The Aurora is Alienware’s mid-range gaming PC, slotting neatly between the Alpha living room PC and the completely over-the-top Area 51. Don’t expect mid-range performance from the Aurora range, though: Alienware has kitted it out with high-end components, adding that Alienware price premium, too.
The Aurora is replacing the x51, so if you're after a more compact gaming PC then act quickly as x51s won't be around for much longer.
Video: Alienware Aurora review
Depending on where you buy the Aurora, you’ll have a whole range of specifications from which to choose. This means that while the performance figures in this review will likely differ to the PC you end up buying, comments about build quality, noise and value for money still apply.
The cheapest model in the Aurora range gets an Intel Core i3-6100 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 for £649. This will be a relatively capable Full HD gaming machine but, frankly, I’d wait until the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti appear on the market before shelling out for hardware that’s soon to be out of date.
Further up the range, there are various options including a Core i5-6400, Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700 and 6700K. For more on what these different processor model numbers mean, click the link below.
Related: Intel Core processors explained
Every major graphics card from 2016 is represented, from AMD’s Radeon RX 480 and R9 370 to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 and GTX 960 at the cheaper end of the scale. At the top end, you get the choice of either a new GTX 1070 or GTX 1080.
The model on review here is closer to the top-end of the range, costing £1,278 on Alienware’s configuration webpage. I think this is the best-value option available, but if your budget won't stretch to that, there are plenty of options from which to choose.
The Aurora is a mid-tower PC, meaning it’s substantially smaller than what most people are used to seeing in a gaming PC. It’s pretty stylish, too. The front of the PC is dominated by ventilation slits and a matte black cover for the optical drive bays. The top of the PC is slightly curved, with a crease in the middle that sweeps around to the rear of the PC. Here you'll find a thin plastic handle; it isn't strong enough from which to carry the Aurora, more an adornment on the case.
The top of the Aurora rather discourages the placing of objects on it, so a rethink may be in order if your current desktop forms part of your paper filing system.
There are two side panels made from gun-metal grey plastic, each with either two or three LED strips. The right-side panel includes extra vents for airflow. The sides are creased in three places and are slightly awkward to take on and off because of their shape and the fact that they require power in order to light up, meaning you have power cables to deal with.
It isn't too difficult a process, though, and since you won’t spend much time inside the Aurora, this shouldn't be a huge issue.
Video: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 review
The lighting on the exterior of the Aurora can be modified using Alienware’s preinstalled software. You can pick from a huge selection of colours, and a variety of pulsing options, too. Conversely, if you hate flashing lights then you can turn them off completely.
Note that a dozen or so games support AlienFX, which changes the colour of the lights when action is taking place in a game – which is a nice, albeit niche, touch.
It’s the internal layout of this PC that’s most curious, however. The exterior dimensions of 212 x 360 x 472mm would have you believe this is a conventional mid-sized PC. But it turns out that the overall size of the case is a result of the plastic flab that Alienware has added to the exterior of what is a much smaller metal chassis. This means the firm has had to make some interesting design decisions inside.
The power supply is mounted in a cage that can swivel in and out of the case when the left-side panel is taken off. This allows room for a second graphics card to be added, if you so choose. On the floor of the case are two 2.5-inch bays for additional SSDs and hard disks, with a further two slots mounted on the inside-front of the case.
Behind the swinging PSU mount are four RAM slots, two of which were occupied on this machine with 8GB of 2,133MHz DDR4 memory. Depending on your specification, you’ll also find either a liquid-cooling system or a more run-of-the-mill air cooler. My model came with an air cooler, but if you pick one of the overclockable i5-6600K or i7-6700K systems, you’ll probably want to shell out a rather steep £210 for liquid cooling and a higher-capacity power supply.
The Aurora includes a generous helping of four USB 3.0 ports on the front and four more at the rear, which are accompanied by six USB 2.0 connectors. Finally, there’s a USB 3.1 Type-C connector for high-end, high-performance peripherals.
All of this is more than enough for even the most crowded desks, and leaves plenty of room for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive if you fancy a bit of VR action. The AMD Radeon RX 480 model, alongside the GTX 1070 and 1080 editions, are all VR-ready.
The Aurora is also suited to high-end audio systems, sporting both an optical SPDIF connector and a coaxial port as well. Six 3.5mm audio jacks give the Aurora enough oomph to power a full surround-sound system.
Three DisplayPort connectors, an HDMI and a DVI port round off the connectors at the rear.
Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi is included, which will be handy for homes without readily accessible wired internet access.
Spending over £1,200 on a PC, you’d expect nothing less than great performance, and I’m pleased to say you won’t be disappointed.
The Intel Core i7-6700 is a great processor, and while it doesn’t benefit from a liquid cooler, it performed admirably in our suite of benchmarks. Its result in the PCMark Home test was a competitive 4,174, putting it in the region of the overclockable i7-6700K.
It’s a quad-core chip running at 3.4GHz, boosting to 4GHz when it’s cool enough. There’s Intel Hyper-Threading, too, which means it’s extremely adept at running high-end processing workloads such as video rendering and strategy games with lots of AI opponents.
In terms of graphics, the supplied Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 is the business when it comes to Full HD and 1440p gaming. The card that Alienware supplies is the Founders Edition model, which is one of the better-looking versions of the GTX 1070 on the market. But since it’s hidden inside the case, there’s little to justify the outlay, especially when there are similar-performing GTX 1070s from other manufacturers that would probably have been cheaper.
Related: Best graphics card
Either way, the GTX 1070 has a meaty 8GB of GGDR5 video memory and a 1,683MHz boost clock speed, managing to power through every game we threw at it in our original review. In our smaller suite of benchmarks for desktop PCs, the results were similar; slightly slower than the performance in the open-air test bench we use for GPU testing.
It managed 123fps in the Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and 110fps in Dirt Showdown at Full HD and Ultra settings, pointing towards performance that will easily handle the latest games at this resolution. 1440p gameplay will also be possible, as our GTX 1070 review attests to.
The SSD on board is ridiculously fast, posting 2000MB/sec read speeds in the AS SSD benchmark. My unit only had a 256GB SSD alongside a 1TB hard disk, but I’d recommend specifying a single 512GB SSD instead for £60 extra and forget about the 1TB hard disk altogether.
The Aurora is cool and quiet, even when running games. I never saw component temperatures rise beyond 60oC, and with the system sat under my desk, I couldn’t hear any of the fans whirring.
The Alienware Aurora is a great-looking desktop PC that offers decent value. When you consider that you get a fast SSD along with decent graphics and processing components, it’s hard to fault. Included in the base price of the Aurora is Dell’s excellent one-year on-site warranty, too, which if needed will see a Dell engineer come to your home and perform diagnostics and repairs to your PC. Most custom PC manufacturers offer this as an extra, so Dell has stolen a march on them here.
My only complaints concern the rather steep optional extras: doubling your RAM to 16GB costs an outrageous £110. For context, you can buy a perfectly decent 16GB set of RAM for less than £80 online – and 8GB for half that – so how Dell has managed to charge nearly three times the market rate is hard to understand.
The £210 for liquid cooling and an unnecessary 850W power supply is also puzzling, especially given that the liquid-cooling loop looks easy to install, so additional labour costs here should have been minimal.
While it does look stylish, I do wish Alienware had trimmed the fat on the chassis design. This could be a much smaller PC if the company had chosen to keep things simple – and I think it would be a more attractive buy as a result.
Related: Spec your perfect gaming PC
A powerful gaming PC that’s ready for anything.