Alienware Area-51 Gaming PC - Alienware Area-51

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

The cooler does a great job of keeping the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 from extreme temperatures, keeping this 3.2GHz processor humming along at an average of 46 degrees. It should also allow for some truly extreme overclocking, since in addition to the huge 12MB cache and 1600MHz FSB, the main advantage to Intel's Extreme CPUs is that they come with an unlocked multiplier.

Pairing this monster of a processor with an ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics card is a good choice, since we're talking about the fastest single card ever to grace our labs. That said, we would never recommend anyone actually buy the QX9770 and pair it with anything. £1000 for a processor is just ridiculous considering the minimal benefit you'd see over a something like a Q9300, a processor that costs £800 less.

Of course, these best-in-class components are backed up by a nice amount of RAM, right? Well, no. Two sticks of plain non-branded 1066MHz DDR3 RAM provide a whopping total of… only two gigabytes. This would have been (barely) acceptable on a budget gaming system, but on a top of the line gaming monster it's just one of those unforgivable compromises. Care to upgrade that? Well, that will be another £135 please for the next step up (4GB) - and remember, this is for unbranded memory . This is more than you would pay retail for 4GB of premium DDR3 Corsair memory with heatspreaders. Come on, Alienware, with your buying power we expect better. Even the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium you include can handle three gigabytes, never mind the fact we'd actually expect a system of this price to use a 64-bit operating system and have at least 4GB of RAM. Still, let's hold of full judgement until we've looked at how this affect performance.

As you would expect, even the most demanding titles run smooth as silk on the Area-51. In a manual run-through It managed an average of 34FPS in Crysis at the highest possible detail settings (everything on very high) and a 1,900 x 1,200 resolution, with four times anti-aliasing thrown in for good measure. Sadly it wasn't a flawless experience, though, since the Alienware would randomly crash when under gaming-stress. we suspect this may have been a problem with that wayward graphics card so again shouldn't be something customers should experience.

It must also be noted that while its gaming performance is incredibly impressive, it is pipped to the post by the CyberPower Gamer Infinity Crossfire-HD in almost every scenario - which can be partially attributed to the overclocked processor, but also to the extra memory. The worst thing about this is that the CyberPower is a £1,000 rig. Sure, CyberPower's machine was a bit unstable, but clocking it down gave us a reliable experience and still provides comparable performance. You could even get water-cooling installed and still have £1,000 left over.

On the software side, meanwhile, there's nothing too exciting. Of course you get custom Alienware wallpapers, icons and sounds, and a lovely clean machine with no bloat-ware. A nice touch is a file tracing your machine's build history both in terms of hardware and software. The standard warranty is one year free 24/7 phone support and collect-and-return, which includes the unique provision of trading in your old parts towards the cost of upgrades which the company will carry out at no extra charge.

Verdict

If I had to sum the Alienware up in one sentence, it would be "Extreme performance yet buggy, noisy, expensive and with a poor balance of components". To be fair, apart from the missing screws build quality was perfectly adequate, and if you like the Alienware look, there's no alternative. Just do yourself a favour and switch the Extreme processor to a Core 2 Quad Q9300 and upgrade the RAM to 4GB, then spend the £500 you have left over on a top quality monitor.

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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