I’ve been wanting to get into reviewing computer hardware, but I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Finally I decided on laptops, and while there are some great sites out there that review them, none of the reviewers use them for an extended period of time. Their reviews are typically based off of performance and first impressions, but what about other things that are important such as how long the battery lasts while watching a movie or how scratch-resistant the case is?
Those are some of the things that I want to cover…a real consumer’s view on hardware. To start things off, I am reviewing the Alienware m5550 which I had the pleasure of using for over a month. It’s an amazing PC, and unquestionably a powerhouse when it comes to performance.
I was hoping to get a computer to review that wasn’t the top-of-the-line, and that’s because it is unrealistic for a typical consumer to buy a $2700 laptop. Yes, you read that right. There are a few things that I would remove from this configuration that would drop the price significantly, but I’ll talk about that after I list the specs:
- Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7600 2.33GHz 4MB Cache 667MHz FSB
- 15.4″ WideUXGA 1920 x 1200 LCD – Saucer Silver
- 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz
- 160GB Serial ATA 1.5Gb/s 7,200 RPM w/ NCQ & 8MB Cache
- 8x Dual Layer CD-RW/DVD±RW w/ Nero Software
- 256MB NVidia GeForce Go 7600
- Intel 7.1 High-Definition Audio
- Internal Intel Wireless 4965 a/b/g/Draft-N Mini-Card
- Integrated 10/1000Mb Gigabit Ethernet & 56K V.92 Modem
- 6-cell Lithium-Ion
- 9-cell Lithium-Ion Additional Battery
There are essentially three things that are keeping the price so high: processor, hard drive, and video card. If you drop down to a 1.66GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 80GB hard drive, and 128MB video card, that will shave $1200 off of the price. And then if you only want 1GB of RAM and a wireless card that doesn’t support the draft-N networks, (most people don’t need that) you could get the laptop for under $1200. So before you go into sticker shock, it is important that you analyze your needs to determine which options would suit you best.
This is probably the most fun that I ever had unboxing a notebook computer. It came in a very slick case and was very well packed. Check it out (click to enlarge photos):
The first impression that I had of the computer was great. Here ae the things that I made notes about:
- Very Good: No junk installed on the computer. This thing shipped with an empty desktop and no unexpected applications had been installed!
- Good: The casing feels extremely durable and could probably withstand some rough users.
- Good: Most of the case has a reflective plastic covering on it which seems like it would be very resistant to scratching.
- Good: The AC adapter fits very snuggly in the port on the back of the laptop. You will be able to freely move around without worrying about the cord coming unplugged.
- Okay: There is an alien that lights up on the outside of the case, which is cool but I don’t think it can be disabled. This could probably be annoying if you are in a presentation where the lights are off, because it gives off a decent glow in a dark room. I thought it might turn off when it is unplugged from the wall, but that’s not the case.
- Not Good: The laptop seems to be a little heavy in the backend, so you probably don’t want to hold it from the front with one hand and pick it up. If you have the screen open, that adds even more weight to the back, and it would probably flip out of your hands if you quickly tried to pick it up without being careful.
- Not Good: The mouse buttons are loud! I guess I have been spoiled by my Dell laptop which has silent buttons for the mouse, but these are pretty loud and would be annoying if you’re in a meeting or a class.
–Performance & Benchmarks–
Performance…this computer takes home the gold crown. I’m not going to dive too deep into the performance since other sites, such as Notebook Review, have gone very deep into analyzing both the graphics and performance capabilities of this laptop. I did want to do the Super Pi test though, which is only used to compare the speed of the processor. The reason tat I wanted to do this was because I have a Core 2 Duo 1.66GHz processor myself, and I wanted to see how it stood up to the 2.33GHz big brother. The results…quite a difference actually:
Here is the Windows Vista performance rating for the computer, which analyzes the processor, memory, graphics card, and hard drive:
–Keyboard & Touchpad–
One of the things that perplexed me when I first starting using this laptop was the fan button located at the top of the keyboard. I wasn’t quite sure what it would be used for, but after searching the Internet a little, I had determined that it runs the processor speed, graphics card speed, and decreases the amount that the fans are used. So essentially with the fan button activated it should save you some battery power, but the results were hardly noticeable.
