Alienware changed the game of making PCs

Originally published June 10, 2016

This was the second in a two-part series looking at the PC maker Alienware. You can read the first story: here.

By Ian Sherr and Dan Ackerman

Ask any gamer out there about playing games on a PC, and they’ll tell you about Alienware.

The Miami-based company  has been building gaming PCs for 20 years. It’s become one of the most recognizable computer brands out there thanks to its alien-head logo, with glowing eyes peering out, that’s emblazoned on its other-worldly looking computers.

One of its most distinctive designs was its “Predator” desktop from 2003, which made the large and heavy computer look like a large alien head at a time when most computers were utilitarian, gray-colored boxes. But that’s not the only new idea Alienware helped popularize.

Space-age goes mobile

If the ’90s were dominated by desktop PCs, the early 2000s were about the rise of laptops. But Nelson Gonzalez, Alienware’s co-founder, noticed that all the machines on the market were clunky, slow and had short battery life. No gamer was going to be able to play using those.

So when he proposed Alienware try to make a better one, most everyone responded, “you’re crazy, no one’s ever going to buy a gaming notebook,” recalled Frank Azor, who heads Alienware today.

What they eventually created was the Area-51m. Released in 2002, the laptop was 2.4 inches thick (just shy of a building brick) and weighed a back-breaking 9.6 pounds. It also included a desktop-like Intel Pentium 4 processor and, most importantly, a separate graphics chip called the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000. That type of technology was bleeding edge at the time and not everyone was convinced it could deliver.

CNET called it a “desktop replacement” in its review at the time, noting it was a speedy. But that came at a cost — for your lap. “All of this firepower makes for one hot machine, figuratively and literally,” wrote CNET reviewer Brian Nadel at the time.

Fast forward seven years and you arrive at the 5-pound  Alienware M11x, which was half the weight of its ancestor, saving you from the fear of future chiropractic bills. It actually looked like one of the small-screen netbook laptops that were popular at the time, except for the sharp angles and glowing alien head logo.

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