Alienware Area-51m review

An out-of-this-world gaming laptop

(Image: © TechRadar)

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Here is how the Alienware Area-51m fared in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark Sky Diver: 55,248; Fire Strike: 22,741; Time Spy: 10,502
Cinebench CPU: 1,920 cb; Graphics: 157 fps
Geekbench 4 Single-Core: 5,918; Multi-Core: 32,939
PCMark 8 Home: 5,637
PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours 3 minutes
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 2 hours 26 minutes
Total War: Warhammer 2: 170 fps (1080p, Low) 87 fps (1080p Ultra)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: 156 fps (1080p, Low), 123 fps (1080p, Ultra)

Surprising no one, the Alienware Area-51m is a performance beast. This thing is packed with a desktop-class Core i9-9900K processor and RTX 2080 graphics, on top of the 32GB of RAM and the two 512GB SSDs in RAID 0. We keep trying and trying, and nothing slows this laptop down. Even when we’re playing Battlefield V at max settings with 12 Chrome tabs running in the background, the Alienware Area-51m doesn’t so much as show a hiccup. 

The benchmarks really back this up. In Cinebench, the Area-51m scores a whopping 1,929 points. Not only is this almost double the 1,020 points scored by the 8th-generation Core i9 in the MSI GT75, it actually beats the numbers we were getting when we tested the 9900K by itself. 

Graphics benchmarks are similarly insane – the Area-51m achieved 10,502 points in Time Spy, thanks to its out-of-the-box overclock. Gaming benchmarks just blow us away, too. With all the settings maxed out, this laptop was able to get an average of 123 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and 87 fps in Total War: Warhammer 2.

Benchmarks are one thing, real world performance is another, and this laptop knocks it out of the park there, too. We were able to get a steady 144 fps in Battlefield V with everything but the ray traced reflections maxed out. In the Witcher 3? Playing it at max settings including Nvidia Hairworks never sees the frame rate dip below 110-115 fps. 

And, because this is an RTX-powered laptop, we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if we didn’t turn on those juicy RTX features. Both Battlefield V and Shadow of the Tomb Raider are totally playable with their ray-traced features maxed out. We regularly see 100-plus fps in Battlefield V with these features, which means high refresh gaming is totally possible with these features – at least at 1080p. Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t fare quite as well, averaging around 65 fps, but that’s still nothing to shake a stick at and 100% playable. 

There is a drawback here, though, and it’s temperatures. Anyone who knows desktop PC components probably saw this coming, but in a laptop chassis, these desktop components regularly sit right against the temperature limit. In the short term, this just means that the air coming out of the vents is really hot, but long term you could be looking at a shorter lifespan for the hardware.

You can fix this problem by underclocking the processor, but you shouldn’t have to. Luckily, if the processor degrades, you can replace it yourself. 

Alienware Area-51m logo and RGB lighting

Alienware Area-51m logo and RGB lighting

Battery life

Nobody would expect the Alienware Area-51m to have the longest battery life in the world, but it actually exceeded our expectations. In the PCMark 8 battery test, the Alienware Area-51m lasts 2 hours and 3 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but compared to something like the MSI GT75 Titan, which only lasts an hour and 39 minutes in the same test, Alienware’s laptop is substantially better. 

Even in our movie test, where we play a 1080p video on loop until the laptop dies, the Area-51m lasts 2 hours and 26 minutes. It’s not enough to untether you from your wall outlets, but it’s enough to watch a movie, and that’s enough for us.

Software and features

The Alienware Area-51m has two core features worth noting: Tobii Eye Tracking and the Alienware Control Center. The former uses the bar across the bottom of the display to track your eye and head movement in game. This is very much a niche feature, but we tested it out in both Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. And, while we don’t like the feature at all, it works precisely as advertised. We can move the camera with our eyes, and that’s neat, but it leaves us kind of nauseous. 

The Alienware Control Center is a bit more practical in application. This program lets you customize everything about the laptop, including overclocking. Now, again, temperatures are already a problem area with this laptop, so you probably don’t want to push it too far. However, what is useful is the ability to set a custom fan curve, so if you’re doing lightweight computing, you can make the computer much quieter. 

This software also lets you control all the RGB lighting. However, out of the box, the software didn’t recognize the keyboard, and we had to tinker around for around an hour to get it to show up. This is probably limited to our review unit, so your mileage may vary. 

It should be noted again, too, that this laptop is completely upgradeable. You can just pop off the underside of the laptop and get quick access to your RAM, SSD and Wi-Fi card. However, if you want to upgrade the GPU and CPU, you’re going to have to pull out the motherboard, which is a big ask for some people. 

The CPU is socketed, which makes it easy enough to upgrade once you get down to it, but the graphics chip is using a proprietary form factor, so you’ll have to buy that straight from Dell. Because these more intense upgrades require some serious disassembly, you may be better off sending the laptop in to the manufacturer for future CPU and GPU upgrades. However, the fact remains that all of this laptop’s key components are completely upgradeable.

Alienware Area-51m is gorgeous, even from the top.

Alienware Area-51m is gorgeous, even from the top.

Final verdict

The Alienware Area-51m is an absolute unit. This laptop is going to be able to power through pretty much every game on max settings for years to come. Plus, the ability to upgrade it in the future means that it won’t need to be completely replaced in the foreseeable future. Not to mention that the Alienware Area-51m is a beautiful piece of kit.

This is an expensive laptop, isn’t portable in the slightest and gets quite toasty, but the massive amount of power on offer pretty much makes up for it. There are hundreds of gaming laptops on the market right now, but you’re not going to find anything else like the Alienware Area-51m. 

Image credit: TechRadar

Jackie Thomas

Jackie Thomas is the Hardware and Buying Guides Editor at IGN. Previously, she was TechRadar's US computing editor. She is fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but she just happens to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop her a line on Twitter or through email.