The memory supplied is two sticks of PC2-6400 Patriot memory, running at 400MHz by default and there are two free slots if you want to go up to 4GB. The stars of the show though are the two very large 8800 GTX cards sitting inside the system. nVidia has done a great job on the cooling on these cards and in-and-of-themselves they don’t produce too much noise. The cards are held in place with ‘card catchers’ which keeps things secure in transit. The X-Fi is stuck in between the two graphics cards and I was worried about heat build-up.
The power supply is this system is rated at a hefty 1,000W, which is what you need to run this kind of rig safely and reliably. Fortunately, it wasn’t too loud, which has been a problem with previous systems from Alienware, though as mentioned, this improvement was spoilt by the rear case fan.
So, onto the performance of the beast. We’ll start with the 2D results. Rather than SYSmark 2004 we ran our custom made SpodeMark 2D benchmarks with enhancements to increase threading to make the best use of the four cores of the QX6700. For comparison we have our reference Kentsfield test and to our reference dual-core Core 2 Extreme QX6700.
To be brutal, the results are a little disappointing. In all the 2D tests, even the multi-tasking ones, the previous Alienware and our reference Kentsfield system were both faster. The fact that it’s faster on the latter implies that it’s not just the higher clock speed of the Core 2 Extreme QX6700. The problem is most likely to be the nForce 680i SLI chipset – it clearly has considerable overhead, or in early revisions, just isn’t that fast.
Let’s move on to 3D results. Our Call of Duty test is one of our favourites as it’s very demanding due to the amount of particles and explosions on screen. Here the system excels, throwing out incredible numbers at every resolution – even at 1,280 x 1,024. Performance doesn’t drop until you hit 2,0 48 x 1,536 but even on the 30in Dell at 2,560 x 1,600 it’s still smooth all the way at over 60fps.
In our Quake 4 tests, there appears to quite a bit of SLI overhead – a combination of OpenGL, and early drivers for the card. However, once you get to 2,048 x 1,536 with 4x FSAA the cards sheer horsepower starts to make itself felt. It’s exactly the same story at Battlefield 2.
Prey, though based on OpenGL, runs on DirectX and seems to scale a lot better on the twin 8800s, as with Call of Duty. The 3DMark 06 result echoes what we see at 1,280 x 1,024 in the games – two cards are actually slower than one, but only once the features are turned on at higher resolutions does it start to make a difference.
To get a sense of what the system could do aside from benchmarks, I took the time to actually sit down in front of it and play Oblivion, one of the most graphically impressive and demanding games around right now, with the system hooked up to a 30in Dell. I’ve been playing Oblivion at home and am currently running two 7800GTs on a widescreen 19in display – not bad certainly, but not uber-high end either, and a good marker for comparison. The combination of the Alienware and the 30in Dell, running at its native 2,560 x 1,600 resolution was quite simply amazing – incredibly detailed, beautiful to look at, and thoroughly immersive.