Miami (FL) - Ever since its acquisition up until today, Alienware had been considered the premium, custom, ultra-cool, real PC division of the otherwise wrinkled-polyester Dell. But today's introduction by Alienware of a lightweight notebook powered by a Core 2 Duo T5500, in a decently distinctive case, selling for $849, signals that the division is aiming for a new and possibly lucrative market: Call it the "economy sport" class.
At first, the thought of a value-class Alienware PC might remind some of when Ford Motor Company first acquired Jaguar - before too long, alongside the luxury manufacturer's line of classic, high-powered, sleek vehicles came a series of souped-up Tauruses with doubled headlights and a hood ornament. Certainly, Alienware's new Sentia m3450 is not one of the company's high performers, with a 40 GB hard drive standard (you can find higher capacity on some iPods) and Intel GMA on-board graphics and audio. But the processor is a T5500, which is no slouch. If you're sending your son or daughter to college, and you've been staring at the buildout for a Celeron M-based system, suddenly, Alienware joins the ranks of viable alternatives in the value category.
Using the "configurators" from both Alienware and Dell, we priced out one of Dell's new Core 2 Duo E7200-based Inspiron E1705 models - which was also announced today - against an Alienware Sentia m3450, upgraded to an E7200 as well. We left both systems at 512 MB, and upgraded the Sentia to an 80 GB drive to match the Inspiron. The Inspiron has the advantage of a 17" display, compared to the Sentia's 14.1". Otherwise, they're very similar internally: Both use Intel's GMA 950 integrated graphics, and both have 512 MB of DDR2 SO-DIMM standard.
But the Alienware system - albeit with the smaller chassis and display - sells for $80 less than the Dell: $1129 versus $1209. Both manufacturers promised roughly a one-week shipping time. Dell also announced today it will be making Inspirons with Core 2 Duos and 14.1" displays available, likely later this week.
Velocity Micro, meanwhile, also introduced Core 2 Duo-based notebooks today, albeit more on the traditionally premium side of the scale. Its new line of NoteMagix L80 Ultra systems - black with brushed aluminum trim - come standard with a 15.4" display and 256 MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 GS graphics, on an Intel 945PM-based motherboard. Hard drives start at 80 GB (5400 rpm) and work their way up, and memory begins at 1 GB of Corsair PC5300 DDR2 SO-DIMM.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the system weighs in at about six pounds, according to the company. A 4-in-1 media reader comes standard, as well as a biometric scanner and a 1.3 MP webcam, helping to keep Velocity firmly entrenched in the performance category.
With one's choice of processors, a Core 2 Duo T5500-based option (using the same processor as the Sentia m3450) results in an L80 system price of $1655. Moving up to a T7200 brings the price up to $1765. Velocity estimates a little over three weeks for delivery.
Also today, Gateway - still trying desperately to claw back market share - announced today it will be releasing Core 2 Duo-based notebooks this Thursday, beginning with a T5500- based system starting at $999.99. With the basic buildout of Alienware's new T5500-based Sentia selling for $150 less, it will be very interesting to see what "the dairy farm" (as we Computer Shopper veterans used to call it) has to offer as standard equipment to justify the difference. Probably a larger hard drive standard, maybe higher-end graphics - but judging from Gateway's announcement today, it appears it may be implementing a new chassis, so it's difficult to guess what Gateway has in mind.
With a price that qualifies as "under a thousand dollars" (at least for TV commercials), perhaps Gateway thought it would take the lead. If it's wondering where its competition is going, perhaps Gateway should think to look up in the skies.