Alienware Area-51 Gaming PC - Alienware Area-51

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

Connectivity at the machine's front is par for the course with two USBs, FireWire and headphone sockets, plus microphone jacks. A nice touch is that backlit indicators allow you to find these easily in the dark.

The drive bays are hidden behind a door sporting the glowing alien head on its front, which cleverly doubles up as the power button. The door uses a rather ingenious double hinge mechanism that enables it to slide parrellel with the side of the case, preventing that annoying situation you get with some cases where you can't actually access your PCs drives because you can't open the door properly. It doesn't half look funky too. To be honest, it's easily one of the best door designs I've come across, and the icing on the cake is a tiny metal switch that turns the LEDs lighting the DVD drive off when the door is closed. Aside from the black LG DVD-writer, there are two free 5.25in drive bays.

Moving onto the back, you get twin DVI-out ports, but for some obscure reason Alienware hasn't seen fit to include the HDMI adapter that comes with every ATI 4870 X2 card - for shame! The motherboard is very well endowed in terms of connectivity, offering six USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire, six analogue mini-jacks and optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, and PS2 ports in addition to e-SATA.

Opening up the PC is really simple: just pull a lever at the back to remove either side panel. The one on the left grants access to all the PC's internals, and reveals the kind of clever trick you'd expect from a specialist company that's been in this business as long as Alienware (and has the financial backing of the second-largest PC manufacturer on this planet). You see, to power the lights and 120mm fan embedded in the side panel, the company has a custom power pad that connects automatically when you slide the panel back in, meaning there are no cables to disconnect when opening up your PC.

Unfortunately, opening the case also revealed the first glaring problem with the Area-51. The graphics card, one of the more expensive parts in this rig, had come loose from its slot, and had presumably been rattling about the chassis during transport. Nor was this exactly surprising since it wasn't screwed in, and the Alienware case offers no other means of retention.

Thankfully it still worked, but this doesn't inspire much confidence in the amount of care the company lavishes on its exclusive and expensive systems before they leave the factory. We would like to think that this was a result of a rushed system that was sent out for review and is shouldn't be something that happens to retail models.

While I'm on the rampage, though, let me just mention that this is one noisy PC. Admittedly, cooling is excellent, with 120mm fans at the machine's front and back (near the CPU) in addition to the aforementioned side-panel one. However, the inexplicable inclusion of an 80mm fan in the right panel, where it cools the single Seagate 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, adds to the noise level considerably. The tiny cooling fan on the motherboard's Northbridge doesn't help much, either. In this age of passively cooled high-end boards, noisy motherboard coolers just shouldn't be accepted and, while Alienware does offer Acoustic Dampening, it'll set you back an extra £70.

A last obvious niggle is that the DVD writer is an EIDE model, rather than SATA. Not only is SATA more future-proof, but its cables are far thinner, though to be fair Alienware has used a rounded EIDE cable.

Once we'd secured the graphics card, there was little left to complain about in terms of build quality. All the cables were intelligently and neatly routed so as to cause minimum obstruction, and installation of the optical and hard drives is tool-free thanks to a plastic clip system that works well and somewhat reduces vibration. The black 750W power supply is a custom non-modular Dell model, as is the CPU cooler - in fact it's the same one as found on Dell's XPS 360.

Jay4d0

October 26, 2008, 5:46 am

about the EIDE optical drive, there have been some problems reported with nvidia boards and SATA optical drives and HDD set up in RAID and using an optical drive on PATA can combat this. so Alienware are doing customers a favor.

Hans Gruber

October 26, 2008, 9:14 am

"Extreme performance yet buggy, noisy, expensive and with a poor balance of components."





Sounds ideal, if you like needlessly wasting heaps of cash paying over the odds for a second rate build and a processor that costs more than most pay on a complete system (including monitor). What is the point in choosing a 790i (Nvidia) board with support for SLI and then supplying the ATI card? No wonder it's buggy too. It'd be hot, consume tons of leccy and be mismatched right from the off.





2 gigs of (pointless DDR3 1066MHz) ram, a measly 500 gig SATA hard drive and great choice of operating system (32bit). Great for future upgrade malarkey. Even the case looks like an unhappy amalgamation of a cylon and robocop (or is that dusty bin?). Not a good combination. Oh dear. And just 2 and a half grand is the asking price. Meh.

ilovethemonkeyhead

October 26, 2008, 11:50 am

good review. nice to see a reviewer taking everything other than performance into account in an alienware review. thoroughly deserved its score.





by the way - is the case really that long or is it the gills making it look like a limosine?

Wackywavinginflateablearmflail

October 26, 2008, 5:04 pm

"The system comes well packaged in a manner similar to Dell's XPS 360,"





Really? Nobody else here caught this typo!?

TechVegan

October 27, 2008, 1:23 pm

@Jay, Thanks for pointing that out, but in that case Alienware should have gone for a different motherboard, surely.





@Azro: Couldn't agree more, except that the system stayed fairly cool thanks to its multiple (noisy) fans. Some of the bugginess might possibly be due to the videocard having been damaged in transit after all.





@ilovethemonkeyhead: Thanks ;) and yes, the case is a fair sight longer than most, largely because of the curved plastic front.





@Ohmz: The XPS 360 WAS well packaged, or am I missing something? :)

TechVegan

October 27, 2008, 1:31 pm

@Ohmz: Sorry, not awake yet, monday blues :D Wish Dell DID make a custom 360, well packaged or otherwise. Well spotted!

Jay4d0

October 27, 2008, 4:08 pm

@Ardjuna: yeah they should have gone for a different motherboard, i'm currently thinking of building my own pc but stuck on which motherboard to use, i would have used this one if i was using Nvidia GPU but i have decided to use ATI, because of this problem, so want one that is crossfirex compatible and intel CPU.


Hope you dont mind but if there is a good one that comes to mind would you mind posting please? thanks

TechVegan

October 27, 2008, 5:30 pm

@Jay: What kind of budget did you have in mind, and are you planning on using DDR2 or 3? Without further details, the http://www.trustedreviews.com/... might be worth a look.

Jay4d0

October 28, 2008, 1:22 am

@Ardjuna: i was looking to get the best possible board for around 𧵎ish (can be a bit more or a bit less) as i am looking to get a mid to top range GPU and then buy another later and crossfire them. as with RAM DDR2 is fine.


the idea is for the board to be 'future proof' as much as that is possible, and just keep upgrading.

Jay4d0

October 28, 2008, 1:26 am

also (pressed send by accident) thank you for the recommendation that is the type of board i am looking for just wondering if there are any real gains by spending more and getting a small increase on MHz ect, if you know what i mean

TheSecretName

November 7, 2008, 4:45 am

Re: the preamble. BMW is still very much where it's at for performance saloons. Don't you Merc and Audi fanbois forget it, neither.

Jay Werfalli

November 7, 2008, 6:16 am

Off-topic I know, but I totally agree with TheSecretName (but then I am biased) ;)

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