Alienware Aurora ALX Review: Software, Performance, Noise and Conclusion

February 17, 2010 by J.R. Nelson Reads (68,539)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Software & Support
    • 10
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 7
    • Usability
    • 10
    • Design
    • 10
    • Performance
    • 10
    • Features
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 9.33
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Software
It’s worth taking a special mention out to talk about the bloatware on the machine. There was none. Similar to their recent Inspiron Zino HD launch, Dell seems to be taking something of a stand with respect to how bloatware impacts their PCs. It’s great. There are a few manufacturer-designed pieces of software that bear discussing. Alienware includes an application that controls the lighting, dynamic vent system and power plans (which has a special section for the lighting as well). As part of the thermal controls, you can let the computer decide when to raise and lower the fins on top (based on fan speed percentages) or lock them closed, halfway open, or fully open.

When it comes to lighting effects on a computer, users typically find themselves in one of two camps – love it or hate it. While I can’t say that I’m generally a fan of flashing computers with rainbow lights and blinking fans, Alienware deserves props for the high tech implementation of their system. There are eight different lighting regions to control, each of which can be off or one of nineteen different colors. Additionally, each region can be solid, pulsing, or morph between two separate colors. Everything is independent of each other so if you hate beautiful things, you can even have every region blinking different colors at different times. If you go into the advanced section of the control panel you can even set the lights to do different things depending on if the computer is awake, asleep, or experiencing system events like new email. Snazzy.

Performance
It’s almost unnecessary to discuss performance on a machine like this. The components are all pretty much top of the line – dual high-end graphics cards, high-end CPU. Two hard drives in RAID 0, six gigabytes of RAM. I don’t want to say it’s excessive, since there’s no doubt people out there who need the hardware, but it’s definitely a few standard deviations to the right of the bell curve.

wPrime benchmark test results:(lower scores equal better performance)

Desktop Score
Alienware Aurora ALX (Core i7 975 @ 3.33GHz) 7.099s
Alienware Area-51 x58 (Core i7 965 @ 3.2GHz) 7.426s
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 8.835s
Dell Studio XPS (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 9.1s
AVA Direct GT3 (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 9.671s
Dell Studio XPS 8000 (Core i5 750 @ 2.66GHz) 11.717s

PCMark05 system benchmark test results: (higher scores equal better performance)

Desktop PCMark05
Alienware Area-51 x58 (Core i7 965 @ 3.2GHz) 15,186 PCMarks
Alienware Aurora ALX (Core i7 975 @ 3.33GHz) 14,331 PCMarks

Dell Studio XPS (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz)

10,928 PCMarks
Alienware Area-51 790i (Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66GHz) 10,616 PCMarks
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 10,157 PCMarks
AVA Direct GT3 (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 9,834 PCMarks

PCMark Vantage system benchmark test results: (higher scores equal better performance)

Desktop PCMark Vantage
Alienware Area-51 x58 (Core i7 965 @ 3.2GHz) 11,310 PCMarks
Alienware Aurora ALX (Core i7 975 @ 3.33GHz) 11,129 PCMarks
Dell Studio XPS 8000 (Core i5 750 @ 2.66GHz)  6,825 PCMarks
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 6,479 PCMarks

AVA Direct GT3 (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz)

6,134 PCMarks

Dell Studio XPS (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz)

6,056 PCMarks

3DMark06 graphics benchmark test results: (higher scores equal better performance)

Desktop 3DMark06
Alienware Aurora ALX (Core i7 975, 2 x ATI HD5870) 23,922 3DMarks
Alienware Area-51 x58 (Core i7 965, 2 x ATI HD4870X2) 22,666 3DMarks
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz, ATI HD4850) 13,081 3DMarks
AVA Direct GT3 (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz, ATI HD4850) 13.006 3DMarks
Dell XPS 625 (Phenom II X4 940, ATI HD4850) 12.641 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850, NVIDIA FX4600) 10,327 3DMarks

3DMark Vantage graphics benchmark test results: (higher scores equal better performance)

