by Eric Schroeder
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The Alienware Area-51 m5790 is a 17" desktop replacement style gaming notebook that is available exclusively via Alienware.com. This is an update to last year's m5750. The differences are just newly added upgradeable features such as Blu-Ray and the Radeon x1900 video card, along with, of course, Windows Vista in all flavors. Windows XP is, unfortunately, no longer available even as an option. This is a slight problem since it's well known that Vista isn't as good as XP for gaming at this moment. So if you're getting this for gaming, you may want to uninstall Vista and put XP on for the time being.
Following are the specs of the m5790 as reviewed:
*Note - This price reflects the configuration with 1GB RAM. I knew going in that I wanted 2GB RAM, but Alienware charges $270 as an upgrade option for that. I purchased 2GB from Newegg.com for $169 and installed myself. I'll sell the two 512mb modules on eBay and come close to breaking even. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of electronics and computers can do this simple upgrade.
These models currently start at $1,299, which is a pretty good price for a well configured notebook like this. If you max it out with the T7600G Core Duo, Blu-Ray drive, 2GB purchased from Alienware, the Radeon x1900 video card, TV tuner, dual hard drives in a RAID config and Windows Vista Ultimate, the price soars to over $4,000!
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Reason for Buying:
I had both a high-end desktop and a light travel sized (14.1") notebook. I do promotional marketing which takes me on the road for 2-3 months at a time a couple of times a year. So while at home, I used my desktop, but on the road, I had my notebook. With a 24" widescreen monitor at home, I always felt the sacrifice of looking at this small 14-inch the half of the year I was away. I didn't really need a travel sized notebook, but it was cheap at the time and served its purpose.
I decided to condense and go with one machine to cover all the bases. I'm not an extreme gamer, so while the Radeon x1950 in my desktop was nice, it wasn't being utilized. I pieced out my desktop and sold all the parts on eBay along with the laptop. I knew going in that the only thing I was keeping was my keyboard, mouse, speakers and 24" Dell widescreen monitor. The Dell is DVI, so that was a necessity. I didn't want to downgrade to VGA. I also wanted a beefy machine to replace everything, so I wouldn't feel the pain of a slow notebook all the time.
I looked at the HP dv9000t, Dell XPS M1710, Toshiba Qosmio & Satellite models and several others before deciding on the Alienware m5790. Dell had the specs, but was way too expensive. HP looked great and was priced well, but had only VGA video output & low end graphics, and the Toshiba Qosmio & Satellite models didn't have the resolution I wanted. The Alienware M5790 offered a screen with 1920 x 1200 resolution (being a pixel junkie, this hit me immediately as something to drool over), DVI video output and up to a Radeon x1900 for graphics. Ok, so I don't game much, but I like the ability to do so when there comes that one or two games that look interesting. I don't want to think, "I shouldn't have gotten rid of my desktop" in times like those.
Open and ready for action (view large image)
Where and How Purchased:
The box complete with the alien head logo (view large image)
The only way to purchase an Alienware is online. It was pricey at $1,842, but was well worth it. It would be nice to see this in person first like the HP and Toshiba models I was looking at, but I read some reviews, made some choices and decided to roll the dice and see what happened.
The Alienware site is easy to navigate and the upgrade options are clearly laid out so you can see what the current price is after each selection. They offer information for just about every option there is so you know what you're selecting. I was tempted to go faster for the CPU, drop dough on the Blu-Ray and get the top video card (Radeon x1900), but this machine is all about accessibility and ease of configuration. I know down the road the prices of all these components will drop and then instead of spending another $1800 to upgrade to the now top stuff, I can get those for maybe $500, $600 a year from now and feel like I have a new machine all over again. More on the accessibility of adding components later.
Build and Design:
First off, the laptop looks like no other. I immediately liked the idea of the glowing alien head on the cover along with the shiny silver finish. The paint is smooth, glossy and deep, reminding me of a new car shine. On the plus side, I won't have to spend hours every few weeks to wax it to keep that look.
Opening it up, you have a full-sized keyboard layout, complete with a separate keypad section. While it's a nice feature to have the keypad, it takes some getting used to since I was used to placing my hands in the middle of all my other notebooks, while this makes you place your hands to the left side to find the proper keys to type. You can see the trackpad isn't centered, but more to the left for that reason. There is a dedicated scroll pad section to act like the 3rd button on your mouse. A nice feature. Several function buttons are placed at the top of the keyboard, which include the power on button. My only complaint here is that the buttons are somewhat more difficult to press than they should be. They are long, but thin, requiring you to use the tip of your finger or perhaps your fingernail to depress them. Also, the mouse buttons seem a bit harder to depress than all the other notebooks I've been used to. When I use the trackpad, I use my index finger to scroll and my left thumb to click. After an hour of web browsing, the side of my thumb seemed a bit sore from having to press harder than normal. Luckily, I almost always use an external mouse, so it won't have an effect on me for the most part.
