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Dell sued over Alienware laptop’s ‘unprecedented upgradeability’ claims

Dell sued over Alienware laptop’s ‘unprecedented upgradeability’ claims


Customer claims Dell’s marketing campaign was ‘false and misleading’

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Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Dell is being sued in California over its claims that its Alienware Area-51m R1 laptop would offer “unprecedented upgradeability,” Tom’s Hardware reports. Alienware customer Robert Felter is accusing the company of running a “false and misleading” marketing campaign, in which it promised that the laptop’s core components, including the CPU and GPU, could be swapped out for more powerful models. A year later, the Area-51m R1’s successor was announced with new components not available as upgrades for the original model.

“Consumers were misled by Dell’s false and misleading marketing campaign and paid a significant premium for the Area 51M R1 under the incorrect belief that this ‘unprecedented upgradeability’ would save them money in the long run by allowing them to upgrade their laptop’s Core Components rather than having to purchase an entirely new upgraded laptop,” the suit alleges.

“Consumers were misled by Dell’s false and misleading marketing campaign”

Dell announced the Alienware Area 51-m R1 at CES 2019. The laptop offered a variety of 8th and 9th Gen Intel CPU options (including the i7-8700, i7-9700K, or i9-9900K processors) and graphics cards including Nvidia’s RTX 2070 and 2080. However, when the Area-51m R2 was announced the following May, it offered 10th Gen Intel CPUs and new GPUs including the RTX 2070 Super and RTX 2080 Super not available as upgrades for the R1.

If you go back and look at the specific promises Dell made when it announced the original laptop, it doesn’t seem to have technically broken any of them. It said the laptop would only support Intel CPUs that used its Z390 chipset, which was compatible with the 8th and 9th-generation processors in the original R1 laptop. However, when Dell announced the R2, the new 10th-generation Intel CPUs used a new 400-series chipset. Considering it was Intel’s decision to change its chipset, this decision was arguably out of Dell’s hands. 

Meanwhile, when it comes to upgrades for the laptop’s graphics card, Dell told The Verge at the time of the R1’s announcement that it’d “like to be able to say yes [to new GPU upgrades]; right now, we have no idea.” Effectively, customers could upgrade a lower end version of the laptop to a higher-end model, but only within the same generation of components. That left customers who bought the top-end model out of luck when a new generation of components rolled around.

Dell’s marketing promised “unprecedented upgradeability” for the laptop.
Dell’s marketing promised “unprecedented upgradeability” for the laptop.

The suit alleges that Dell should have been aware that Intel and Nvidia’s unannounced products wouldn’t work with the laptop. It claims Dell works closely with both companies, and that it should know the specs of their products prior to them becoming public. “Yet, despite being in possession of such designs, and with the full knowledge that the design of the Area 51M R1 could not accommodate future NVIDIA and INTEL chipsets, Dell launched a global campaign to mislead the public that the Area 51M R1 was upgradeable,” it says.

The question now is whether that means Dell’s claims about “unprecedented upgradeability” (which are still live on its website) were misleading. “Dell’s advertisement to the public didn’t place any restrictions on the upgradeability of the laptop,” Felter’s lawyer David W. Kani told Tom’s Hardware. “They also never disclosed that those with the highest spec CPU and/or GPU that their device would not be upgradeable.”

Dell declined to comment to Tom’s Hardware on the lawsuit, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge. In the filing, Felter is seeking damages, relief, and attorneys fees for himself and other affected customers.