Alienware's recent overhaul of its all-purpose thin-and-light Sentia brings about a number of changes. Most noticeably, instead of the kryptonite-green case, the new and slimmer Sentia comes clad in silver. Also new are a smaller battery and screen than found on former models. Unfortunately, we still found the same slow mobile performance that the previous Sentia delivered in CNET Labs' tests. We think the Sentia's $1,922 price (as of November 2004) is too much to pay for this kind of performance, and we recommend to both consumers and corporate types the faster and more full-featured (but only slightly more expensive) as an alternative.
The new, 4.6-pound, silver Alienware Sentia lacks the aesthetic shock value of the previous green incarnation. However, the Sentia's lid retains the handy rubber palm grips and alien face, with eyes that now gleam a cool blue instead of a creepy yellow. The case measures a more demure 11.5 inches wide, 9 inches deep, and 1 inch thick--average for its class but smaller than the previous model. And in some ways, the new, smaller Sentia is more difficult to use. The small arrow keys and matchstick-size mouse buttons make typing less comfortable; the 12.1-inch screen (down from 14.1 inches) has a high 1,280x800 native resolution that provides crisp, detailed graphics, though some may have problems reading the resulting tiny text. Like the display, the Sentia's screen features a glossy finish that blocks out ambient light. This makes the screen easier to see in extremely bright conditions but creates an annoying reflective glare in darker environments.
The Sentia has a satisfying selection of ports and slots. On the port side, all the essentials are covered: FireWire, S-Video out, Ethernet, and two USB 2.0 ports. The system offers one Type II PC Card slot plus a 4-in-1 slot for reading four types of increasingly ubiquitous flash memory cards: Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Secure Digital, and MultiMediaCard. The Sentia can also be configured with either a DVD/CD-RW combo drive or a multiformat DVD drive. Really, the only thing the Sentia lacks is a battery-conserving on/off button for its integrated 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card.
You can configure the Alienware Sentia with one of two processor types--Intel's Pentium M or Celeron M--in several speeds; our evaluation unit featured a 1.7GHz Pentium M with 1MB of Level 2 cache, as well as 512MB of RAM, and an Intel 855GME video engine with 64MB of dedicated memory. Still, in CNET Labs' tests, the Sentia couldn't keep pace with other comparably outfitted machines including the and the . You'll likely get more speed out of a Sentia by configuring it with another of Alienware's CPU choices that includes 2MB of L2 cache or a faster 7,200rpm hard drive. Unfortunately, you can't choose a faster chip for better graphics performance; the low-end Intel 855GME chip is fixed. The Sentia's power-saving PM didn't completely mitigate the effects of its small 10.8V, 4,000mAh battery, and it lasted a decent 185 minutes in our drain tests.
The Sentia's one-year warranty for parts and labor matches that of most other laptops. You also get toll-free, 24/7 phone support and mail-in service. You can up your coverage by purchasing one of Alienware's warranty extensions, which include up to three years of onsite help for $275. For a small company, Alienware's support Web site is fairly broad. It offers two of our favorite features: live chat with a tech-support rep and customer forums, as well as a knowledge base.