Alienware m7700 Laptop Hands-on

Gizmodo recently got its paws on the Alienware Area-51 m7700 "Desktop Replacement" laptop in order to determine if the hype surrounding Alienware was warranted. The verdict? Check it out after the jump.

Vital Statistics
17" WideUXGA 1920x1200 LCD Clearview Display
Dual Pentium 4 630 desktop processors, 3.0-GHz, 800-MHz FSB, 2MB L2 Cache
Intel 915P PCI-Express Chipset
1GB PC4300 DDR2-SDRAM
256MB GeForce Go! 7800 GTX
120GB Promise 2+0 Stripe/RAID0 array
Intel High-Definition audio
24x10x24 CD-RW
8x DVD+-RW
Extra Gizmos: Full-size keyboard with numpad, Integrated Wireless a+b+g and 10/1000 Ethernet, Four speakers and integrated subwoofer, Built-in webcam, 7-in-1 card reader, Built-in TV Tuner

No, that isn't a copy-and-paste typo. The m7700 laptop actually has dual desktop processors [Checking on this - Ed - Confirmed. It's a beast.], a RAID array and enough extra gadgetry to occupy a classroom full of ADHD students. Let's get right down to it, folks:

The Alienware Experience
I had heard rumors about the phenomenal out-of-box experience that Alienware provides, but I greeted them with a healthy dose of skepticism—I shouldn't have. When this gigantic black box showed up on my doorstep, I tore into it like a giggling school girl and continually found myself shouting various combinations of expletives that were meant to indicate to anyone in earshot that I was quite impressed. Digging through layer after layer of Alienware goodness was like a never-ending Christmas present; each section of the box peeled away revealing something even more exciting, from the uber-professional spec-sheet to the bundle of accessories to the laptop itself.

You cannot help but be impressed by the wow-factor that accompanies Alienware's machines. When you pay for style, they deliver it in bulk. The alien logo that adorns the back of the screen conceals a blue LED that shouts to everyone who walks by, "Yeah, I'm a bad ass. So what?" The black, silver and blue color scheme continues to the inside of the device where the power button sits atop a circle of blue and the black keys and touchpad pop against the lighter grey of the case. If you're in the market for the most stylish laptop you can find, look no further than Alienware.

The Machine
Anyone who has ever been on a date knows that looks only get you so far, so after you're done gawking at the m7700, you'll have to turn it on and play with it. "Desktop Replacement" is a term that has historically raised the eyebrows of this reviewer. Today's desktop machines can pump out ridiculous amounts of power, and it simply doesn't seem possible for anything as small as a laptop to pack the same punch. Coincidentally, the Alienware m7700 isn't as small as a laptop. Imagine your tablet PC after three years training with Barry Bonds and you'll have something that somewhat resembles this beast of a computer. Weighing in at a startling 10 pounds (20 in the carrying case with all the extras) and measuring 16 inches by 12 inches by 2 inches, don't underestimate the ability for a company to jam-pack a system this size with performance equipment.

The 17 inch monitor is absolutely gorgeous; powered off, the jet-black screen is essentially a mirror, but throw some colors onto the screen and the reflection is hardly noticeable. It is worth noting that the screen does seem to glisten with the kind of 'freshly-waxed car' shine you only expect to find in a driveway. Park it somewhere on your desk and leave it there; use the built-in DVI-out port if you have a monitor more beautiful than the LCD, stick a mouse into one of the four USB 2.0 ports, plug in your cable TV, firewire peripherals and remote-control IR receiver and get ready to enjoy your new desktop.

The Performance
The Alienware m7700 isn't just a pretty face; it knows how to work it, too. It pulls in just over 6,100 3DMarks in 3D Mark 2005's game test, comes up a hair shy of 4,000 CPUMarks in the CPU test and will rock the dark and scary Doom III at over 80 frames per second. We could bore you with benchmarks all day, but the bottom line is this: turn up your settings and enjoy your games because this laptop can handle it. Even at the native resolution of 1900x1200 (Widescreen goodness), humans and orcs battle it out in the World of Warcraft with gorgeous settings and perfectly acceptable frame rates.

One crucial footnote is that all of this performance comes at a price: you have to be tethered to a power outlet. Unplugged, the laptop conserves power by clocking down its components. This is fine if you want to read Gizmodo, IM your pals or shop for sweet internet deals, but if you plan on running any program that needs to take advantage of the power hidden inside the m7700, you need to plug it in. As a general rule, you'll want to plug it in all the time anyway; in fact, you're almost required to. Battery life on this electronic behemoth could stretch as far as three or four hours idling, but even moderate surfing or media center usage can drain a full charge in two hours, and serious gaming will suck the life out of your system in no time flat.

Stuff magazine didn't choose the m7700 as their number five reason why electricity is so popular for nothing! This is to be expected, as even an enormous battery can't power two processors, a hungry video card, four speakers with a subwoofer and other components for very long. A "Desktop Replacement" is just that, a system meant to take the place of a stationary computer. While the m7700 is slightly more portable than a traditional PC (actually, this creature is a perfect solution for LAN-inclined end-users with a serious expense account), it isn't the type of laptop you'll want to carry with you around the office, to class or to a casual outing.

The Niche
In case you haven't figured it out, the Alienware m7700 is an impressive machine. That being said, it is also an impressive machine that is built to fit what is probably a small niche market. Yes, it is one beautiful beast that will take you to gaming heaven and back. Yes, it is an ultimate media center solution, equipped with Windows XP Media Center edition and a remote control to allow you to browse your pictures, movies, music, radio and Internet from the comfort of your favorite recliner or stream media over your home network to your Xbox 360. No, it isn't the perfect solution for everyone. The starting price point for the m7700 is just over $2,000; as reviewed, the price tag is a hair over $3,700. That price tag will net you at least one decked-out, upgradeable desktop with change to spare.

The Final Word
Pros: Beautiful, high-performance computing and a versatile media center solution
Cons: Pricey and a bit bulky
Recommended for: The serious gamer-on-the-go or the pal who insists on keeping up with the Jones'

Product Page [Alienware]