Desktop 3DMark Vantage
Alienware Aurora ALX (Core i7 975, 2 x ATI HD5870) p22905
Alienware Area-51 x58 (Core i7 965 @ 3.2GHz 2 x ATI HD4870X2) p21865
AVA Direct GT3 (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz, ATI HD4850) p9834
Dell Studio XPS 8000 (Core i5 750 @ 2.66GHz, NVIDIA GTX260) p9458
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz, ATI HD4850) p7815
Dell Studio XPS (Core i7 920, ATI HD4850) p7603

HDTune results:

While the storage is comprised of two traditional 7200RPM hard drives, the fact that Alienware arranged them in a RAID 0 configuration means that the overall throughput is still substantial.  In fact, it surpassed some solid state drives.  Granted, the latency is still comparable to traditional media, but the overall speed is nice.  Since it is in RAID 0, however, it means that if one drive goes, so does all of your data.  That means you’re at twice the risk of catastrophic data loss and need to be vigilant about backing things up.

Now, the clear purpose of this system, more than anything else, is gaming. We installed several recent games on the Aurora ALX, like Mass Effect 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Bioshock 2 and Aliens vs Predator. Unfortunately, I left the framerate scores on the review machine and sent it back to Alienware so we can’t provide specifics. I can, however, say that every game played with max settings at 1920×1200 with silky smooth gameplay, zero stuttering and very high framerates.

Keyboard and Mouse
Typically we skip over the keyboard and mouse that come included with most desktop systems since they’re generic and cheap, and most users will end up replacing them at some point. Not so with the Aurora ALX. Alienware sources out their peripheral manufacturing, at least at the high end, to Logitech.

The resultant products are Alienware style and Logitech quality, meaning most gamers should be pretty happy with the experience. They’re chunky and backlit and corded, so you won’t have to worry about batteries.

Power and Noise
I had some hopes that with the water cooling kit installed on the CPU that Alienware’s Aurora ALX would be, well, if not quiet exactly, then at least quieter than other offerings. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The best description of the sound that this desktop makes when under load is by comparing it to an oncoming tornado. That’s manageable, and some people, especially gamers, often don’t mind. It’s definitely worth pointing out, though.

It’s also no surprise that it uses a substantial amount of electricity to maintain its components. After all, its a high-end gaming system and that’s essentially standard practices these days. Still, Alienware packs in an 875 watt power supply, and it gets put to good use. At boot, the system draws up to 260W of electricity (in this configuration). Once the operating system is fully loaded and the machine is idling, the power draw drops down to 155W. Under average gaming use, we didn’t see the system rise above 340W. That just goes to show that it’s hard to stress these graphics cards with even today’s games since purposefully maxing out the graphics cards (as well as every other component in the machine) pushes power use up to a staggering 688 watts of electricity. For reference, if you were maxing this system out (let’s say by running tasks while using Folding@Home, or something, and you drew that amount of power, it would cost you an average of nine cents an hour to use. It doesn’t sound like too much, but it certainly adds up over time.

Conclusion
The Alienware Aurora ALX is an impressive piece of machinery. It represents a new face for Alienware and Dell by turning away from the style that’s been their signature look for the past several years in favor of a new, harder, more industrially-oriented design. The branding is spot on, accessing the internals has never been easier and upgrading your components doesn’t even require a screwdriver. It has well thought out lighting setups, no bloatware and a front door panel which, if you’re five (or me) is fun to open.

On the downside, however, this configuration costs over four thousand dollars. That is a staggering sum of money. It’s also Loud. You can definitely take steps to ameliorate that wallop, though, by getting the Aurora instead of the Aurora ALX, which means you lose out on the (admittedly gimmicky) active venting setup and water cooling, as well as the luxury keyboard and mouse. That’s not a bad trade-off for saving something like a thousand dollars right off the top, and you can save another thousand by not going with the extreme processor, which, when you stick with dual ATI 5870s, will have less of an impact on your gaming performance than you might think.

In the end, however, Alienware has crafted a good experience. The Aurora ALX is designed to play games and it manages to do that fantastically well. It’s not quiet, but it’s pretty and fun, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Pros

  • Disgustingly high performance
  • Stylish case, adv. lighting
  • Water cooling
  • Premium keyboard and mouse

Cons

  • Very loud
  • Expensive
  • Heavy


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