The distinctive glow of the Alienware name and logo (view large image)
The screen is the cat's meow. I decided to go with the WUXGA display which is the higher resolution option at 1920 x 1200. Like I said, I'm a resolution junkie, so this is like cake to a fat kid. The screen is crisp, clean and vibrant. At first, it seemed a bit dull to me, but it's because I'm so used to my SUPER BRIGHT 24" Dell widescreen (known for being overly bright). The colors are rich and set right. Overall, if you are sitting in front of the machine you should have no complaints. At 1920 x 1200 on a 17" screen, it takes a little playing with to get your eyes used to the small text, but the screen real estate it offers is unbelievable. I run 1920 x 1200 on my Dell monitor, so I didn't want to sacrifice when I'm using the laptop on its own. Since the DPI is greater on the laptop screen than the Dell monitor, photos and text look even sharper. It really has to be seen to be appreciated. Amazingly, looking from a 90 degree angle, I can still see the screen perfectly. LCD technology has really improved from the first monitor I had some 8 years ago.
That's a LOT of real estate! 1920 x 1200 resolution on a beautiful glossy 17" screen (view large image)
As mentioned, having a DVI video port was essential since I wanted this to replace my desktop, while keeping my external monitor. On the back is the nicely placed DVI port. Nicely placed because some have VGA on the side. These are big cables that should be put away from any work area. The 56k modem port is also on the back, on the other side. On the left side near the back is the power port along with one USB port. In the middle is the optical drive, with the audio ports and volume control at the front side. Unfortunately, that leaves the right side with three USB ports, one Firewire port and the network port. If all are being used, that's a lot of cables coming out of the right side. With most of us being right handed mouse users, it's just something of an annoyance. I like the right side to have the optical drive, maybe 1 USB port and probably the card reader. This way all the cables are coming out of the left. Alienware reversed it here. Boooo! It shouldn't be too much of a hassle for me, though, since I have a USB hub at home, so I'm only using the left side USB port. On the right, only the FireWire port (occasionally) will be used along with the network port. On the road, I'll only have an external mouse which requires a Bluetooth adapter, so again, only the left USB port will be used. The machine has the new ExpressCard/54, so like with all new notebooks, throw away your PCMCIA or PC Card devices. You need something new. Technology always changes. The front has an IR port along with the selector to turn the wireless on or off.
DVI Video Output along with S-Video (view large image)
Speakers & Sound Card:
As I said earlier, one of the things I was keeping was my speakers (Altec Lansing ADA-305. Old, but still awesome), so I'm used to BOOM! I wasn't expecting much out of notebook speakers, but wow, these are pretty darn good! My friend heard the volume from a video playing while he was two rooms away, so that's saying something right there. It has an included "subwoofer" at the bottom as well. Now I'm not going to say I can really feel that, considering the fact that it's only about an inch in diameter, but it might be adding in some fill that I'm not immediately recognizing. A nice touch even if it may be a gimmick.
There is a little scroll wheel on the left side by the audio ports which you roll back and forth to increase or decrease the sound. My old Presario v3000 had touch controls at the top, below the monitor, which was cool, but other than that, most notebooks don't have external audio control buttons. So having this there was an added bonus. Instead of simply "mute" or on, you can control the amount of volume in an instant.
The only real disappointment with audio is with the sound card itself. I use a program called Tunebite to re-record Napster music so I can get rid of that pesky "protected" label and have them as an MP3, free of any licenses. I use that to transfer to my iPod. When I installed Tunebite, it told me there was no sound card detected. Very odd. I had no problems on my last notebook, so I'm not sure what the problem is here. I'll give tech support a call to see if they have any answers.
Processor and Performance:
I had a Core 2 Duo E6600 in my desktop and a Core Duo T2050 in my notebook, so I had to have something comparable to both. Again, I decided to get the T5600, which is a 1.83Ghz Core 2 Duo CPU, knowing that while it's less quick than my desktop CPU was, it's right for the price and I still have the option to upgrade myself later on. Really, in every day applications, there's no performance difference that I can feel. If I can open files quick, start and run Photoshop without a hitch, start and shutdown quickly and feel like I'm not waiting for the machine to catch up to me, I'm happy.
I typically edit and play with large Photoshop files (30MB and up), do video editing with Adobe Premiere, have 8 or 9 browser pages opened at one time, music playing in iTunes, emails coming in via Outlook, AIM opened, getting messages and Macromedia Dreamweaver going working on websites. I can run a selection of those at once and the machine doesn't even hiccup. I'm going to upgrade to a 7200RPM hard drive soon to remove the last little bottleneck it has. I could have selected the 7200RPM drive when configuring this, but again, I can do it easily and for less than the upgrade would have cost.
