Alienware Introduces the Forever Laptop

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©. Dell/Alienware

It's a crazy expensive, overpowered gaming machine, but it turns laptop design on its head.

There have long been two schools of thought about computer design: Build it in a big box where you can upgrade to the fastest components and your computer never wears out. The other approach, epitomized by Apple, is to make it as thin and light as possible, but seal it up tight with almost no serviceable parts. That's why gamers and 3D modellers used boxes instead of laptops, so you could upgrade them constantly; they were forever boxes.

Back in the beginning of the century, if you wanted a big box with the fastest components and the coolest designs, you went to Alienware. Then it was bought by Dell in 2006 and everyone thought that was the end of it. But in fact, Alienware is still making interesting stuff, and the new Area 51M is a crazy expensive but revolutionary machine that turns the big box with interchangeable parts into what could be a forever laptop.

front of computer

© Dell/Alienware

It is a totally silly machine, weighing eight and a half pounds, with a screen resolution of only 1920 x 1080, needing two power supplies to charge and lasting maybe 45 minutes on a charge during active gaming. But that's not the point or why we are writing about it. Chaim Gartenberg of The Verge describes the problem with most laptops:

Unlike their desktop counterparts, no matter how advanced your machine, there’s essentially a ticking clock attached that counts down to obsolescence, starting the moment you buy it. Without the ability to upgrade critical parts like the CPU and graphics card, there will come a day when you won’t be able to run the latest games.
parts of computer

© Dell/Alienware

The same can be said for other uses, like CAD and 3D modelling, where you want the fastest graphics. And unlike my Apple computer, this is designed to be user serviceable. In fact it is pretty much a squished desktop, where you can change almost every component yourself. We always talk about longevity and repairability, and this nails all those TreeHugger principles, if it fails on others like efficiency and sufficiency. Gartenberg continues:

Alienware is serious about letting users take this thing apart just like they would a full-fledged desktop, down to easily removable screws and labeled guides imprinted into the frame of the laptop to help you through disassembly or reassembly (including specs for each screw should you lose track of one along the way). There are pull tabs to help you remove the laptop’s delicate cables by hand, without damaging them, and it shows you the exact order you need to turn the screws for the massive CPU / GPU cooler to properly torque it down.

I am writing this post on a two-pound MacBook that got an iFixit rating of 1 out of ten, where "the processor, RAM, and flash memory are still soldered to the logic board." I cannot even open it without a proprietary screwdriver. It is light and small and does the job I need it to do but it is the antithesis of this Alienware.

back of a51

© Dell/Alienware

Dell and HP both make machines that get a 10 from iFixit, where you can change components that fail. But the Area 51M takes it a step further, where you can change and upgrade almost everything – CPU, GPU, batteries, RAM – just like on a desktop. And it is probably no harder than building a desktop.

It is a crazy overpowered, expensive machine, but it could be the template for a forever laptop for people who value longevity over lightness.