Alienware unveils the Area-51m, a modular gaming laptop

Shawn Knight

TechSpot Staff
Staff member

Alienware has come to CES with what it’s calling the “world’s most powerful gaming laptop.”

Out of the box, it can be configured with up to a 9th generation Intel Core i9-9900K CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU, 64GB of DDR4 memory and multiple storage configurations including RAID0 options.

About the only thing on the Area-51m that can’t be upgraded is the display. The 17.3-inch screen with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution can be ordered with up to 144Hz refresh rate and Tobii eye-tracking technology but whatever you order, you’re essentially stuck with.

As The Verge highlights, Alienware has gone to great lengths to make the system easy to work on. There are labeled guides printed right on the laptop frame and specs for screws should you misplace them. Heck, there are even pull tabs for easy cable removal and instructions on how to properly torque down the heatsinks on the CPU and GPU.

While I applaud Alienware for trying something different, I can’t help but think it’s all for not. Allow me to explain.

The CPU is indeed easily upgradeable with any compatible off-the-shelf processor. The catch, of course, is that it needs to be compatible with Intel’s Z390 chipset. Future CPUs – I’m talking years down the road – won’t be, which kind of limits your upgrade path.

Furthermore, the GPU uses the proprietary Dell Graphics Form Factor (DGFF). There’s no guarantee that this form factor will stand the test of time (odds are, it won’t), which again, limits your GPU choice down the road.

In fairness, Alienware is well aware of these shortcomings. Co-founder Frank Azor told The Verge that this absolutely isn’t a mass-market machine. “If customers don’t show demand for it, it’ll be a novelty and then it’ll fade away,” he concedes.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that modular laptops are counterintuitive to a manufacturer’s business model. They’re going to make more money selling you a new laptop then trying to extend the life of your existing machine.

As much as we’d like it not to be the case, most modular electronics simply don’t work.

The Alienware Area-51m ships on January 29 starting at $2,549.

Permalink to story.

 
Last edited:

toooooot

TS Evangelist
$2,549 for 1080p and dated cpu and gpu, yeah, no.
It's an interesting idea, but sure is hell isn't worth a starting price that high.

Something tells me Dell doesn't want it to become a thing to begin with.
Most companies that still make desktops would be happy to solder every component together and sell them only this way. And as much as I like this idea, I dont think anyone would follow Dells and this will be the only laptop with upgrade able components. If customers cant upgrade their laptops, they will buy new ones with everything they wouldnt need when they can just upgrade core components. Changing that would be almost insanity and money loss for them. Agan, I would love to see more of these laptops where I could upgrade at least GPU. But it wont happen except for these small crazy experiments like this one.
 

ShagnWagn

TS Guru
It sounds like an executive got a bug to try it out, so they gave the project to Frank Azor. It sounds like he did what he could knowing without standards it will not become mainstream.

For modular laptops, my thoughts are there needs to be a form factor standard like there is for desktops. Basically the size of components and their attachment points need to be decided on by a highly experienced and skilled group as there are for motherboards.
 

GeforcerFX

TS Evangelist
SO basically they just decided to redo the M17x series? All of those were modular, so was the precision series up to the 6th gen. All the "unique" features are things they did from the start up until 2014-2015, and companies like Clevo have never stopped doing.
 
Pfft! At that price I can buy a MacBook Pro with an 1800p screen, similar upgrade capabilities, and the ability to play no modern games. Win!
 

ET3D

TechSpot Paladin
If they really want to test the idea of a desktop replacement, they should go AMD and sell it bare bones at a low price. If I could stick my Ryzen 3 2200G in there for now, get a GPU later, and upgrade to AMD's latest CPU in 2020, I'd certainly find that attractive.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Reehahs

Theinsanegamer

TS Evangelist
I like the concept, but it seems like a gimmick, for two reasons:

1. intel CPUs do not maintain any backwards compatibility, so you are stuck with whatever chipset the laptop ships with. No upgrades there.

2. The upgradeable GPU doesnt use MXM, its proprietary, making it DOA. Even if it was MXM, there is no reliable source of MXM GPUs, vBIOS issues largely prevent updates anyway, and in the era of external graphical docks, internal GPU power is less important now then it has been in the past.
 
It's a terrible idea because it will never work.

#1 from generation to generation, CPU and GPU components need cooling solutions that are specific and custom. There's no way you are getting that among varying laptop brands. Hell - we can barely get that on Desktops and they almost never all function coherently.

#2 It would be nice to see a laptop design where a single block component housing the CPU and GPU could be removed - like the battery - and upgraded or replaced...but then you run into proprietary design and high prices because you can only get certified parts from Alienware.

That said: I have two Alienware Area 51 Triad towers. My main gaming machine has a Core i9ex, a 2080Ti and 32GB DDR4 RAM with 5TB of SSD.

I can't upgrade my motherboard - and still have it work with the tower, unless I get a custom Alienware motherboard.

My cooling fan is also custom to Alienware. Other fans are either larger or shaped in a way they won't fit.

I doubt I'd ever even think of buying a laptop ffrom Alienware based on it being modular because I already know I'd be stuck paying Alienware's price.

My Alienware 17 Laptop with GTX 1080 was $2700 and any part I would need can only come from them.
 

Kibaruk

TechSpot Paladin
I got the highest end gaming laptop -reasonably priced- back in 2015 Black Friday, fast forward almost 4 years and besides the fact that new ones are lighter and battery lasts longer, I've never felt that I need to update it.

With the above said, the price, and the already touched topic of possible upgrade paths with a static mobo and customized hardware, I don't see a chance of this becoming mainstream.