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Alienware Area-51m upgradability: How the Holy Grail of laptop features eluded us


The Quest for the Holy Grail of gaming laptop features—upgradable internal graphics—ended in a horrible, ignominious death on Wednesday, with the release of Alienware’s Area-51m R2.

And by death, we mean permanent death—not Marvel comics death, where the hero comes back 10 issues later.

If we sound bitter, heartbroken, and utterly disappointed, it’s because we are. When the Alienware Area-51m R1 came out a year ago, we thought our quest for upgradable graphics in laptops was finally over. The Area-51m R1 came with a socketed CPU and custom graphics modules that the company could control. 

alienware area 51m in lunar light with cyberpunk v1 exploded shot Dell

The Area-51m R2 will feature 10th-gen desktop CPUs and RTX Super GPUs—but will go no further officially.

We realized there were risks, as we wrote in our Area-51m R1 review: “the other scenario is upgrading to a ‘10th gen’ Core i7 or Core i9. Given Intel’s history of dumping sockets or chipsets overboard, however, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to do it.”

Yet we remained hopeful. “That said, the chances that Alienware would do all of this work without offering at least one useful CPU upgrade is very unlikely, because it has deeper insight than we do into what’s coming.” We realized that it was a “leap of faith” that next-gen GPUs would work, but we thought surely, with the size and power of Dell and Alienware, there was no way this would end badly.

img 20190108 141320 Gordon Mah Ung

The Holy Grail: Alienware said it designed a custom GPU module that can be replaced down the road with a faster model. Unfortunately, “faster model” meant only within the same family.

It ended badly

It did end badly, of course. First Intel announced that its 10th-gen Comet Lake S CPUs mandated a new LGA1200 socket that’s incompatible with the LGA1151 socket in the Area-51m R1. 

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