A microphone is built into the top left of the screen, while running below the screen are speakers and, according to Alienware, a built-in sub-woofer. The m5500 did a good job of pumping out MP3s but it's no replacement for a decent set of speakers or headphones. Microphone, headphone and line-out ports are located at the front of the unit, with one socket doubling up as an optical SP/DIF output. If you're going to connect it up to an amp, a rear connector would have been better.
The keys are mostly full size, with the enter key the only major one shrunk down. The keyboard is comfortable to type on but there was some sponginess under the F keys at the top left. The trackpad and buttons work well enough and on the right-hand side there's an area to scroll up and down in web pages easily, which is genuinely useful. There are shortcut buttons for the web browser, media player and the built-in Wi-Fi, though Bluetooth is notable by its absence. The power button has the de-rigueur blue lighting underneath.
Aside from this the look is fairly generic, which has to be said is a touch disappointing for an Alienware machine. I was also a bit put off by a quiet but distinct whining noise from the area where the power was connected - though possibly this was a pre-production glitch.
Inside the machine there's a Pentium M 760 processor. This runs at 2.0GHz, which is slightly less than the 2.13GHz 770, used in the Rock Pegasus 650. Oddly our review sample was fitted with only 512MB of RAM, limiting it to single-channel mode. There is a second slot free for use, however, so you could specify a second 512MB module on ordering as less than 1GB isn't ideal these days and will provide a boost thanks to dual-channel support. It'll cost an extra £113 though, which is steep.
There's 60GB of hard disk storage, which isn't humungous by today's standards. At least it's a decently fast Hitachi TravelStar drive with a spindle rotation speed of 7200rpm. Removable storage isn't so impressive. There's no DVD burner, only a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive – very passé. A DVD burner is available as a cost option.
External connectivity includes three USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin Firewire port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a modem socket. There's also a PC card slot, useful for 3G data cards, and a four-in-one memory card reader at the front. D-Sub VGA output and an S-Video TV out are also present.
Alienware includes a set of recovery CDs called AlienRespawn, which is cutely named, though it’s not standard and you can choose to do without if you wish to save 30 quid. Kaspersky Anti-virus is another cost option included with our review sample.