Alienware Area 51m Gaming Laptop Review – 9900K + RTX 2080 Power!

The Alienware Area 51m is one of the most
powerful gaming laptops currently available, with desktop grade i9-9900K CPU and RTX 2080
graphics it should be able to run anything we throw at it, so let’s find out what compromises
we’ve got to make for crazy levels of performance and who something like this is for. I’ve got the highest configuration available
here, so Intel’s 8 core overclockable i9-9900K CPU, RTX 2080 graphics, definitely no Max-Q
here, and 64gb of memory running in dual channel. It’s got a 17.3” 1080p 144Hz screen, and
for storage there are two 512GB NVMe M.2 SSDs in a RAID 0 array, along with a 1TB hard drive. For network connectivity it’s got 2.5 gigabit
ethernet, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 5. There are a few different configurations available,
such as with i7-9700 CPU, RTX 2060 or 2070 graphics, you can find prices for different
specs linked in the description. The 51m is available in two colours, lunar
light or dark side of the moon, also known as white and dark grey, and I’ve got the
latter. The machine feels extremely well built and solid, and while there were no sharp edges
the front corners were a bit sharp. The maximum weight is listed at 3.87kg on
the Dell website, though I found mine to be more. My scales only go to 5kg, so measuring
the 330 watt brick separately was about 1.5kg, while the second 180 watt brick was over 700
grams, so all up we’re looking at over 6.3kg for this beast. The dimensions of the laptop are 40.2cm in
width, 32cm in depth, and 4.2cm in height at the thickest point, so definitely on the
larger side for a 17 inch machine, honestly completely expected given the insane hardware
inside, though to be fair the screen bezels are still on the thinner side all things considered. The 17.3” 1080p 144Hz IPS screen has a matte
finish and good viewing angles, and it’s got G-Sync too. I’ve measured the colour gamut using the
Spyder 5 Pro, and my results returned 96% of sRGB, 67% of NTSC and 72% of AdobeRGB.
At 100% brightness in the center I measured 310 nits with a 950:1 contrast ratio, so pretty
decent for a gaming laptop, though I would have liked to have seen other screen options. When it came to backlight bleed however there
were some glow areas, though I never noticed these while actually viewing darker content,
but the results will vary by laptop and panel. There was minimal screen flex as it’s quite
thick, and the with hinges out towards the corners made it feel very sturdy. As you’d expect from such a heavy machine
opening it up one finger is no problem, and this is despite it being way more back heavy
due to the cooling, however due to the larger size it still felt fine, if heavy, on my lap. The 720p camera is found above the display
in the center. This is what the webcam looks and what the
microphone sounds like with the fans at maximum, which is honestly how they’re probably going
to run most of the time. But seriously it’s because I wasn’t able to disable them after
some changes I made but I’ll talk more on that soon. Below the screen there’s also Tobii eye
tracking, it was my first time using it and it seemed to work well. The keyboard has per key RGB backlighting
which can be controlled through the Alienware Control Center software. It’s got 2.2mm
of key travel, and a bunch of programmable macro keys. I really liked typing on the keyboard,
the presses seemed a tiny bit clicky, here’s how typing sounded to give you an idea of
what to expect. There was almost no keyboard flex while pushing
down hard, the body felt extremely solid. I really didn’t like using the touchpad,
I often found gestures and sometimes presses weren’t registering. It’s got synaptics
drivers and physically separate left and right click buttons so doesn’t click down itself.
