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Alienware Area-51 7500 featuring Quad-Core and 8800 SLI
There's a certain irony that after so many years of getting consumers to obsess about GHz, Intel’s done a pretty good job of re-educating consumers that it’s now Cores, not clock speed, that matter. The result is that people want its latest and greatest CPU, the quad-core Kentsfield, officially dubbed the Core 2 Extreme QX6700, even if they don't really need it.
While PC architecture is moving inexorably to multi-core architectures, one has to question the value of quad-core on the desktop right now, especially in a gaming system. As we said in our Core 2 Extreme QX6700 review at the start of November, applications are only just starting to be optimized for dual-core, let alone quad. The fact is that for the gamer, right now a dual-core X6800 Extreme is the fastest CPU you can get due to its higher clock speed (2.93GHz vs 2.66GHz).
However, Alienware is hardly alone in this as every boutique manufacturer wants to showcase the latest and greatest technology in a flagship system. And by top-end, I mean top end. Occupying two of the three (yes, three) PCI Express slots are two GeForce 8800 GTX graphics cards, bringing simply outrageous 3D performance into the grasp of anyone with a large enough wallet. To accommodate this we hooked up the system to a 30in Dell display we happened to have lying around the office, (after a few minutes playing on it, I wished it was lying around my desk at home). We also tweaked our gaming tests to run at its native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. After all, if you're buying a system such as the Alienware it would be an insult to hook it up to anything less.
These state-of-the-art components are housed in Alienware's cool new chassis, which actually looks even more impressive in black than it does in blue. The red lights that glow underneath the front mounted USB, FireWire and audio and microphone sockets, as well as the Alien heads on the side are all very cool. Behind the door on the front of the system that opens forwards and moves sideways, there's a multi-format DVD re-writer and what Alienware dubs a '28-in-one-' media card reader. These numbers are getting silly - I'm waiting for the 1,356,06834-in-one card reader to make an appearance. Beneath this there's something called a floppy disc drive meaning that there's no other 5.25in drive bays free in this configuration.
Opening up the side of the case, you'll find a very neat interior, though bizarrely Alienware in its literature claims that it's giving you 50 worth of wiring up for free! One would expect a pre-built system to arrive actually wired up, so I'm not really sure it's the bargain it claims to be. Still, it is all very neat and tidy. There's space for four hard discs in the interior, and two are supplied in this system - two Hitachi Deskstar 7K500s, each with 500GB capacity. These are set up in RAID 0 capacity for the best performance. It adds two points of failure but with games such as Oblivion demanding as much I/O performance as you can give them, RAID 0 on a desktop system is starting to make more sense.