What’s most intriguing, though, is how much the Area 51m goes against the grain of the entire PC industry. Ever since the debut of the MacBook Air, everyone has been rushing to deliver sealed unibody designs that look great, but are typically hard to disassemble and upgrade. Alienware is hearkening back to one of the core aspects of PC gaming: the ability to customize and upgrade to your heart’s content. Admittedly, some gaming laptops today still let you upgrade their RAM and storage, but Alienware is taking things further than anyone else.
The ROG Mothership looks less refined than the Area 51m, but it’s a beautiful beast. When it’s closed, it looks like a typical ASUS gaming machine. But upon opening it, a kickstand pops out from behind the massive display to hold up its weight. And when you lower the keyboard, you can pull it away to use wirelessly. All of the hardware is behind the display, just as it would be on an all in one PC. It’s a machine made for gamers who want to put a little distance between their screens and input devices, or those who want to be able to swap out their keyboard for a mechanical model on a whim.
I’ll admit, the ROG Mothership looks and feels imposing. It weighs over 10 pounds and feels like a tank in your hands. But its flexibility could be appealing to gamers who want less of a laptop-like experience at LAN parties and esports events. And much like Microsoft’s Surface machines, it’s a unique spin on a pre-existing PC concept.
I didn’t get to spend much time with the Acer Predator Triton 900, but its hinge is certainly attention grabbing. It lets you rotate the screen in four different orientations, similar to what you’d expect from a convertible PC, except on a gaming machine. At $4,000, the Triton 900 is clearly a tough sell — and I can’t imagine how many gamers actually want rotating screens. But it’s intriguing, nevertheless.
Powering all of these machines is NVIDIA’s RTX 20-series graphics, which also enable entirely new features like real-time ray tracing. Like the previous generation, there are “Max-Q” designs to help these GPUs fit into thinner notebooks. But what’s really interesting this year is that all of these unique machines aren’t relying on Max-Q chips at all, so you can expect faster speeds than thin gaming laptops. NVIDIA deserves plenty of credit for helping notebooks to slim down while offering decent gaming performance, but it’s nice to see that’s not all PC makers are using them for.
Even casual gamers might have some intriguing new options this year. AMD just announced its next generation Ryzen mobile CPUs, which include Vega GPUs, and Intel claims its upcoming 10nm chips will feature integrated graphics with over a teraflop worth of performance. We don’t know how well Intel’s new tech will work out, but we did briefly see it running Tekken 7 on a very thin PC. Basically, there’s a good chance you’ll actually be able to handle some basic gaming on your next ultraportable.
So where do we go from here? I wouldn’t be surprised if more PC makers tried to tap into the potential of laptop gaming. With NVIDIA’s GPUs, they’re all more powerful than the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X. Perhaps we’ll see a resurgence of docks that let you easily plug in laptops to TVs (and hopefully they’ll be sleeker than MSI’s GPU-powered dock from 2014). Something similar to HP’s Compact Desktop dock might work, especially if it lets you slide in a laptop as easily as a Nintendo Switch.