For a machine of this price I think a precision touchpad would have been better, granted for
gaming you’ll likely be using a mouse anyway. The touchpad does at least have RGB lighting,
so there’s that. Fingerprints show up quite easily on the matte
interior but as a smooth surface they were easy to clean, but I’d expect this to be
far less noticeable on the white version. On the left from the back there’s a wedge
lock slot, air exhaust vent, USB 3.1 Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support and this also
offers DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.1 Type-A port and 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks. On the right there are two more USB 3.1 Type-A
ports and another air exhaust vent On the back there are large air exhausts towards
the left and right corners, then for the I/O from left to right there’s a HDMI 2.0 and
mini DisplayPort 1.4 output, 2.5 gigabit ethernet port, Alienware graphics amplifier port, and
the two power inputs. The whole back also has this RGB lighting trim, which will of
course come down to personal preference but I actually liked it, and you can customize
the colour and effects through the software. On the front there are two speakers found
towards the corners. They still sounded quite clear even at higher volumes and there was
a little bass present, overall they’re definitely above average. Here’s what we’re looking
at with maximum volume and music playing, and the latencymon results were looking good. On the matte lid there’s some A51 branding
down the bottom and RGB Alienware logo towards the top which can be customized through the
software. Underneath there are air intake vents towards
the back in this honeycomb sort of pattern, along with some rubber feet that could have
done a better job of preventing movement considering how heavy the machine is. The bottom panel can be easily removed by
taking out just 6 screws with a phillips head screwdriver. This gives us basic access to
the WiFi card, two M.2 drives, four memory slots, battery and single 2.5 inch drive bay.
Everything else including the CPU and GPU can be accessed by further removing the back
plastic, and Dell has good guides for doing this available. Upgradeability is meant to be a key selling
point with this machine. As it’s using a desktop socket the idea is that the CPU can
be upgraded. The potential issue with that is, at the moment the 9900K is the top of
the line socket available, so if Intel stop using it next generation there’s no upgrade
path there. That said if you instead have got the i7-9700 model then you could go to
the 9900K later. The GPU should also be upgradeable, at least in theory, we’ll have to wait and
see. Alienware designed their own custom board for the GPU die rather than use the existing
MXM standard. At CES they mentioned how they were committed to this, so in theory we should
have next gen graphics options available, but only time would tell. Basically I’d
be skeptical of upgradeability and assume that nothing is confirmed until we see it.
At the very least though I don’t think we have to worry about it not having ample cooling
and power delivery for future hardware. Powering the laptop is a 90 Watt hour battery.
I’ve tested it with the screen brightness at 50%, background apps disabled, and all
RGB lighting off. While just watching YouTube videos it lasted for just 1 hour and 37 minutes,
and this was despite using the Intel graphics, so quite a low result for this test. I found
the Intel graphics would be in use regardless of whether or not I disable G-Sync through
the Nvidia control panel. While playing the Witcher 3 with medium settings
and Nvidia’s battery boost set to 30 FPS the battery lasted for 1 hour and 23 minutes
in total, however 53 minutes in with 34% charge left the frame rate dropped down to 16 FPS
until the end. The battery is on the larger side, but with desktop grade hardware don’t
expect good battery life. You don’t need to carry both power bricks
with you, you can get away with just the smaller 180 watt one if you’re doing less power
consuming tasks, but for gaming at maximum performance you’ll definitely want to use
both. I never noticed the battery drain with both the 180 and 330 watt bricks attached,
and I had some comments asking me to test ripping out both power bricks while gaming
as some have reported their machins turn off. I tried this both in a game at maximum settings,
and also with the Aida64 CPU stress test and Heaven GPU benchmark running, however in each
instance my machine was fine. I can see why this could be an issue though,
it’s using a huge amount of power under full load and removing that instantly could
be difficult to quickly flip over to the battery, but I wasn’t able to replicate that even
with the GPU at 190 watts and CPU at 130 watts. Let’s move onto the thermal testing, as
you’d expect with this level of hardware we’ve got some pretty serious cooling with
massive heatpipes. The Alienware control center allows you to
run the laptop at stock settings, or also pick from two built in overclocking profiles,
1 and 2, and these are the settings that each profile gives us. None of the profiles perform
undervolting, they basically just boost clock speeds. Thermal testing was completed in an ambient
room temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, so expect different results in different environments.
