The Area-51 M9750 is probably the most appealing Alienware laptop we've ever come across. It's powerful, it's highly configurable and best of all, it's drop-dead gorgeous. You can pick one up from Alienware direct for a starting price of £1,049.
Alienware laptops have traditionally been hideous, bulky things, so you can imagine our surprise when the Area-51 M9750 turned up looking beautiful. Gone are the garish colour schemes -- instead, you get a fabulous matte black finish on the lid and keyboard sections and a glossy black bezel around the 17-inch display. It would be slightly reminiscent of a black but for the ribbed rubber section and glowing alien head on the lid.
Alienware has fitted the M9750 with a webcam at the top of the screen bezel. It's a 1.3-megapixel model that's only any use for MySpace-style profile shots and the odd bit of video conferencing, but the good news is that it can be rotated to get a better angle on your face.
The M9750 has a good selection of ports scattered around its chassis. On the left, in order of appearance, is an Ethernet port, two vertically-mounted USB ports, 4-pin FireWire port, an SD card reader and an ExpressCard slot. At the right, you get a very funky scroll wheel for adjusting volume -- a far more flexible solution than buttons. Next to this is a headphone, mic and speaker output and another USB port, the other of which is located around back.
Alienware seems to be pitching the laptop heavily at audio enthusiasts, judging by the fact it has two types of SPDIF port. The right side has an optical SPDIF, while a coaxial alternative sits round the rear of the laptop. Both allow you to connect the laptop to a set of surround sound speakers.
Being such a large laptop, it's no surprise to learn that the M9750 has a very comfortable keyboard. Just above this, you'll find a touch-sensitive array of shortcut buttons that give you one-touch access to a Web browser and email client. There are also playback control buttons that come in handy when you want to pause, fast forward or rewind films and music.
The Alienware M9750 has several party pieces. In addition to its standard 250GB hard drive, it has a 32GB solid state hard drive -- a £305 option -- which is used to store the operating system. This gives better responsiveness during Windows tasks that don't involve the second hard disk, and faster boot-up times. The M9750 started up in about 50 seconds, which is pretty impressive. You can probably improve on this time if you strip out non-essential services and processes that load at startup.
It's next trick is the fact it can use one or even two graphics cards. A single GeForce 8700M GT is the basic option, but you can also kit it out with dual 512MB GeForce Go 7950 GTX cards for an extra £180, or dual GeForce Go 8700M GTs for £264 -- although the availability and prices of these options are always subject to change. Hardcore gamers should go for the more expensive option, particularly if you intend to run games at high resolutions and demand consistent frame rates.