Alienware hops on laptop upgrade wagon

Do it yourself.

Last week we told you about US firm VoodooPC's new M460 laptop with upgradeable graphics chip. Quite handy, you probably thought, but sending laptops away isn't much fun. Given the cost, it might even be your only PC, and if you're like us then net access is second only to oxygen.

But, as we said, it's a sign of things to come, and one of those things (that are coming) is Alienware's new Area-51m, a monstrous "Gamebook" with the latest NVIDIA or ATI 128MB mobile graphics chip and a 16.1 or 15.4-inch screen. And, by curious coincidence, Alienware has developed its own proprietary graphics chip upgrade process. Best of all, it's an upgrade that the end use can perform, without spiriting his (or her) pride and joy away in the hands of demonic couriers.

The technology, which Alienware hasn't given a fancy name to just yet, has been described as a proprietary graphics module with a fan that acts like a little AGP slot, allowing the user to buy a new mobile graphics chip and slot it in place of an old one.

The only slight wildcard is the graphics manufacturer itself. Alienware promises to try and keep the design consistent with future generations, but then what do they know about 'em? If NVIDIA or ATI suddenly decides to do something new, it could scupper the plans. Perhaps at that point Alienware would agree to have the machine sent back to them - that would certainly add some credibility to its upgrade offer.

The upgradeable Area-51m model should launch in the next few weeks. Current models use Pentium 4 chips (not the new battery-saving Centrino), and Radeon Mobility 9000 graphics chips.

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