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Jewish World Review
Jan. 27, 2006
/ 27 Teves, 5766
Alienware's portable powerhouse
Spending $2,468 on a notebook computer any notebook computer is
a big investment. When you spend that money with a smaller computer
company as opposed to a "name brand" such as Dell or Hewlett-Packard,
that kind of expenditure might give one real pause.
Such concerns might be assuaged when the company is Alienware, a
Miami-based computer seller that also has an office in the District.
Despite its casual image, the firm's hardware is serious and solid,
as well as being well-supported, which users should appreciate.
My first test unit from the firm is their Area 55 m5500. Pricing
starts at $979 there's a $200 rebate available now although it's
easy to go beyond that price by adding options. My souped-up model
included a 2.13 GHz Intel Pentium M 770 processor, a $482 premium on
the 1.5 GHz Intel Centrino processor supplied in the basic model. The
test unit also boasts 1 Gbyte
of RAM, a $119 upgrade from the standard 256 Mbytes, as well as an
Ultra XGA display, a $199 premium item.
The basic configuration should be good enough for many users, and the
price of some upgrades such as the RAM boost are reasonable, in my
view. So, how does the computer perform? Rather well, thanks for
asking: it's fast, to be sure, and it handles Microsoft Windows quite
nicely. While Alienware builds many of its desktop and notebook
systems for devotees of computer games, this portable seems suited
for business applications, albeit with a dimension that can handle
That starts with the 15.4-inch wide LCD screen, which as mentioned
supports Ultra XGA resolution, up to 1920 by 1200 pixels. I found the
highest-resolution setting a bit much, but gamers will likely
appreciate it. The unit also plays DVDs, so this should be a good
machine to watch a movie with at the end of the day. Sound from the
built-in speakers is certainly acceptable for most situations.
The computer handled its tasks with ease, running an Office
applications suite, Internet browser and some other applications
easily and well. The m5500's trackpad includes a scrolling "zone"
which is great for moving up and down on a page, but which can also
be an inviting target for a stray hand movement.
I did have a few issues, one of which was more or less solved
quickly. That was a dramatic drop in battery life; switching on the
machine at first sent the battery capacity plummeting rapidly. The
culprit was built-in support for an external VGA monitor connection,
and disabling that feature yielded an improvement.
A more serious issue arose when I tried to install a different
operating system on the computer, as an experiment. This non-Windows
system began to install but then froze, rendering the unit useless.
That's where a $26 option came in very handy. For that minuscule
price, Alienware will sell you a "respawn" package of two discs a
CD-ROM containing Symantec Corp.'s Norton Ghost software and a DVD
with the basic image of your computer's hard drive. Within 30
minutes, in a process that seems magical, the m5500 was back to its
factory-fresh self. Other manufacturers offer this kind of option,
and of course you can buy the Ghost software yourself and create your
own recovery DVD. But it's nice to have this as a very reasonably
priced option, and I recommend buying it.
Would I spend $2,468, before a $100 rebate, on this computer?
Perhaps. It's powerful enough to be a true desktop replacement, and
if I needed this level of power on the road,I'd consider it. But for
those who like the unusual in terms of design this is a stylish
machine with some powerful components, it's a machine worth
checking out. Find the firm at www.alienware.com.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com