All of these tests are from combined CPU and GPU workloads and are meant to represent worst
case scenarios as I ran them for extended periods of time. The gaming results towards the upper half
of the graph were tested by playing Watch Dogs 2, as I find it to use a good combination
of processor and graphics. The stress test results shown on the lower half of the graph
are from running the Aida64 CPU stress test with only the stress CPU option checked, and
the Heaven GPU benchmark at max settings at the same time to fully load the system. All
tests were also run with the fans at maximum speed, but more on that later. Let’s start with the stress test results,
at stock down the bottom the CPU was thermal throttling at 99 degrees Celsius, as shown
by the blue bar. Simply by applying a -0.15v undervolt to the CPU we were able to drop
the temperatures back by 12 degrees. When we enable the overclock 1 profile in combination
with the undervolt the CPU temperatures rise a couple of degrees, and the GPU also goes
up by 4, if you recall earlier this profile also overclocks the GPU which equals more
heat. Stepping up to the overclock 2 profile which
raises the 8 core boost speed by 100MHz we’re back to thermal throttling at 99 degrees.
As the higher tier overclock requires more power I had to drop the undervolt to -0.075v
to keep it stable in this workload, and then when we add in the cooling pad we’re only
seeing a small improvement to the GPU temperature. The gaming results are a bit better comparatively
in terms of temperatures, not quite as intense as a synthetic stress test. Honestly once
we add the undervolt even the overclock 1 profile isn’t actually running that hot,
so personally I’d probably use it somewhere around this level to keep it from getting
too hot, as you’ll soon see we’re not really getting much extra performance from
the extra heat. In any case the cooling pad did at least make a bigger difference here
compared to the stress tests. These are the average clock speeds for the
same tests just shown. You’ll notice that there’s not actually all that much difference
in terms of the CPU average over all 8 cores, maybe a 350MHz difference from the lowest
result to the best result. Rather than tweaking for maximum performance, with these specs
I think it will be more important to make changes to keep it running cool instead. In the stress test at stock we’re hitting
thermal throttling, so just a lowly 4.5GHz all core speed on the CPU. Undervolting allows
the CPU to hit the stock 4.7GHz all core turbo boost speed of the 9900K, and then with the
overclock 1 profile with the undervolt we’re able to hit the newly defined 4.8GHz all core
limit. It’s worth remembering OC1 doesn’t undervolt
by default, but basically if I didn’t undervolt the overclock profiles were useless in this
workload as we were already thermal throttling at stock with the fans maxed out. Applying
overclocks isn’t going to help us out without first dropping those temperatures, hence the
undervolting being essential to properly utilize the overclock 1 and 2 profiles in this stress
test, though this would not be the case in instances like gaming where thermal throttling
is not hit, though of course depends on the game. The GPU also sees a nice clock speed bump
here due to the overclock this profile applies, and then a little extra boost with overclock
2 which further raises the clock speed. With the second overclock profile the all core
turbo boost speed is raised to 4.9GHz, however we’re only getting a little extra speed
here as I had to lower the undervolt to keep it stable. We’re hitting thermal throttling
here, so this isn’t all that useful and nor would be adding more voltage, and the
cooling pad didn’t really help this out. The game tests saw similar clock speed changes,
though we were able to reach the full 4.9GHz all core turbo boost speed with the overclock
2 profile here with 2000MHz on the 2080. These are the average TDP values during these
same tests. The take aways are that we’re using a fair bit less power when undervolting
is applied, which is why we see lower temperatures, less power equals less heat, which equals
more performance when thermal throttling is hit. Otherwise the RTX 2080 was pretty crazy,
spiking up to 190 watts at times. Here’s what we’re looking at with Cinebench,
for context many 9750H systems are lucky to reach 3000 points based on my own testing.
Not much of a difference between the tests shown here though. As for the external temperatures where you’ll
actually be putting your hands, at idle it was sitting at about the typical 30 degree
celsius average. With the stress tests going the keyboard area is actually still quite
cool, and only getting to 40 up the back. In the same test with the fan maxed out it
was a little cooler, only a little warm to the touch and quite impressive when you consider
that in this test the CPU is thermal throttling at 99 degrees. As for the fan noise produced by the laptop,
I’ll let you have a listen to some of these tests. At idle the fans were only just audible. With
balanced mode set it was definitely quieter compared to most other laptops tested, so
you do have the option of sacrificing performance and thermals for quieter noise levels. Even
with the fans at maximum while it is loud I’ve certainly had louder machines with
much weaker specs that still ran just as hot, take the Aorus 15 for example. You might be asking why I’ve tested different
volume levels of fans without also testing the thermals, well buckle in because have
I got a story for you. Essentially, the Alienware control center software is trash, or at least
that was my experience while using the latest version during my testing. You need it installed
to use the overclock profiles and control fan speed. Basically with the software installed,
during both stress test and while gaming, the GPU power limit would drop every few minutes.
