Alienware Sentia: Aliens stalk government

GREEN MACHINE: There's nothing wrong with a high-performance notebook that also looks cool.

Popular gaming PC vendor lures feds

Many government employees may not have heard of the Alienware Corp. That's because for the past several years, Alienware has been interested in a different market, namely competitive and professional computer gaming.

In the computer gaming world, the Alienware brand is extremely strong and symbolizes high performance and often, high price. But now Alienware is starting to concentrate on the government market with more affordable, high-performing systems. The company has already made some inroads with the recent announcement that the United States Army Aviation Mission Planning System Project Team in Fort Rucker, Ala., has decided to buy 100 Area-51m 7700 mobile systems for advanced simulation planning.

But you don't have to be doing high-end aviation planning to enjoy an Alienware system. The new Sentia notebook is the first Alienware system aimed specifically at the typical government user.
The Sentia is very compact, at just one inch thick and 11.5 inches by 9 inches. It has a nice 12.1-inch wide screen with a maximum resolution of 1,280 by 800.

The model we tested had a 2-GHz Pentium M processor and a full gigabyte of RAM. It did not, however, include Intel's latest 915 chip set. As such, it did well, but not spectacularly, on the GCN/Alterion benchmarks, scoring 6,790. That is fairly good for an ultraportable design but lags other slim models, such as the inch-thick ThinkPad T43, which rode the Intel 915 chip set to a score of 8,395.

The system comes with a standard six-cell battery that lasted two hours and 40 minutes with all the drives working and the screen active. You can add an additional six-cell battery for longer use if required.

Power management with the Sentia is very easy. Beside the power button is another button with a P on it. When you touch the button, it illuminates in an indigo color. When lit, it means you are getting the maximum power out of your system, without regards to battery life. If the P is dark, then the notebook reverts to more standard power usage patterns. This is far easier than going into the control panel and configuring power settings every time you need to switch them around, though you can still do this if you like.

For such a small notebook, it's nice to find so many ports on it for external devices such as mice or digital cameras. The Sentia has three USB 2.0 ports with one on each side and one hidden away under the system. It also has ports for audio and a standard 15-pin slot for video.

It's also good to see that Alienware continues to offer quality products even as the company expands into new markets. The Sentia notebook we tested was put through eight burn-in benchmarks as part of the routine shipping process. The results of those benchmarks are given in a file on the desktop of your system when you get it, in addition to a list of all the checks and components the system underwent before it arrives. We don't know of any other company that puts their standard notebooks through so many checks, or if they do, they don't put them up front so you know exactly how your system is configured. About 60 different checks are listed on the Sentia, in addition to the burn-in benchmarks.

The Sentia does maintain some of the cool cosmetic features found in Alienware's gaming notebooks. Besides shipping in silver, blue or metallic green, the notebooks feature 'alien eye' black-ridged indents along the back, which not only look cool but actually make the notebook easier to carry. Also, the black alien-head symbol behind the screen has glowing blue eyes when powered up. Hey, there's nothing wrong with a high-performance notebook that also looks cool.

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