The Alienware Area-51 m5700 embodies the company's passion for creating high-performance laptops by squashing a host of fast components inside a large but surprisingly lean chassis. It isn't small, but it's good for much more than just typing documents and doing your homework on -- this is a laptop that can handle anything from spreadsheets to 3D gaming. Some aspects of its specification have been eclipsed by newer components, and it is enormously pricey in comparison to laptops from smaller vendors, but if you want a laptop from one of the big names, the Alienware is a worthy contender.
The Area-51 m5700 has inherited most of the design characteristics of past Alienware laptops. The top of its lid sports the company's distinctive logo: an ominous alien head with glowing blue eyes, sandwiched between rubberised rib-like protrusions that provide extra grip when carrying the laptop. Flip the lid open and things are far less interesting. The m5700 is only available in Alienware's 'Xeno grey' colouring -- or 'granddad grey' as we call it. The laptop also lacks any of the usual aesthetic accoutrements you'd find on a gaming notebook. There are no glowing neon lights or psychedelic LEDs, so if you like your laptops gaudy, you'd better look elsewhere.
The Area-51 m5700 definitely isn't intended for use on the road. It's easy to transport to and from LAN parties if you're that way inclined, but its 17-inch screen makes it unwieldy, so it probably won't venture too far from your desk. That said, this is one of the thinnest Alienware laptops we've seen in some time. Whereas older Alienware laptops used power-hungry Pentium 4s that required large cooling solutions, the m5700's Pentium M CPU uses a more petite offering that can be crammed into a smaller chassis.
Its keyboard is large and comfortable, but we were slightly disappointed by the lack of a dedicated number pad, since there's plenty of room for one. We also took issue with its mouse touchpad, which was unresponsive at times. It has a dedicated scroll panel that makes it easy to scroll through long text documents, but it's not uncommon for the ball of your right hand to accidentally touch the pad as you type. This can cause the cursor to randomly jump around your document, so text could end up in the wrong place. We'd recommend getting the optional Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer for an extra £27.
Alienware has included the almost mandatory quick-launch buttons above the keyboard for one-touch access to a media player, Web browser and email client. This reduces the need to hunt for icons on your desktop or Windows Start menu. The fourth button in this set is rather more unusual: it serves as a means of reducing the speed of the laptop's cooling fans. This is a feature you'll appreciate when using the laptop late at night -- unless of course your boyfriend/girlfriend finds the incessant whine of a cooling fan conducive to a good night's sleep.