You can see in the screenshot the maximum power was 195 watts but the minimum was about
40, while it’s currently sitting at 50 with a 390MHz clock speed. This means that it thought it was operating
at 100%, though the performance would suffer during these periods. You can see the historical
GPU load bar is essentially the same, but the clock speed cycles up and down during
these periods. Yes both power bricks were plugged in, I even tried a clean install of
Windows but the problem persisted as soon as I reinstalled the Alienware software again. The only way to prevent this from happening
was to remove the alienware oc controls and control center software. By doing this, the
fans were stuck at what ever I last configured them to, which in my case was maximum. I also
was never able to reinstall the oc controls no matter what I did, all sorts of errors
kept coming up no matter what order I did things in, and I don’t have time to keep
doing fresh installs of Windows. Basically after wasting over a day troubleshooting
in the end I decided it was easier for me to manually apply the settings of the overclocking
profiles with MSI Afterburner and Intel XTU and just leave the fans at maximum so that
I wouldn’t have these dips in performance. I couldn’t find very many instances of this
issue happening to others, so it could just be my unit. There was one guy who posted online
who seemed to think it was an incompatibility with having MSI Afterburner installed, however
I confirmed this was not the case after my clean Windows install. Just to be clear it
wasn’t a reset, I tried that too, then after I downloaded a fresh 1903 ISO and installed
it from scratch. This was one hundred percent some sort of
software bug, in the control center if I swapped between the different profiles while in a
low performance period it would reset the state and the power limits would boost back
up for a while straight away. So while it should be possible for them to
fix this, this issue severely impacted performance in my testing to the point where I had to
rage quit trying to use it, however I believe the data represented here accurately shows
what you’d actually get from using the software overclock presets normally, as I manually
set the same settings that those use. Again this issue doesn’t seem that wide spread
based on the lack of other instances I was able to find, I definitely don’t expect
it to be the norm. Overall I’m pretty impressed with the performance
of this machine, software issues aside. Yes out of the box with stock settings it does
run hot, and thermal throttles under a combined CPU and GPU stress test, however with some
simple undervolting it was possible to improve this quite a bit. You really do need to undervolt
it though to get the most out of it, as we saw due to the thermal throttling the stock
all core turbo boost speed wasn’t being hit under stress test. This means enabling the overclock profiles
is essentially pointless on the CPU side until we can bring the temperatures under control,
though some extra GPU performance was still possible from these. Combining the settings
with undervolting though gave excellent performance without the temperatures being too crazy,
so it would have been great if Alienware could have incorporated this into their default
profiles, maybe in future. A cooling pad didn’t help out too much here,
even while thermal throttling clock speed boosts were not really seen, though interestingly
the fans weren’t crazy loud either. Don’t get me wrong, 55 decibels maxed out is on
the louder side, but it was possible to lower the fan speed at the expense of thermals and
when you compare it to other machines I’ve tested that reach the same noise levels with
far weaker specs I think it’s fair. Next let’s take a look at some gaming benchmarks.
I’ve tested these with with a customized version of the overclock 1 profile, so higher
GPU overclocks but also a CPU undervolt. As this is an enthusiast grade machine I think
it makes sense to try and get the most out of it. Battlefield 5 was tested in campaign mode
rather than multiplayer. At 1080p even RTX was playing alright, with 60 FPS averages
still reached at ultra settings, while with RTX off, shown by the purple bars, we’re
getting much higher frame rates compared to other machines. Stepping up to 1440p and we’re
still getting results better than what most other gaming laptops are able to provide at
1080p, though the RTX results are now about inline with 1080p results from those other
machines. At 4K RTX is pretty much a write off regardless of setting level, however 60
FPS averages were still achieved with it disabled at high settings. Apex Legends was tested with either all settings
at maximum, or all settings on the lowest possible values, as it doesn’t have predefined
setting presets. This game seems to cap out at 144 FPS, and we were able to average this
at 1080p and minimum settings. Stepping up to 1440p still saw around 140 FPS averages
at minimum settings, while maxed out was still scoring above 100 FPS. At 4K minimum settings
were still playable with above 100 FPS, however for some reason maxed out the game would chug
badly and wasn’t really playable, so not exactly sure what happened there, that’s
the only game this happened in. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was tested with
the built in benchmark, and as a CPU heavy game seems to benefit well from the 9900K.
