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posted by martyb on Sunday May 17 2020, @06:51AM   Printer-friendly
from the trying-to-take-it-with-you dept.

Note: Dell has two models of the Alienware Area-51m. The Alienware Area-51m R1 was released in January of 2019. It is now announcing the Alienware Area-51m R2. Though both are upgradable, the upgrades are not interchangeable between these two releases.

Alienware's Upgradeable Laptop Still Holds Tons of Promise, But Not at That Price:

Dell really wants you to choose its Alienware Area-51m over a high-end desktop. The company has called it a "desktop replacement" since the model's inception, and not without reason: in addition to upgrading your memory and storage, you have the option to upgrade your CPU and GPU too. You can still do that with the upcoming Alienware Area-51m R2, which will be available June 9, 2020, but a starting price of over $3,000 is not a cost-effective desktop replacement. You also can't upgrade the soon-to-be previous model with a 10th-gen Intel processor or a RTX Super graphics card, but there's a good reason why. (I'll get into that in a bit.)

The Alienware Area-51m R2 comes with up to an Intel Core i9-10900K, Nvidia RTX 2080 Super, 64GB DDR4-2933 RAM, multiple single, double, and RAID storage options up to 4TB, and a 4K 60Hz display. I assume that $3,050 starting price includes the lowest-performing components available to configure the Area-51m R2, though. Otherwise, that $3,050 price tag would be a steal for all the above features and components. Most likely, you'll get the following for that price: Intel Core i7-10700, Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti, 8GB DDR4 2933MHz RAM, 256GB NVMe M.2 PCIe SSD, and a 17.3-inch FHD 1080 144Hz 300 nit display.

The R1 model is still available and at a lower price, but...

But what you don't get with the Area-51m R1 is the ability to upgrade the processor and graphics card to an Intel 10th-gen and RTX 2070 Super or RTX 2080 Super. That's because of some architectural design changes. Intel has a new motherboard chipset, the Z490, for its 10th-gen desktop processors on a new LGA 1200 layout. The previous motherboard chipset, Z390, has a LGA 1151 layout. This means that a 10th-gen Intel CPU will not physically fit into the last-gen socket on the motherboard; the new chips have 1,200 pins where the older ones have 1,151 pins.


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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bzipitidoo on Sunday May 17 2020, @05:38PM (4 children)

    by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Sunday May 17 2020, @05:38PM (#995412) Journal

    By upgrade, they seem to mean only at the time of purchase. I've always thought of upgrades more broadly. and found my expectations were off. Upgrades, especially ones done to an aging machine, are of limited value. All the hardware changes so fast that it's difficult or impossible to migrate an upgrade to a newer machine, and it's difficult to find new hardware that works on older machines.

    20 years ago, my primo machine was a 350 MHz Pentium II that started with 64M RAM. When RAM prices came down a year or two later, I increased it to 192M. Thanks to an add on graphics card (NVidia Riva TNT, an early GeForce card that predates a little bit the GeForce name itself), graphics on it were noticeably faster than a 1GHz Pentium III with the notoriously slow Intel embedded graphics.

    The RAM upgrade helped extend its usable life, but it was falling behind faster than any amount of upgrading could catch it up. I was trying to skip the Pentium III, not least because of the ID crap Intel introduced, that Processor Serial Number to uniquely identify individual Pentium III CPUs. Almost nothing on that Pentium II was able or worth moving to the Pentium IV when I finally got one. CD burners had been supplanted with DVD burners. Floppy disks were in decline. RAM was faster and much bigger. I could move the mouse and keyboard, but even they were doomed to obsolescence a few years later thanks to PS/2 ports being replaced by USB. The bus too was changing rapidly, with ISA out, and PCI moving up to PCIe, likewise AGP giving way to PCIe. Also, DVI and HDMI replaced VGA, and now, seems Display Port is sunsetting HDMI. The move from 32bit to 64bit was a total upgrade killer. Another upgrade buster is new instruction sets. No point upgrading an old x86-64 machine with SSE3 but not SSE4 instructions, when you need SSE4. That Pentium II was the last machine I had that could run DOS games natively, with sound. Some time in that short era of transition from Windows 98/DOS on a Pentium II to Windows 2000/XP on a Pentium IV, the SoundBlaster that had become the de facto audio hardware standard, was replaced with integrated audio, as part of the overall move towards hardware abstraction to end the nightmare of games and other programs having to each have their own graphics and audio drivers.

