely, with its fast refresh rate, high contrast and vibrant colours. The display is a pleasure to look at and stands as a big plus point for the system.
Under the hood
The Area-51M 7700 may be a little wide around the waist, but this does mean that there's loads of room inside the chassis (certainly far more than in a typical laptop).
There's space for two hard disks and two optical drives, sufficient slots for a maximum of 4GB of RAM, and Alienware have capitalised on all that surface space by fitting a full-size keyboard with number pad.
The extra drive space was well employed in our review machine, hosting two 7200rpm, 60GB drives striped together in RAID 0 format.
These work in partnership to provide one 111GB drive, and offer better performance than a single drive.
The single optical drive is an eight speed DVD-RW+/- and occupies the topmost of the two available spaces.
Five speakers are built into the machine: four high/mid-range and one low-range. While speakers this small are always going to sound tinny and lacking in bass power, these are the best sounding we've heard of this type.
The level of connectivity on offer far exceeds that of a run-of-the mill laptop. Indeed, there's nearly as much as you'd expect to find on a desktop PC.
Along the left-hand side of the unit are headphone, mic, line and digital sockets for the built-in high definition audio system.
Alongside these are four USB 2.0 ports and a pair of FireWire ports. It's slightly disappointing to find that the latter are of the unpowered four-pin variety – we'd hope to see bona fide six-pin ports in a system such as this.
That said, the inclusion of parallel and serial ports is significant, and reinforces the desktop-replacement nature of this machine.
You'll also find a PS/2 port for connecting up a mouse or keyboard, a port for the built-in 56k modem, and an Ethernet port.
A seven-in-one card reader makes it possible to plug in any card-based storage media on the market.
Above this is a PCMCIA slot – great for expanding the machine's audio capabilities – and to the right of that is an infrared transceiver.
The touchpad controller features a scroll section that allows you to move through documents as you would with the wheel on a mouse.
The only problem here is that when you accidentally stray over into the scroll section, the cursor stops moving. This can be infuriating – it feels as though you're not able to exploit the full potential of the pad.
The eight buttons and blue LED display along the front edge of the laptop are used to control the 'instant-on' audio jukebox.
This allows you to play back standard CDs or MP3 discs using the laptop's optical drive and speakers without having to boot the computer up.
The Alienware Area-51M 7700 is every bit the desktop replacement machine that it purports to be.
Boasting the same component specifications that we find in many of the tower systems we review, it's definitely not short on power.
Although not a lightweight, slimline laptop, it is a truly portable workhorse.
There's nothing low-calorie about this PC's performance, and thanks to its abundance of connectivity, it would be as much at home installed in a studio as it would out on the road.
If you're looking for a powerful machine that offers almost everything that a PC today can offer but fits in a laptop bag, the Alienware fits the bill.
Desktop PC spec. Loads of connectivity. Superb screen. Dual hard disk and optical drive bays.
Four-pin FireWire ports. Gets very warm. It's a biggie.
If you want the power of a desktop but the portability of a laptop, this machine more than fits the bill.