Granted at higher settings the frame rate isn’t that high, but the difference is clearer
at lower settings. Moving up to 1440p and the results are still better than most other
gaming laptops I’ve tested at 1080p, very nice results. At 4K the frame rates are much
lower as you’d expect, however I don’t think this game needs a mega high frame rate
to enjoy, so you could still easily play it with lower settings. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was also tested
with the built in benchmark, and again it’s no surprise that these are some of the best
results I’ve ever seen from a laptop, with 120 FPS averages even at highest settings.
Even at 1440p, again like the other games, we’re seeing performance greater than what
most other gaming laptops can reach at 1080p. Things drop off quite a bit once we go up
to 4K, however 60 FPS averages were still possible in this test at medium settings,
with not much difference at high. CS:GO is a game that loves CPU performance,
and was tested using the Ulletical FPS benchmark. At 1080p we’re seeing crazy performance
for a laptop, well I guess it’s not really a laptop when it will crush your legs. Anyway,
500 FPS averages with all settings at minimum. At 1440p there was a larger decrease at higher
settings, however still above 300 FPS and not too far below 500 at minimum settings.
At 4K we’re still getting better performance than most other laptops at 1080p, again because
of that insane CPU performance. Far Cry New Dawn was tested with the built
in benchmark, and as a game that likes CPU performance we’re seeing quite high results
for this test, with 100 FPS reached at ultra. 1440p was still giving performance above most
other gaming laptops at 1080p, while 4K was still capable of 60 FPS averages at ultra
settings, with not too much of a difference at lower settings. Fortnite was tested with the replay feature,
and as a game that runs on pretty much anything when we give it top end specs we’re getting
pretty crazy results, with 400 FPS averages at low settings and still over 200 at epic.
At 1440p 400 FPS averages were still achieved at low where we’re more CPU bound, while
epic was still sitting comfortably at 130 FPS. 4K was still able to reach 60 FPS averages
at epic settings and was actually playable, with much higher frame rates possible depending
on how far you’re willing to lower the settings. Rainbow Six Siege was tested with the built
in benchmark, and with a 1080p resolution ultra settings were still able to reach above
200 FPS no problem, with over 350 at low settings. The 1440p results were excellent too, still
able to reach 150 FPS at ultra settings with high 200s possible at low settings. At 4K
while the results are lower, it should still be usable without issue, even low settings
were reaching 144 FPS. Watch Dogs 2 loves CPU power, so no surprise
that we’re seeing excellent results at 1080p, with 90 FPS reached at ultra settings, and
100 plus at high and lower. At 1440p high settings was now only just below 100 FPS,
while ultra was still running extremely well without any issues. Honestly even 4K ran alright
for me, I find a stable 30 FPS in this game fine, so 32 for the 1% low is at least playable,
though you can still hit 60 FPS averages at high settings. The Witcher 3 was tested with hairworks disabled,
and while it doesn’t need a crazy high frame rate we’re still getting one here, with
over 150 FPS at ultra settings at 1080p. At 1440p ultra settings were still reaching more
than 100 FPS, so it was playing perfectly fine while looking excellent. At 4K the frame
rates drop back quite a bit, however even ultra settings still maintained a stable 60
FPS in this game. If you’re after more games, check the dedicated
gaming benchmark video in the top right corner where I’ve tested 15 games at all three
resolutions. Let’s also take a look at how this config
of the Alienware 51m compares with other laptops to see how it stacks up, use these results
as a rough guide only as they were tested at different times with different drivers. In Battlefield 5 I’ve got the Alienware
51m highlighted in red, and as expected it’s smashing the competition due to the desktop
grade hardware. Both the 1% low and average frame rate are significantly ahead of even
the closest competition, this thing is literally on another level. Here are the results from Far Cry 5 with ultra
settings in the built in benchmark. Again the 51m is way out ahead, even the 92 1% low
is ahead of the average frame rate most of these machines are able to provide, with the
average at least 30 FPS higher than the closest neighbour. These are the results from Shadow of the Tomb