    I see no reason why this rapid obsolescence is going to change any time soon. There's still room for all kinds of improvements all over our current computer systems. One fundamental change may be the addition and integration of a neural net computing unit, becoming another standard hardware item all computers will and must have. AV1 decoding in hardware also seems likely to become standard. We may finally get full hardware virtualization of the x86 architecture. Multicore is rising rapidly. Still lots of cruft to remove, and low hanging fruit to pick.

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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday May 17 2020, @07:18PM (3 children)

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday May 17 2020, @07:18PM (#995437) Journal

    Your CPU, GPU, etc. are aggressively cheap-for-their-utility space age nanotechnologies. It shouldn't be hard to justify a new purchase if you look at it that way, don't buy parts with particularly bad price/performance, and target a certain performance increase over an old system. Upgrades depend on the system. I have a laptop that would perform better if I slapped a 500 GB SSD in it to replace the 500 GB HDD, but the chassis is practically falling apart and the CPU is old and slow.

    PS/2 ports are still around, due to superior performance or security (companies disabling USB).

    https://forums.anandtech.com/threads/why-do-modern-motherboards-still-have-ps-2-connectors-these-days.2543412/ [anandtech.com]
    https://linustechtips.com/main/topic/395531-why-do-modern-motherboards-still-have-ps2/ [linustechtips.com]

    DisplayPort and HDMI are trading blows:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DisplayPort#2.0 [wikipedia.org]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI#Version_2.1 [wikipedia.org]

    This is the more interesting move:

    DisplayPort Alt Mode Updated for USB 4, Allows Uncompressed 8K @ 60 Hz HDR Video Over a USB-C Cable [soylentnews.org]

    DisplayPort 2 is max 80 Gbps total bandwidth, USB4 [wikipedia.org] is up to 40 Gbps but can be made unidirectional for 80 Gbps, allowing DP2.0 over a USB-C cable. USB could come closer to being universal.

    We might not see anything like the 32-bit to 64-bit transition in the coming decades. But AMD will probably adopt AVX-512 instructions soon, either in Epyc first or the entire lineup. This won't be a big deal for most users but it could gain more traction if it was in all new CPUs.

    The push for integrated AI acceleration (separate from GPU) has mainly been tied to ARM chips so far. Many phones and some SBCs [seeedstudio.com] have it. Windows Qualcomm laptops may have it (e.g. Snapdragon 8cx with Hexagon 690 AI chip). Do all x86 desktops and laptops "need" something similar? That remains to be seen.

    AV1 encode/decode is useful. The case is easier to make on mobile, but all GPUs should have it. Don't forget about AV2 [aomedia.org], or H.266.

    Potential huge improvements include some kind of AI-powered automatic parallelization of code, and 3D monolithic chips which would merge (at least some) RAM with CPU and probably GPU. Future desktops (more of which will be single board computers) will probably increasingly use APUs since there are benefits to getting all the components closer together. The next-gen consoles basically use large APUs that have better graphics performance than at least ~97% of the desktops out there (going by Steam stats).

    --
    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 17 2020, @10:52PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 17 2020, @10:52PM (#995493)

      Interesting, thanks for bringing AVX-512 to my (our) attention.

    • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Sunday May 17 2020, @11:32PM (1 child)

      by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Sunday May 17 2020, @11:32PM (#995505) Journal

      Did not know PS/2 was still used.

      You're right, I forgot about AV2. I'm still waiting for the growth and rapid adoption of AV1.

      One thing about USB: for a "standard", there sure are a lot of different connector types.

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday May 18 2020, @12:22AM

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Monday May 18 2020, @12:22AM (#995528) Journal

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AV1#Hardware [wikipedia.org]

        MediaTek Dimensity 1000 smartphone SoCs will have it. It looks like Intel's Rocket Lake [tomshardware.com] will have it, but maybe not Tiger Lake [wikipedia.org]. Not sure about AMD and Nvidia's GPUs later this year.

        I think AV2 adoption will be a little faster since it will build on AV1. It's necessary because MPEG is not standing still. H.265 is fairly widespread and H.266 [wikipedia.org] will definitely leapfrog AV1.

        There is a patent troll threat against AV1, so that might slow adoption.

        USB is a mess, but USB Type-C is better than what came before it.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]