Having had a desktop for so many years, I've grown accustomed to being able to easily upgrade components as they become outdated. Notebooks always annoyed me since they are pretty much as is and can't be upgraded much. Lately, some have been easier to upgrade certain parts, but not to the extent of a desktop. But with this m5790, it takes a step closer. As said before, I chose the midrange components, ones which are cost friendly. There's no need to be the guy who needs the best of everything because tomorrow, it's no longer the best and you're just out a bunch of money in the meantime. There are two panels on the bottom which are easily removable. One is for the primary hard drive. Two screws and off it comes. The drive has two screws holding it in place, take those out and out that comes. You can easily upgrade to a larger or faster drive right there. That's going to be my first upgrade as I get a 7200RPM drive. The other is the plate that covers the CPU, video card, RAM and 2nd hard drive (if added). I took this off to swap out the 1GB with 2GB of RAM. There I noticed the VERY EASY access to the video card and CPU. Upgrading these will be relatively easy compared with other notebooks. In about a year's time when the cost of the x1900 or better is manageable, along with a 2.6Ghz Core 2 Duo, I'll simply replace with those and voila, a like new machine again. I'm sure at that time, the Blu-Ray drive will be cheaper as well (or even HD-DVD if that wins out). For right now, the other upgrade is to add a 2nd hard drive. An upgrade kit had to be ordered from Alienware (consisting of a ribbon cable, hard drive caddy and SATA adapter, plus screws), but it was only $20. It's fun to be able to easily change things you want and customize as you see fit without being at the mercy of the company to do it right there and then for their prices.
Remove 4 small screws and easily pop out the hard drive (view large image)
Remove 8 screws from the main plate to expose the primary components (view large image)
The machine can be configured with dual hard drives! (view large image)
|Alienware m5790 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 16s|
|MSI M677 (1.8 GHz Turion X2)||1m 53s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
|LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)||1m 11s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
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3DMark06 Results and Comparison:
|Notebook||3D Mark 06 Results|
|Alienware m5790 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1800 256MB)||2,625|
|WidowPC Sting D517D (Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz, Nvidia 7900GTX 512MB)||4,833|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.00GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 128MB)||1,528|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB)||2,183|
|ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 512MB)||1,973|
|Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB)||4,744|
|Toshiba Satellite P100-222 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS 512MB)||3,534|
|Alienware m5790 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1800 256MB)||4,411 PCMarks|
|Fujtisu Siemens Amilo Xi1554 Review (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1900, Windows XP)||5,066 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600)||4,621 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Asus Z84Jp (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600)||4,739 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
Heat and Noise:
For a notebook of this size and power, it's surprisingly quiet. Windows had three settings for power consumption: Power Saver, Balanced and High Performance. On Power Saver mode, it's a whisper. When turned to High Performance, you can hear the fan whirring, but it's nothing that would bother the person sitting next to you in a library. Compared to my desktop with 8 fans, this thing is like a sleeping baby.
However, as far as heat goes, this notebook does get warm. When I turn it to High Performance to edit Photoshop or Premiere files, I can feel it getting warm to the touch. At home, this is no problem since I have the notebook closed and I'm using an external mouse, keyboard and monitor. Used by itself, it's a little different. My hands will never be cold, that's for sure. I'm curious to see how much warmer it'll get when I add in the 7200RPM drive along with the 2nd drive.
The CD/DVD-RW drive is as noisy as any other. Laptop drives are always noisy as heck. It's nothing out of the ordinary, though.
Keyboard and Touchpad:
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The keyboard and mouse controls are where the only real slight disappointment comes in. It seems when they tried to incorporate the number pad, they in turn shortened and resized some of the other keys. The right shift button is considerably smaller than the left. The "?/" button is very slim as is the period button. The up, down, left and right buttons have been oddly resized as well. There are a few other oddly placed keys when I compare with my desktop keyboard, but nothing that's going to throw me off like the small right shift button or period.
The other minor annoyance is with the trackpad and mouse buttons. I like to use minimal movement to get the cursor from one side to the other. I have it set to "fast" in the mouse settings, the fastest it can go. Yet, I still have to slide my finger from one side to the other a full three times to get the cursor to go the distance of the screen. I want to say it's the Windows settings, yet when I use my external mouse in the same speed settings, it's just a movement of my wrist, left to right to get it to go the distance. I never have to pick up the bottom of my hand. The trackpad just seems slow. Also, the buttons seem to be overly stiff when clicking. I prefer nice soft sensitive clicks. I almost always use an external mouse though, so it won't be too much of a problem there.
