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Alienware P2 Area-51 7500
As Wil described in his piece yesterday, the PC has come a long way from the bland, corporate box that it used to be in the early nineties. Nowaday, even cheap, cheerful machines are attractively coloured and housed in interesting boxes. If you go high-end however, you can get something really cool looking like the Dell XPS 700 or pretty much anything from Alienware. Alienware as a company has a reputation for gaming PCs that sits some way above the regular component manufacturers such as Evesham, but below the super exclusive exotica of the likes of VoodooPC. An Alienware is impressive without being too over-the-top. That said, they tend not to be inexpensive beasts. The last time I looked at one of its machines, I started off quite enthused but was gradually ground down by the sheer cost of nearly £4,000 and some poor assembly choices.
This time, these mistakes are mostly absent and my overall impression is bolstered by a updated P2 chassis. It's not as radical an overhaul as I was hoping for, but it is an improvement. For one, it's not as large as the previous system, which was on reflection, needlessly large and bulky. This one maintains the distinct Alienware look, the alien head on the front, the side vent ports and the curves all round. It still looks like it's baring its teeth and ready to pounce - which is no bad thing. To the touch the case still feels like the plastic it is though, and does seem less impressive than the solid metal housing of Dell's XPS 700.
A nice touch is that the Alien head on the front doubles as the power switch. There was some amusement and head scratching as we were foxed for a few seconds on how to turn the thing on when we first unboxed it and plugged it in, before someone decided to give the little guy a thump and the system came to life.
When it did we were pleased to see LED lights shine out from behind that iconic silver head, while there are also lights under the two alien heads on the sides. There are also a number of lights on show in the centre of the front fascia under the front mounted ports, which have been moved up from near the base. It's not just USB ports at the front this time either - as well as two of those there's also a full size FireWire port and microphone and headphone sockets. This makes it nice and easy to hook up most things you'll need to - iPod, game controller, DV camera, headset for gaming or Skype.
As with Dell's XP, you can adjust the lights on the front, but unlike the Dell you can do this from inside Windows with a software utility - though it is rather odd affair. You can control the speed at which the lights flash and even get them to do so when you get an email or open an application. You are also supposed to be able to get them to fade from one colour to another but it's an affect that's was too subtle for me to spot.