raider with the built in benchmark at highest settings, and once more there’s a significant
gap between the 51m and the other machines due to the crazy specs inside. So as we’ve seen the Alienware 51m is offering
serious levels of performance, which is to be expected, it’s a thick machine with a
desktop overclockable 8 core CPU and full on RTX 2080 graphics capable of running up
to 190 watts. 1080p and 1440p gaming was no problem at all, while many titles at 4K ran
alright too depending on setting level. Now for the benchmarking tools, I’ve tested
Heaven, Valley, and Superposition from Unigine, as well as Firestrike, Timespy, Port Royal
and VRMark from 3DMark, just pause the video if you want a detailed look at these results. As we saw earlier we’ve got the option of
making some changes to improve performance, so let’s see how these performance boosts
actually translate into games. Far Cry New Dawn was tested using the built
in benchmark at ultra settings. There’s a bit going on here so let me explain. I’ve
got the laptop tested at stock in the purple bars, with the overclock 1 profile in the
green bars, then with the overclock 2 profile in the red bars. Basically we can see the
overclock 1 profile is giving us the best results, as by default the overclock 2 profile
seems to push it too far and cause higher levels of throttling, still better than stock
results, but again I think the overclock 1 profile is a good sweet spot especially if
you undervolt it. I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test the
storage, and the 1TB RAID 0 array made of two 512GB M.2 NVMe SSDs is performing very
nicely. The 1TB 5,400 RPM hard drive on the other hand has good reads, but lower writes,
however there are different storage options available when buying. For updated pricing check the links in the
description, as prices will change over time. At the time of recording in the US the entry
level 51m is going for $2050 USD, while the top end model I’ve got here is $5,150 USD,
granted that does have double the SSD space. Here in Australia with these specs we’re
looking at $6200 AUD, a lot of money, though it is currently on sale down from $8000 AUD,
so there’s that. So who is a machine like the 51m for? Rather
than your typical laptop it’s definitely more of a desktop replacement that also happens
to be somewhat more portable. For the insane power in this form factor the trade off is
of course a much higher price and a thicker and heavier machine that is expected to run
hot under load. You could of course build a mini ITX system with same specs for far
less, so it really depends how badly you want the one portable unit with battery, screen
and touchpad included. While I’m a bit skeptical about the future upgrade paths it would definitely
make this a good feature of the machine if Alienware come through, I’ve just seen these
sorts of things not work out so well in the past. So to conclude you’re getting insane desktop
levels of performance in games from this desktop replacement machine. I wasn’t a fan of the
touch pad and there’s more bleed than I’d like, but otherwise there’s not much else
to complain about. With this hardware it’s a given that the machine will be larger, heavier,
hotter, and have poor battery life, it is what it is. Despite running hot, the fans
didn’t really get much louder compared to many other gaming laptops with lower specs
I’ve tested, and with some undervolting we could improve thermals and performance
significantly. I would have liked to have seen higher resolutions
than 1080p though considering how much raw horse power we’ve got available, though
I guess as a desktop replacement maybe they’re assuming you’ll connect a larger external
display. Still though a nice 120Hz 1440p option or 4K for those that want it would have been
nice, as we’ve seen in my testing many games ran well at 4K. While the control center software
worked well for everything else such as customizing lighting, it was doing something strange to
my unit that severely kneecapped performance while gaming, to the point where I just had
to remove it to stop having FPS dips, though as what appears to be a software bug I’d
expect that to get fixed, assuming it even actually affects anyone else. I’m very interested to hear what you think
about Alienware’s Area 51m gaming laptop slash desktop replacement down in the comments,
based on the price it’s definitely more of a niche product, so is it something you’d
consider getting? Let me know down in the comments, and if you’re new to the channel
consider getting subscribed for future tech videos like this one.


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