Dell was accused of defrauding customers. The Alienware Area-51m gaming laptop was announced in 2019, and the manufacturer touted it as the first full-fledged desktop replacement on the market. The key feature of the laptop, according to Dell, is the possibility to deep modernize it, including replacing the CPU and GPU. Later, it was discovered that this is only partially correct.
The ability to replace the video card and processor is the key feature of the given laptop, according to the manufacturer’s marketing materials. The following was written in a news release dated January 8, 2019:
“The reimagined Area-51m is the most powerful upgradeable laptop ever. It is the only laptop to offer an eight-core 9th Gen Intel Core processor, 64GB of RAM, 2.5Gb network connectivity, and graphics and processor upgrades. The novelty is equipped with a 17-inch screen with thin bezels and support for a refresh rate of 144 Hz “.
The laptop was quite popular with the media and was widely debated in themed forums as a result of its proclaimed capabilities. For example, in your review, the portal The Verge wrote:
“… More importantly, unlike virtually all other gaming laptops on the market, the Area-51m is designed to replace not only the hard drive, RAM and battery, but also the CPU and GPU. And these are not empty statements. Alienware has taken user-replaceable components very seriously and has given it the capabilities we usually see in desktop computers. The company has made it as easy as possible to disassemble and reassemble. Easy-to-remove screws are used here. The manufacturer even put special marks and tips on the inner frame of the device explaining how to properly disassemble and assemble the laptop, including information about the type of screwdriver used. Inside there are special tabs that greatly simplify manual dismantling of fragile cables without damaging them. And the tips indicate in what exact sequence you need to tighten the screws of the massive CPU and GPU cooler to securely fix it “.
It’s odd because, deep in the text of the same The Verge article, it’s said that the company may (or may not) release additional GPUs for the Area-51m in the future. This aspect, however, will be determined by the volume of laptop sales as well as vendor support. There was no mention of this in Dell’s news release. The article in the Western edition likewise made no mention of the difficulty of replacing a laptop’s CPU with a more contemporary one. Although the question sounded serious at the time of the laptop’s announcement in January 2019, the manufacturer did not provide any hints about it.
The laptop is based on Intel Coffee Lake-S Refresh desktop processors (9th generation Core), with an earlier configuration of the flagship Core i9-9900K. These chips use the LGA 1151v2 packaging, which was used by Intel for the last generation of processors. That is, while a laptop’s processor can be replaced, upgrading to a newer and more powerful one is not impossible because Intel’s next generation of chips is LGA 1200.
The company reversed course 16 months after the announcement. Upgrades to the laptop may only be made with components that were available and announced for the Area-51m at the time of its announcement, according to Dell. “Deliberately misled and deceived customers to create a competitive advantage in their product based on false perception, and thus drive sales of the Alienware Area 51M R1 gaming notebooks,” according to Robert Felter, who filed a class action lawsuit against Dell in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
In the past, Intel has only delivered two generations of chips on a single platform. The LGA 1151v2 platform was already in its second generation when the 9th Gen Core processors were released. Because Alienware is an OEM, it was aware of Intel’s plans to release the LGA 1200 platform long before it was officially announced, and also before the first speculations about it surfaced in July 2019. Interestingly, Alienware did not reveal that the Area-51m was not upgradeable with the latest components until May 2020, after the laptop had been on the market for quite some time.
The manufacturer is accused of taking advantage of the fact that many buyers were eagerly anticipating the possibility of upgrading their computers, and then offering to sell them such a system fraudulently. After buyers chose the Alienware model over competitors’ gaming computers, Dell backed down on its boasts.
According to the plaintiff, Dell purposefully picked the approach to market this laptop as upgradeable, knowing full well that the ability to upgrade the CPU and GPU entails the ability to install a new processor or video card on it, which was not available at the time of the laptop’s release. The suit contends that the company’s positioning of the laptop as a “genuine” desktop replacement boosted client confidence. Consumers have no concerns about Dell’s boasts about their gaming laptop because desktop PCs allow for the replacement of specific components with new ones.