Desktop Replacements - Unwieldy Laptops or Portable Desktops?
Aaron McKenna

A Question Of Mobility

A Question Of Mobility

There's something ominous about a laptop that weighs more than your PC's monitor, puts out more heat while sitting still than your desktop - and has a little alien head on the back. Desktop replacements, as characterized by Alienware's Area-51m series, the new in-thing. However, they have had something of a mixed reception among IT professionals.

On the one hand, people bemoan the fact that they are not as portable as a laptop should be. They're heavy, they're noisy, they're hot and don't dare to ask about battery life . On the other hand, many see them as being distinct from the traditional laptop - they are certainly more portable than desktop machines, and they have more horsepower than smaller notebooks.

A while back we ran a piece about living with my new Dell Inspiron 6000 , a laptop somewhat between ultra-portable and ultra-powerful. Having lugged the Area-51m around for a weekend, I now take back any accusations I had about the Inspiron 6000 being overweight. Still, I still wanted to test the ultra-powerful desktop replacement against ultra-portable office lugs.

What better way to test a desktop replacement than to drag it along to a LAN party? Unplug the machine, drag it across town, plug it back in and don't move for 32 hours. During that time, it'll be tested to the extreme with the best of today's games running full tilt. A normal laptop would crash and burn, because even some desktops struggle... how would the desktop replacement manage?

The size of a desktop replacement " laptop " tends to catch most people off guard when first they come across one. The photos don't quite do these machines justice in terms of the amount of desk space that they take up, and you have to constantly warn people who want to cradle it in their arms that it's pretty hefty to carry around.

For all this girth, however, you get a helluva lot of bang for your buck. Consider that the machine we tested comes with five speakers: two beside the keyboard and two in front, as well as a subwoofer underneath. This audio setup provides sound that puts many of the desktops on offer to shame!

The 3.6 GHz of Pentium 4 power is desktop standard, and the mobile GeForce 6800 still provides a huge amount of wallop despite its smaller size. Add in 100GB of HDD space - there's even a RAID array ! - and more fans than you need to cool an office, and the size is easy to understand.

Still, we must always point out that unlike a desktop, it's highly portable. Compared to a Dell XPS tower I recently had to shift around the office, the "fat laptop" was as nimble as a ballerina. And while my desktop-saddled counterparts found themselves enmeshed in a tangle of wires when they arrived for LANnage, yours truly simply had to plug in a power cord, mouse and headset, and I was ready for action.

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