Pros: Really, really fast when it works.
Cons: Runs super hot, breaks quickly, terrible customer service.
In theory, this should be a great computer. There are a tremendous range of options to create a very high speed system. Mine had a striped RAID drive, over 2 gig of RAM, a 256 NVIDIA Go card, a 3 MHz processor, and a complex series of fans and cooling fins. The computer itself is attractive for teenagers, with glowing blue eyes on the top cover. You can shut these off by going into the BIOS; they're pretty silly for someone over 15 sitting in a coffee shop or airport lounge.
I think the problem with the Alienware laptop that I purchased, as well as the 20 purchased and used by my company, is that they try to cram too much into the box. Technology just has not advanced to the point where we can put that many heat generating cards into one small box. This computer runs hot - and I mean super hot. After three minutes of running, the blast of heat coming out of the fans is enough to crease your pants if it's on your lap. I found that if I did not elevate the computer (I used bottle tops to get it off the table) it would overheat in 15 minutes and shut down. After two or three incidents of overheating, I put the computer on a portable laptop fan.
This turned out to be insufficient as well. The laptop fan was not strong enough to pull away the heat from the cooling units, even when the computer was elevated over the fan to allow for more breathing room. The overheating continued and eventually burned out the motherboard and video card. Without an extended warantee, this ran me $1,000 to fix (see my customer service comments for that nightmare process).
I have to say that I was not all that impressed with the quality of the screen/image, either. The first time I turned on the computer, I was expecting a crisp, clear picture - with that kind of computing power it should have been amazing. Instead, the picture looked dull and a bit fuzzy. I spent a good deal of time trying to tweak the settings on Windows to improve the clarity and crispness to no effect. It's just not that good an image - that carries over into movies and games.
Forget running high-end games for any extended period of time unless you are in an icebox with ear plugs. When all the fans are spinning, the noise is pretty intense. Between the heat shooting out the side of the computer and the cacophony of fans it's just not that much fun. Then, it crashes...
This is also an extremely heavy computer. The box itself weighs over 10 pounds. Then, add in the power supply, external drive, and the extra battery (battery life is 15 minutes, by the way - yes, 15 minutes. Tried that with both batteries) and you're talking close to 30 pounds in your laptop bag.
I purchased my Alienware laptop to do two things: word processing and run high-end games. In the gaming community, Alienware had a phenomenal reputation for developing blazing fast computers capable of meeting the most daunting memory and speed requirements. They always came with a huge price tag.
When I found out the price had gone down to about USD 3,000 (yes, that's comparatively low), I jumped at the chance and dropped 5% of my annual salary on a laptop. My wife was less than pleased, but I argued that I wouldn't have to buy another computer for at least three years.
Within three months, however, the computer had completely crashed.
CUSTOMER SERVICE ISSUES: Here's a cut of the email I sent to Alienware, Dell (their parent company), and the Alienware Agent for Service:
Within one week of use, I discovered that the very large and heavy batteries that came with the computer were good for approximately 15 minutes of use while running graphics-intensive applications. This effectively tied me to a local power supply, greatly diminishing the value of my portable notebook computer. I also noticed that the computer generated a considerable amount of heat, and I was unable to use it in a "laptop" configuration. I was forced to place the computer on a portable fan unit and elevate it using a makeshift frame to ensure adequate air ventilated the fan units. These requirements again diminished my ability to use the computer on the road.
I purchased the computer in November of 2005. By January of 2006, I began to see blue lines running vertically up and down my screen, and by the end of February the computer regularly began to freeze and lock up. At this point, I could only use the computer, for any application, for fifteen minutes before a lockup. I was no longer able to use the computer for work or for gaming applications.
I began using the Alienware support website to try and troubleshoot the computer in late January of 2006. I found the website to be less than helpful. I am technically capable and comfortable with intermediate computer use - I have installed cards into desktops, etc. However, I found the instructions on the website to be incomprehensible. I began calling customer support in February.
I immediately discovered that your customer support personnel were generally unfamiliar with the problem that I was experiencing. In retrospect, this is odd considering the number of Alienware computers that suffer from the same problem. I have seen countless online blogs indicating similar problems with other systems. Additionally, my office purchased ~20 Alienware laptops comparable to my own, and many suffered from similar problems.
My experience with your customer service staff from February 2006 through July of 2006 has been unsatisfactory. I have repeatedly been placed on hold for extended periods of time. Over 90% of the representatives I have spoken to have little to no technical expertise. Those that do have attempted to get me to repair the computer by myself. I did not find this a viable solution considering I am not a qualified personal computer repair expert. The many hours I spent on the phone with your customer service personnel came to naught, and I have been without the use of the machine since February.
Because I did not purchase the extended warrantee, I was eventually forced to pay a $259.00 USD service charge to have my computer repaired. This charge did not include parts. I sent the computer to your facility on 20 June of 2006 by Federal Express. I was unable to find anyone at Alienware who could locate the computer in your facility until ten days later, and then that person could not tell me the status of the repair.
After repeated calls to customer service, including several in which I was rebuffed after requesting to speak to a supervisor and one in which a supervisor refused to speak to me, I finally ascertained that my computer required an additional $ 778.34 USD to replace the video card and the motherboard. I was told that these two devices were, "fried" by the heat generated by the computer. I reluctantly paid this fee, upgrading my video card in the process in the hopes that the new card would be sturdier than the old.
My computer was returned to me on 20 July. I plugged in the computer, saw that it was receiving power from the power supply, and turned it on. It began to spin up, but nothing appeared on the screen. After about five seconds, all activity stopped. The screen was completely inactive. I carefully turned the computer off and tried again, and confirmed that the computer was inoperable. I immediately called your technical support line.
The technical support agent seemed unfazed by the fact that the computer was still broken. His first solution was to have me take apart the computer myself by removing the keyboard. Considering I had just paid over $1,000 to have your company repair my computer, I refused to do the work myself. Again, I am not a trained computer repair specialist and do not believe that it is my responsibility to repair your defective product. My other alternative was to send the computer back to your company for a second repair. I was not given a timeline for this repair, but one of your supervisors previously informed me that most repairs take between four and six weeks to complete.
I can no longer afford to be without a notebook computer. I need this computer for work, and I paid a considerable amount of money to have it available for gaming. I believe I have spent enough time without a computer and enough money trying to effect its repair.
I would like you to refund my money. I paid for two products, the computer and the repair, that did not meet even my most basic expectations. I believe this request is reasonable considering the amount of time I have spent dealing with this problem. Please send me a personal or cashiers check for the amount of $XXXX.XX USD. This will defray the cost of the computer, the repair, and the repair parts. At this time, I do not feel it necessary to require additional reimbursement for my lost productivity, loss of cell phone minutes, or loss of personal time.
UPDATE: After repeated phonecalls, prodding, and emails, Alienware finally agreed to refund my money. Well, not ALL of my money. They managed to talk me out of $700.00 - I agreed just to get things moving. I sent in the computer and have been waiting for 10 days for my refund. They are now telling me they paid me 2/3s of the total (not true - I have been paid nothing), and they are not sure how to move forward with the rest of the payment. I'm on hold again with their customer service - my wife recognizes their muzak on my speaker and just stays out of my way.
If anyone is interested in other reviews of Alienware laptops, type in "alienware" + "sucks" in Google. There's a good number of reviews on CNET as well: http://reviews.cnet.com/Alienware_Area_51m_7700/4505-3121_7-31456556.html
I will continue to give my opinion on Alienware and Alienware customer service until I have been paid in full.