Dell is being sued in California over claims that its Alienware Area 51m-R1 gaming laptops can be upgraded.
In his lawsuit, Robert Felter claimed that Dell misled customers about the upgradeability of its Area-51m gaming laptops by failing to provide replacement parts that would allow users to replace their CPUs and GPUs with next-generation components.
The Alienware Area-51m was first announced at CES 2019 and went on sale later that year. It was a significant launch for Dell/Alienware because it introduced a completely new design language for the company’s gaming laptops, as well as some big promises about the system’s upgradability.
Dell heavily promoted the Area-51upgradability M’s as a way to help extend the life of the machine by allowing users to add faster and more powerful parts after purchase, including critical components like CPUs and GPUs, which is often difficult or impossible to do in a typical laptop.
However, while Dell informed the media and analysts that CPU upgrades would only be available for chips compatible with Intel’s Z390 chipset, it appears that this information was not communicated to the general public. According to Felter’s lawyer, David W. Kani, “Dell’s public advertisement did not place any restrictions on the upgradeability of the laptop.” They also never disclosed that those with the highest spec CPU and/or GPU would not be able to upgrade their device.”
When Intel released its 10th-generation CPUs, which included a new Z490 chipset, Area-51m owners like Felter, who were stuck with older 9th-generation Intel chips, were frustrated because Dell did not provide an upgrade path to Intel’s new 10th-generation chips.
Dell developed its own proprietary Dell Graphics Form Factor (DGFF) to support the use of what were then-current-generation Nvidia GPUs, but the company was unable to provide upgrades to Nvidia’s more powerful RTX 20-series Super cards, which were released the following year. “Due to generational differences of the new Super cards, we are not able to extend support beyond the generation of GPU the Area-51m R1 was designed for,” Dell said at the time.
The suit also claims that because major OEMs like Dell frequently have advanced knowledge of component makers’ product roadmaps, Dell may have known that Intel’s upcoming CPU would not be compatible with the chipsets on motherboards available at the time. However, at the time of launch, Dell only specified the ability to upgrade CPUs to new parts from the same generation, with the range of upgradable CPUs capped by an i9-9900K chip. Furthermore, the company did not explicitly promise upgrades to future-generation GPUs.
Currently, Felter is attempting to turn the lawsuit into a class-action suit that would include residents from nine states (California, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington), and he is seeking damages for fraudulent misrepresentation. Wherever the fault lies in this situation, it’s a great reminder that claims about a laptop’s upgradability should be taken with a grain of salt, because the super compact nature of laptop design often makes it extremely difficult to replace and install major new components like CPUs and GPUs later in a product’s lifecycle.