Alienware Widens High-End Desktop Push

The Miami-based company is positioning its new laptop system, the Area-51m 7700, as a high-end unit that—despite lacking the battery life of mainstream notebooks—provides a portable, performance- oriented workstation priced between $2,200 and $2,900 depending on configuration.

The mobile desktops are popular in video production, a space once dominated by Apple.

"We thought it was unfair to call it a notebook," said David Estrada, Alienware's mobile product manager. "This is the largest desktop replacement we've ever offered."

The base system is built with a desktop CPU—a 3GHz Pentium 4—and an ATI Mobility Radeon X80 GPU. Estrada said the ATI graphics chip provides slightly more battery life than competing processors from Nvidia, while enabling high-end video and graphics applications. The systems weigh in at about 10 pounds, he said, with a battery life of slightly more than an hour.

The systems are not aimed at in-transit users, but were designed as portable desktops that can be taken out of the office and plugged in at remote locations, Estrada said.

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However, he noted that some military clients have not shied away from using them on-the-fly.

"They load up on batteries and go into the field and use them for targeting systems, for all kinds of things," Estrada said.

Alienware is not the only system builder that has sought to leverage custom-system expertise with entry into the high-end mobile computing space. For example, executives at Ace Computer, an Arlington Heights, Ill.-based system builder, said the company had success with its own, high-end mobile PCs priced as high as $4,000, because there is a well-defined market for the systems and margins are not as squeezed as with lower-end notebooks.

Estrada said Alienware is finding that high-end portable desktops are particularly successful in video production, a space once dominated by Apple Computer, Cupertino, Calif.

"A lot of creative professionals love these systems to move around, take them to locations, plug [them] in somewhere and be able to edit their work and view it on-the-fly," Estrada said. "They can handle the little bit of extra weight once they see the performance."