Top buttons (view large image)
Inbut and Output Ports:
Left side view of m5790 (view large image)
Right side view of m5790 (view large image)
Front view of m5790 (view large image)
Rear view of m5790 (view large image)
Underside view of Alienware m5790 (view large image)
I get good signals and strong readings from afar with this notebook. I had a friend with a different brand wireless card built in and while I picked up 8 wireless signals, he only showed 3. Interesting. Granted, some of the 8 were very weak and wouldn't work more than likely even if they weren't WPA protected, but that my notebook saw them and his didn't shows me that this has a nice antenna built in and a strong radio built in to find them. Working at home, I can sit in the other house at the back of our property and still get a low, yet workable signal. This even after going through one wall in the front house, two walls in the garage and one wall in the back house. And realize that our homes aren't just drywall. They were built in the 40's, so they're made of sheet rock and stucco on the outside. Pretty thick, and yet the signal is still picked up. Nice!
I took a fully charged battery, set the power settings to "Balanced" (with screen brightness to 50%), pulled the power cord and let it go. I did some internet browsing, file editing in Photoshop and file browsing on the hard drive. At 1:04 in, it gave me a warning (17%) and then went into hibernate mode at 1:25 with 5 minutes left. So from what I can conclude, I get about 1:30 out of it. This is why I opted for a 2nd battery. While I don't generally use battery power (when I'm on the road, I use the notebook in the hotel with power), I like to have it available if I need it. 1:30 for a 17" screen with a high end video card isn't terrible, but not outstanding either. The battery is 4400mAH, which is average. They might have been wise to design the notebook with a larger battery to begin with. But really, if someone is buying this, it's not to be a road warrior. It's generally going to be used on a desk, plugged in. That's why it's called a "desktop replacement". The one fear I have with the battery is the physical design, though. It attaches by two small plastic clips which click in to hold the battery, similar to the latch that holds the screen down. With my 2nd battery in my bag, I'm scared that one or both of these clips might break off. Without those, the battery would have nothing to secure itself. Yikes. Again, a better battery design would be helpful here.
Possible problematic clips on the battery (view large image)
Operating System and Software:
As said before, with the introduction of Windows Vista, Alienware does not offer Windows XP on this machine any longer, not even as a requested option. Due to the problems with Vista and gaming, that's too bad since this is toted as a gaming machine. True, Vista will come around and be better than XP ever was, but right now it can't be said so. Alienware should still have that option for those who wish to stay with XP for now. I know quite a few people who would NEVER be early adopters for something as crucial as an operating system.
One big positive with this as opposed to my old Compaq Presario, my niece's Toshiba Satellite and others is that Alienware does not add on all that proprietary "bloat ware" crap software that just bogs the whole system down. It feels like I did the install myself. Only the essential Windows software is there. I love that.
Alienware leather binder for user manual & software (view large image)
Adds a nice touch to the system as everything is organized and secured (view large image)
I haven't had to deal with support yet. I did call a few times before receiving my machine to ask general questions. Once was for the hard drive options and once to inquire if I can purchase components direct from them after market sale (such as the x1900 when it becomes more reasonably priced). Less than a week after my purchase, I noticed the price of the machine went went from $1399 to start to $1299. I was a little upset at first that it already decreased before I even had my hands on the thing, so I called and talked with the purchasing department. I explained that my system was still in the build process, so I thought it was only fair I was refunded that $100. After talking with his supervisor, they agreed to refund me the $100 plus tax. Awesome! I saw the refund in my account a week later. Support called me once to say my card wasn't being accepted for payment. I had to call Washington Mutual to have them approve the purchase. Everything was taken care of quickly and easily. The rep stayed on the phone and told the WAMU rep exactly what the problem was and helped take care of it.
As with anything, there is always room for improvement, but the few problems are vastly outweighed by the positives and this machine rocks. I would recommend this computer to anyone that is considering going with a semi-portable machine, suitable for all purposes. If you require a machine that SCREAMS with power for games, this is probably not the one you want. Alienware has others that do that. If you want something that's ultra portable, this is not that. Alienware has a nifty little 15 incher for that. But if you want something that is great at home, giving the full power you need along with something to take on the road while not sacrificing in terms of power, then here it is. It fits all my requirements - ultra high resolution with a great screen, power to play games at nice frame rates, nice sound, great processing power with the best mobile processor out today (Core 2 Duo), plus looks that'll make everyone turn their head to see what exactly it is.
Some other notebooks are coming with integrated cameras on top, Bluetooth built in, even HDMI output. While I'd love the Bluetooth option, it was never a deal breaker. For what I wanted, there was no other machine out there that would give me all of that for this price. I love it and will very happily recommend it to all my friends and anyone who asks what exactly that is with the blue glowing alien head on the cover.
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