Besides for that, the keyboard is pretty typical even though the “Delete” key is located next to the arrow pad.
Ohhh, the gorgeous monitor! This is hands down the best feature of this laptop. It’s crystal clear 15.4” Wide Screen WUXGA (1920 x 1200 resolution) display rocked my socks off. That is the same resolution as my 24″ external monitor, and despite being 9″ smaller in size, it is still very readable. Here’s a screenshot of what a 1920 x 1200 resolution looks like, followed by a picture taken at about the same position your head would be at when using the laptop:
This is an upgrade option from the standard WXGA (1280 x 800 resolution) that costs an extra $100 when configuring the notebook, and I wouldn’t hesitate one bit at throwing it on.
–Ports & Buttons–
As expected this has a lot of ports:
- Video out: DVI Connector
- TV out: S-Video out connector
- Gigabit Ethernet RJ-45
- 56K Modem RJ-11
- 3 Hi-speed USB 2.0 ports
- Express Card Slot (54mm)
- IEEE 1394a (4-pin) port
- 4-in-1 Memory Card Reader (SD, MS, MSPRO, and MMC)
- Audio Out: Headphones
- Microphone input
- Built-in Microphone
Here are the buttons that are located on the computer:
- Volume control wheel on the left-side of the touchpad next to he DVD drive.
- Above the keyboard there are quick-buttons to pull up your media player, open your browser’s homepage, check your email, and then there is the fan button that I mentioned under the keyboard section.
- Button located immediately above the touchpad that will disable it. This is useful when you’re typing a document and you find yourself accidentally moving the mouse all of the time.
- Wireless slider in the front of the laptop near the latch.
The high performance computing has to come from somewhere, and unfortunately it is at the expense of the battery. I’ve heard complaints from dozens of people before who say that their batteries are horrible, but that’s normally after a year of use. This notebook however, left me speechless with how fast it could eat up the battery.
I decided to run a lot of battery tests (about 3-tests for each battery configuration) to ensure that this wasn’t just a one-time issue. I did the tests while the computer sat idle (with the monitor remaining on), and then also while playing a movie. I figured that knowing the battery life while playing a movie would probably be good for those people who plan to use this on a plane ride. And then finally I ran the different tests for both the standard 6-cell battery as well as the 9-cell battery.
The results are below, and they are measured by unplugging the computer from the power outlet and waiting for it to completely drain. Yeah, it took a long time to do all of the tests, but I thought it would be more accurate than just restating the estimate Windows provides.
Average Battery Life
|6-Cell (Normal)||Idle||1 hour and 27 minutes|
|6-Cell (Normal)||Playing Movie||1 hour and 1 minute|
|9-Cell (Extended)||Idle||2 hours and 5 minutes|
|9-Cell (Extended)||Playing Movie||1 hour and 44 minutes|
Now I’m blaming some of the poor battery performance on the high-end processor and graphics card. Obviously a 2.33GHz processor is going to suck up more juice than a 1.66GHz, although I haven’t been able to compare the difference between the two processor speeds.
It is probably also important to note that the 9-cell battery does provide longer battery life, but it also sticks out the back about 1/2-inch. The standard 6-cell is flush with the back which is what some people prefer.
The computer does run a bit warm, especially in two locations. The first one is to the right of the touchpad where you normally rest your wrists, and the second one is on the bottom underneath the DVI output port. I assume that these two locations are where the processor and graphics card are located, respectively.
It never really got hot enough that it caused great discomfort, although I did find myself shifting it around my lap as my legs began getting a bit toasty.
While you can get the Alienware m5550 starting at $999, it really isn’t a computer that is meant to be replaced every year. You can tell that it is extremely durable and well made, so it is something you would probably keep around for several years.
Would I buy this computer? It really depends on what your primary focus is for a notebook computer. If you’re looking for a laptop with long battery life, this is surely not going to be what you want to get, but if you’re looking for performance and an absolutely beautiful screen, it would be hard to find something that would beat this.
So now that we’ve completed our first real hands-on hardware review, hit us up in the comments below if you would like us to take a look at something before you go out and purchase it. :)
Disclosure: This was a review PC that was lent to us for a short period of time, and returned.