- Stylish case, adv. lighting
- Water cooling
- Premium keyboard and mouse
- Very loud
It's not quiet, but it's pretty and fun, and sometimes that's all you need.
Alienware’s new Aurora ALX is one of the four new offerings in Dell’s rebranded gaming desktop line. Replete with temperature-sensing fins, impressive branding, top-of-the-line components and most importantly a cool sliding door, the Aurora ALX is definitely not for the faint of heart – or the faint of wallet. Is the new face of Alienware worth the price? Read on for our full review.
- Processor: Intel Core i7-975 Extreme @ 3.33GHz
- Memory: 6GB DDR3 SDRAM
- Hard drive: 2 x 1000GB 7200RPM in RAID 0
- Optical drive: Blu-ray read / DVD+/-RW combo drive
- Sound: Integrated 7.1 audio
- Video card: 2 x ATI Radeon HD5870 in CrossFire
- Networking: Gigabit Ethernet
- Power supply: 875 watts
- Multi-zone AlienFX LED lighting system
- Computer-controlled louvered fin venting setup
- Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- Dimensions: 16.77 x 25.39 x 9.84 inches (HxDxW)
- Warranty: 1 year limited warranty
The base price for the Alienware Aurora ALX is $2299. In this configuration, however, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $4099.
Build and Design
I’ve always been conflicted when it comes to review units from over-the-top outlets such as Alienware. On one hand, it’s an exercise in what a desktop can be when unfettered from such shackles as low-quality components, considerations of space and, perhaps most importantly, budget. The new Alienware Aurora ALX is, in typical Alienware fashion, large, imposing and anything but subtle.
It used to be that Alienware’s desktop offerings were a mess of components, model names, numbers and styles. That’s all been changed and simplified. There are now two models in the desktop lineup: the Aurora and the Area-51. Alienware packaged a few luxury items together and called it the ALX option – think of it as the deluxe options package on a new car. Choosing the ALX version of the Aurora or the Area-51 gives you a water-cooled CPU, the option to have your processor factory overclocked and dual video cards in either SLI or CrossFire, depending on the brand.
The most striking difference between the two trim options, however, is what Alienware calls its new “Active Venting thermal system”. Whereas the case tops of the base Aurora and Area-51 PCs are flat with a few stylized venting holes, the ALX version have a series of louvered fins that can open and close under computer control depending on the ambient temperatures inside the case. Alienware claims that this feature can help control temperature in the case during extended gaming sessions. In practice, however, it really seems like more of a gimmick than anything useful. It definitely looks interesting – far more interesting than the standard flat case top – but it doesn’t seem to actually do very much.
The fins are just one new aspect of Alienware’s new desktops. The entire line, now reduced to these four systems, has undergone a significant redesign. For years now, Alienware’s signature look has been a stylized ‘Grey’ alien head and a retro-futuristic look that brought to mind a rocket ship made manifest in Art Deco design aesthetics. The new look, which stretches the entire breath of Alienware’s product lineup, ties together its desktops, notebooks, monitors and even keyboards and mice. The new style is aggressive and masculine, probably a smart marketing choice given the traditional target market for these systems. Smooth textures and rounded corners have been replaced with rough, high-quality plastics and sharper lines. The weight of these machines hasn’t changed, much, however – they’re still heavy.
Traditionally, the grey alien head logo has been front and center, serving as the power switch for the systems. That’s now gone, with a power switch located on top of the machine. The alien head now opens the front of the computer. Instead of having the over-engineered door that stuck out in the way clumsy legs, a panel slides slowly down inside the front of the computer. It’s a slick effect that brings to mind the automatic pocket doors found in sci-fi shows like Star Trek. The case door has thankfully been changed, too. One of the biggest pet peeves we found with prior Alienware desktops was the annoying door handle and door – relatively easy to pop open, but a pain to get shut and locked. The new systems use what looks like another fin set in the rear of the machine. To open it, all you do is lift up, and to close it, the door sets easily in place.
One thing that sets Alienware apart, even from other high-end computer manufacturers, is the degree and polish they put into their branding and identity. Even the inside of the machine doesn’t escape – in a good way – as faux-alien characters and artwork cover all of the plastic on the interior. There’s an alien head printed on the motherboard. The inside of the case door is imprinted with more alien artwork. The heat shields covering the graphics cards have it, too. While you might not open the machine too often, it’ll look good when you go. Alienware lights the inside of the case with a number of strategically-placed white LEDs. That’s not that strange, given the company’s penchant for drenching their desktops in every color of the rainbow. The cool factor comes in when you realize that the lights are on even when the computer is off. They’re lit up even when it’s unplugged! It makes sense considering that most users are only going to root around or make changes inside of their computer when the power is turned off.
Inputs and Expansion
Alienware moved the ports traditionally found on the front of the machine to the top, hidden by yet another fin-like hinged door. Back here there are two USB2.0 ports, a FireWire port and headphone and microphone jacks. I questioned Alienware as to the usability of this design choice, since most users, sitting in front and above their computer, will be forced to flounder helplessly around with their USB stick as they blindly try and fit it into a port. Their response was that it keeps the front of the machine nice and clean since instead of having trailing cords crossing all over the computer, they fall to either side out of everyone’s way. It’s true, it does keep the cords out of the way, but it’s still a bit annoying to use.
The rest of the inputs are naturally to the rear of the machine. There, you’ll find digital audio out in both optical and coaxial ports, six more USB2.0 ports as well as one each of FireWire and eSATA. There’s Gigabit Ethernet, line in and 7.1 analog audio out. On a desktop of this stature, integrated video is naturally nonexistent, but there are two discrete video cards to take up the slack. Since the new revision of ATI’s graphics cards (in this case, two ATI Radeon HD5870s) support their new multimonitor initiative known as Eyefinity, there are an abundance of video ports. You’ll be able to connect up to six different monitors to this desktop with two DVI ports, two HDMI ports and two DisplayPort ports.
Inside of the machine there’s some room for expansion, but not a lot. This system came with two hard drives, though there are four drive bays. One of the best parts of the new systems are just how finger-friendly they are. You really almost never need a screwdriver since everything involves clever clips and plugs. Hard drives slot into place with a small circuit board in back of each bay plugging into the SATA and power ports. Even the optical drive and related 5.25-inch drive bays are all thumb-driven.
There are six RAM slots available, which is inline with Intel’s Core i7 tri-channel memory limits; in this case three are full for six gigabytes of memory, leaving three more open for users to fill. There are two free PCI-e x1 slots in this machine but good luck using them; all the space is taken up by the huge dual graphics cards. Above the graphics cards is the water cooling CPU block and radiator with accompanying fans; below is the large power supply. Just like with the last revision of the desktops, the doors contain LEDs for Alienware’s AlienFX lighting system. Instead of putting a messy cord connecting the door to the machine, there are a series of metal contacts similar to what you’d find in a battery compartment. It works very well. Additionally, the rest of the cords in the case are managed within a plastic column in the center section of the machine.