Boutique PC builders: When you want the very best


Alienware is one of the Titans of boutique builders. Established in 1996, the company specializes in desktop and laptop performance computers for both business and gaming.

Originally, Alienware was in a neck-and-neck competition with , which preceded Alienware to the marketplace by five years. The two battled each other for nearly a decade until 2006, when and . While has since folded Voodoo under its corporate wings, Dell still maintains Alienware as separate product line.

Currently, Alienware has two principal , the Aurora and the Area 51. Each features a distinct case design (although they share the Alienware "Alien head" logo). While both systems can be expanded, the Area 51 series represents Alienware's performance models, while the Aurora offers an enhanced gaming experience on a less stratospheric budget -- at least to start. I found it remarkably easy to power-configure a base $2,499 Area 51 system into a $6,672 performance behemoth.

The company's currently includes the M11x, M15x and M17x models; the numeric designation indicates the screen size. If you don't think there's much you can do to specialize a laptop, think again -- I was able to quickly jump up a base $2,199 M17x to $6,193 by customizing hardware options such as the CPU, memory, graphics and hard drives for more aggressive performance. I was also able to add service and support options aimed at making my life easier (no wait times, and North American-based support).

Alienware offers one-, three- and four-year basic warranty plans along with extended in-home warranties. However, keep in mind that getting someone to show up at your house may not be easy. According to the Alienware site: