But it turns out that Dell didn’t have to deal with that lawsuit wisely. Area 51m buyers have never been able to band together in a class action case. Dell was able to force them into binding arbitration, I found out, when I went to see what happened to the suit.
Regardless, some owners of Area-51m went on to win settlements in individual arbitration, their lawyer, Steve Hochfelsen, confirmed to me. (He’s one of the partners who brought the potential class action lawsuit in the first place.) We can’t say how much they won or whether the plaintiffs had a big argument because settlement terms were confidential. That is typical for situations of this nature.
It’s a very different company with a very different idea of what a modular GPU should be, and at least one of the key players behind the Alienware Area-51m – Alienware co-founder Frank Azor – is working with Framework to help with learning from Dell’s. mistakes. He admitted to me that “the promises made” with District-51m were not kept. (He left Dell before those GPU upgrades could ever be launched and is now AMD’s gaming chief.)
Since neither Nvidia nor AMD have promised to make future chips compatible with that format, Alienware can’t promise future upgrades either. The company thinks future GPUs will likely be small enough and draw little power to fit on a DGFF board, but can’t say for sure.
The company’s marketing certainly suggested it would happen, though: “GPU upgrades are possible with GPU upgrade kits available on Dell.com.”
But while Dell eventually offered “upgrade kits” on that website, they weren’t full-on upgrades: just the same GPU boards you could have already bought on day one. Creat could probably give up on the same technicality if push comes to shove. “We’re committed to making sure there are graphics modules beyond the initial launch,” CEO Nirav Patel told me.
I’ve never heard it confirmed why specifically Dell didn’t create a new set of GPU upgrade boards for the Area-51m. It could have been size or thermal constraints, both of which the Frame design tries to address. But it could also be that the laptop didn’t sell well enough to justify it. The Area-51m was a very heavy, expensive laptop that required two large power adapters for gaming—though my colleague Dan Seifert found it to be an excellent performer in his review.
“If customers don’t show demand for it, it will be a novelty and then it will fade,” Azor told me in 2019 about the Area-51m’s GPU upgrade boards.
He said something very similar to me last Monday when I was chatting with him about Framework. “If people aren’t willing to pay, it won’t scale beyond this… a generation or two could see.” But he thinks Creat may finally have the right formula, and I don’t care temporarily either.