Alienware has long been recognised as a premium brand for gaming enthusiasts, especially for desktop PCs, but its history with gaming laptops has been less impressive.

This is due to the company using generic chassis designs, rather than opting to design their own. This has all changed with the launch of the Alienware Area-51 m51x (£2136 inc. VAT), its first real gaming laptop.

A unique design

From the moment you open the machine you get the feeling this is something a little different. The keyboard, touchpad and much of the surround are backlit with coloured LCD lights.

The chassis is made from plastic and the main shape is rather boxy, but we like the simple look of the device.

The function buttons above the keyboard are touch-sensitive and cover the standard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and audio volume options. A button called Stealth Mode allows you to switch the GPU from dedicated mode to the integrated Intel X3100 solution.

Powerful laptop

The screen is a 15.4-inch Super-TFT panel and helps to keep the weight of the overall machine down to a semi-portable 3.6kg.

The screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels, which is more than sharp enough for high-definition content and for running the latest games at high-resolution.

In addition to the backlit keys, the keyboard feels well sprung, although the board behind the keys can feel a little soft as you type.

The keys feel well spaced and the typing action is generally smooth. The touchpad is large and while there is only one mouse button, it's a dual-click control.

Powered by Intel's Extreme processor, the Intel 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo X9000, you won't need to worry about performance. With 2048MB of memory, we found the system was more than capable of handling most tasks with relative ease.

Power drain

Unfortunately, the system's battery didn't last long enough to record a MobileMark 2007 score. The laptop ran for 97 minutes, which isn't ideal, but with this degree of power inside is understandable.

When it comes to playing games, this is a great setup. It's a single-GPU unit, but you'll find the use of the nVidia GeForce 8800M GTX with 512MB of memory is the best solution currently on the market.

On the downside, we found that performance on our review model was sluggish at best and compared more to an nVidia GeForce 8600M, the previous generation of chips.

Lacklustre graphics

The Alienware Area-51 m51x is certainly the best-looking laptop the company has produced and with the latest array of components, it's also the most impressive in terms of performance.

That said, we found the graphics to be less powerful than in rival systems using the same graphics solution.