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Alienware Area-51 m7700 review: Alienware Area-51 m7700

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The largest laptop we've seen in quite a while, the Alienware Area-51m 7700 is the quintessential Pentium 4-fueled gaming and multimedia machine. It has a TV tuner; a 17-inch, wide-screen display; a double-layer DVD drive; and an integrated TV tuner (which requires an included dongle). At $3,667 (as of July 2005), it's also the most expensive machine we've seen in quite some time, and though it's a great laptop, there are still better and cheaper options available. If you're looking for a purebred gaming machine, we recommend the best-of-breed Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2, and if you need the integrated TV tuner, we suggest the less expensive Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513.

6.2

Alienware Area-51 m7700

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Very good gaming performance; top-shelf components; Windows XP Media Center and TV tuner lets you watch and record TV; features double-layer DVD burner; full complement of ports and connections.

The Bad

More expensive than other comparable systems; large and heavy; runs hot.

The Bottom Line

A very good multimedia laptop, the Area-51m 7700 can handle any task--from gaming to recording TV--but there are less expensive options.
Alienware Area-51m 7700

Tipping the scales at a backbreaking 12.8 pounds, the gargantuan Area-51m 7700 measures 15.6 inches wide, 11.7 inches deep, and 2.1 inches thick; this sucker's big--even for a desktop replacement. With its immense, bricklike AC adapter (with a three-prong plug), the Area-51m 7700's total weight comes to 15.4 pounds. On the upside, there's plenty of room for an expansive keyboard, a dedicated numeric keypad, and a large touch pad that delivers plenty of tactile feedback; unfortunately, there's no external switch to turn off the touch pad when you're using a separate mouse.

There's a good amount of space around the touch pad to rest your palms on when typing, but as with most Pentium 4-powered machines, this laptop gets quite hot; our palms and wrists became a bit sweaty after just a few minutes. Outfitted with a muscular audio subsystem from RealTek, the Area-51m 7700 features four quality stereo speakers, plus a subwoofer and a bank of handy audio controls (including volume up and down, but no mute) that let you play standard CD audio or MP3 music files from optical discs--even without the OS booted. We also appreciate the Area-51m 7700's sturdy construction and the two latches that keep the lid closed.

You'll find lots of connections and ports on the Alienware Area-51m 7700, placed mostly along the left edge. These include four USB 2.0 and two four-pin, unpowered FireWire ports, which is quite rare; S-Video out; analog outputs for 5.1 surround-sound speakers and headphones; and four media card reader slots which accept Memory Stick, CompactFlash, Secure Digital/MMC, and SmartMedia modules. Among other typical connections, the back edge hosts a DVI out and S-Video in. Networking options include standard modem and Ethernet jacks, plus an internal 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio. Replete with multimedia features, our Area-51m 7700 test unit arrived running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. Aside from conventional multimedia tasks such as playing and recording DVDs, Media Center can record live TV programming, though you'll first need to attach a small coaxial dongle before you can connect your cable or satellite box.

At the heart of our Area-51m 7700 test machine was a powerful 3.4GHz Pentium 4 desktop processor, a whopping 2GB of fast 533MHz DDR RAM, and two 7,200rpm 60GB hard drives arranged in a striped RAID array. The system's vast, 17-inch wide-screen display features a sharp native resolution of 1,680x1,050 and is powered by a state-of-the-art Nvidia GeForce Go 6800 Ultra 3D graphics chip (the same high-octane GPU found in our Editors' Choice award-winning Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2). Also onboard was a cutting-edge double-layer DVD drive.

For the high price you'll pay in dollars and the restricted mobility, the Area-51m 7700 returns good--though not record-setting--gaming performance dividends. It registered 66 frames per second (fps) in our Half-Life 2 benchmark and 61fps in Doom 3. Still, we prefer the XPS Gen 2; it costs and weighs less, and it turned in a superior performance across the board. The Alienware was unable to complete our SysMark 2004 benchmark tests, so we're unable to report on its performance for productivity and content-creation tasks. Finally, it bears repeating: the Area-51m 7700 runs hot, especially when crunching through demanding tasks.

Alienware backs up the Area-51m 7700 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor and 24/7 toll-free phone support for the length of the warranty. For additional help, you can contact a support tech via the company's Web site and search the provided knowledge database.

Doom 3 performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Activision/Id Software Doom 3  

Half-Life 2 performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Valve Half-Life 2  

Find out more about how we test Windows notebooks.

System configurations:
Alienware Area-51m 7700
Windows XP Media Center; 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 550; 2GB PC4300 DDR SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6600 Go Ultra 256MB; 2 Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm
Dell XPS Gen 2
Windows XP Professional; 2.13GHz Intel Pentium M 770; 1GB PC4300 DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6800 Go Ultra 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB 5,400rpm
Fujitsu LifeBook N6210
Windows XP Home; 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M 750; 1GB PC4300 DDR SDRAM 533MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X600 128MB; 2 Fujitsu MHV2100AT 100GB 4,200rpm
Toshiba Qosmio G25
Windows XP Media Center 2002; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 1GB PC3200 DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6600 Go 128MB; 2 Fujitsu MHT2060BH 5,400rpm in RAID 0

6.2

Alienware Area-51 m7700

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 3Features 8Performance 5Support 5