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Alienware Interview with Frank Azor


by Stuart Davidson - 30th Jun 2009
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Frank Azor
Frank Azor
Product Planning and Management


DH: Hi Frank, thanks for taking the time to speak with us, can you let our readers know your title within the company and your daily duties?

Frank: Hi, I’m Frank Azor and I run Product Planning and Management for Dell’s Gaming brand Alienware.  My responsibilities include managing the team that plans and creates our worldwide product roadmap and the definition of all of our products within it.

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DH: How has the acquisition of Alienware by DELL affected the everyday operations and company structure? What advantages has it brought to the table?

Frank: Working with Dell has given us the opportunity to take the Alienware brand and products global by expanding into 35 countries starting with our launch earlier this month of the M17x.  Dell has given us access to worldwide resources including partners and factories that have made this global expansion possible in a relatively very short amount of time compared to what it would have taken us if we were still on our own.  Operations have certainly evolved as we’ve taken the Dell gaming and Alienware teams and combined them into the new Alienware but the results are proving to be positive for everyone especially our customers as demonstrated by the M17x’s successful launch.

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DH: We are excited about the new M17x which we previewed a few weeks ago on Driverheaven, how are sales going so far?

Frank: The previews and customer feedback on initial arrivals has been great.  We wanted to exceed everyone’s expectations with this product and thus far I think we’ve done so.

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DH: The design is very effective, can you explain the development procedure and how long it takes to bring something so radical to the market?

Frank: The development process is extensive enough that we could write a book on it but for the sake of this interview I’ll spare everyone the reading .  It’s certainly not a simple feat to bring a product like this to market.  We began working on M17x’s industrial design over 3 years ago and have gone through multiple versions before it evolved into what you see today.  A considerable amount of time, money and resources were spent between Dell and Alienware’s industrial design teams to make sure we got the ID (industrial design) of the product perfectly in line with the team’s vision which is where it all begins.  The product’s vision comes as a result of multiple brainstorming sessions where we analyze customer feedback, recall lessons learned on predecessor products and then attempt to predict the direction of the PC market and where we want the product to be in that future state.  Once the vision for the product is established we work on defining the right performance technologies and innovations to meet it.  Next, form follows function in the ID process and a draft ID is designed.  We go through multiple iterations of that ID, agree on a final and begin engineering and development which can take anywhere from 12-16 months on a product with this much complexity, technology and performance.

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DH: Have customers taken to the new model well? Any particular aspect which has received good feedback from consumers?

Frank: Yes, customers have taken to the M17x very well.   Everything from the sleek new design to the pure, unmatched power has received incredible feedback from customers.

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DH: Do you feel consumers know the difference between the m17x and M17x well enough? Or with hindsight would it have been better to choose a completely different model name which better communicated the significant differences between the models?

Frank: I feel our team did a great job of communicating each product and everything each has to offer however we aren’t perfect and if our customers are having a hard time understanding the differences between the two we will immediately work at improving our communications.  I encourage your readers to post feedback after reading this interview for us to begin working on. 

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DH: What steps do you take in the design process to ensure that Alienware continue to be a leading manufacturer of unique gaming machines?

Frank: It’s less about the process and more about the people that keep us in the lead.  We were very fortunate to team-up with an extremely skilled gaming engineering team at Dell ready and willing to accept any challenge we could throw at them.  Combining the Dell and Alienware gaming engineering teams have empowered us to build no-compromise products like M17x with features like an anodized aluminum body, CPU overclocking support and edge-to-edge LCDs.  Now with the new combined teams we will be able to bring more innovations to market and more products than we’ve ever been able to before.

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DH: Looking back, are there any aspects of the design which you would have liked to tweak, or enhance, that you didn’t?

Frank: Honestly, no, I couldn’t be prouder of the M17x product.  We wanted to deliver a no-compromise gaming notebook and we did just that.  I’m often asked why our 17” flagship products like M17x aren’t thinner, lighter and have longer battery life.  We struggle with that every time we design a product like the M17x but for what it’s intended to do we don’t agree it makes sense to compromise on design and performance in exchange.  Customers looking for a better balance of performance, battery life and size and weight have that option available to them in the Area-51 m15x which continues to be very successful for us.

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DH: How do you think the experience of creating the M17x will benefit upcoming models?

Frank: M17x’s industrial design language is a considerable evolution in identity for us that will extend into our future products.  Beyond its looks and power, M17x will forever be the first product launched under the new Dell Gaming Alienware organization establishing all of the initial working relationships and new processes we have today within the organization.

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DH: What is the most important goal to reach for when designing a new gaming machine?

Frank: The most important goal for us is staying tuned into the demands of our core audience, people like hardcore gamers and technology enthusiasts who want both superior power and design.

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DH: Is there still a future for the Dell XPS machines with Alienware obviously being the more attractive gaming brand?

Frank: The Alienware M17x replaces the Alienware Area-51 m17x and Dell XPS-Gaming M1730 17” systems.  Alienware will transition to the only brand that denotes systems designed for gamers in the Dell product portfolio while XPS will be reserved for those customers seeking premium design and performance in product brands like Inspirion Studio and Adamo.  You will find some systems that are very capable gaming systems carrying the XPS brand however systems designed by and for gamers will remain exclusively Alienware branded.

DriverHeaven.net

DH: What do you see as being the “next big thing” for the laptop market?

Frank: All day battery life and anywhere and anytime internet connectivity.

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DH: How important do you feel that SSD’s are in a high end gaming laptop? Will Alienware ever offer a dual configuration with SSD for boot drive and larger mechanical for storage?

Frank: Yes, coming soon . Regarding their importance it depends heavily on what the customer intends to do with their system.  Customers will see greater performance benefits in gaming by allocating dollars to graphics, memory and CPUs.

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DH: Has Alienware ever thought about developing a self enclosed water cooling system for a gaming laptop? How far off are we from achieving this goal?

Frank: Yes.

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DH: Thanks for your time Frank is there anything else you would like to say to our readers today before signing off?

Frank: As a matter of fact there is, I’m pleased to announce Alienware is calling on gamers worldwide to put their skills to the test with Alienware Arena - a new ongoing series of gaming events presented by Alienware and iGames.  Gamers will be able to compete in both head-to-head and team challenges for opportunities to win a share of over more than $50,000 worth of cash and kick-ass Alienware gaming gear, including rigs such as the new Alienware M17x.  We also have some really exciting products coming out and can’t wait to share. Stay tuned and thanks DriverHeaven.
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