Alienware introduces new Area-51 and Aurora desktops (hands-on)

by Reads (11,283)

For the longest time, Alienware’s image has been associated with their case design, a stylized retro-futuristic art deco brand that looks like a cross between a steam engine and a spaceship. With the release of these new desktops, however, that all changes – and in a very big way.

Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX

Alienware is no stranger to high-tech, high-style cases, and in that respect at least, these cases aren’t any different.  The new Area-51 and Aurora offerings feature very futuristic looks combined with the latest components and a number of features you won’t find anywhere else.  The AlienFX lighting system is back with a vengeance, giving users customizable control over the various lighting effects present within the case.

The high-end boutique PC maker used to name their model lines after the components inside the computer — hence we’ve reviewed configurations such as the Area-51 790i or Area-51 x58.  No more, though; for now, Alienware is only selling two different desktops: the Area-51 at the high-end, and the Aurora at the…not-quite-as-high-end.  ALX versions of both models will also be available; think of these as different trim levels on a car. The base model will get you going, but the ALX trim makes it shinier.

Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALXOne notable difference in the design of the new computers is the function of the stylized alien head logo.  For the longest time, users have turned on their Alienware computers by popping the little alien right in the face.  No more, though; the power button has been relegated to the top of the machines as a silvery diamond. The logo now opens up the front of the computer, revealing the front connections and optical drives. It’s a very cool effect that makes you want to keep hitting the button.  It’s also one of the points of distinction of the ALX lines; on the Area-51 ALX, pressing the button actually mimics a hydraulic effect, lowering the door slowly. On regular models, it simply drops down via gravity.

Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX   Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX

Another benefit to upgrading to the ALX version of the new desktops are the dynamically adjustable fins that sit on top of the case.  The computer continuously monitors the temperature of the air inside the case.  If it starts rising too high, it sends a signal to the motorized fins on top, and they open up. It’s meant to be reminiscent of a bristling animal.  I’m not so sure it provides any actual benefit to the performance, but it does look pretty cool.  One other very neat aspect to the design of the new computers is the stratification of the internal area into thermally-distinct zones.

Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX  Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX

One zone might be the hard drives and power supply, one might be the video card, and the third is the CPU.  That way, if one component is putting out a lot of heat, it won’t affect the rest of the parts in the case. All of the hard drive bays feature extra electronics to make every drive hot-swappable (finally!) and toolless. It’s just plug and play, even for 3.5-inch hard drives.  In the smaller, but no less potent, Aurora desktop, the drive bays are in the bottom thermal zone and slot in perpendicular to the motherboard.  Despite its overall size, the motherboard in the Aurora is actually part of the Micro-ATX form factor.  This lets Alienware add so much other stuff without making the case that much bigger.  That’s reserved for the Area-51, after all.

Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX  Alienware Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX

Speaking of the Area-51, it has the coolest hard drive setup I’ve seen on a desktop in a very, very long time.  The left side panel opens up to grant access to the insides of the machine, while the right side panel opens to reveal six drive bays for either 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch hard drives, mounted in a toolless fashion.  The whole thing is very sleek, and it makes me really wish Alienware would sell these cases in a barebones fashion similar to their traditional retro ones.

Specifications

Area-51/ALX:

  • Processor: up to overclocked Intel Core i7 975 3.86GHz (8MB cache)
  • Graphics: up to dual 1.8GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
  • Memory: up to 12GB DDR3 @ 1600MHz
  • Hard drive: up to 7200 RPM, 10k RPM hard drives and SSDs in traditional, RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 1+0 setups
  • Optical drive: dual drives with a 6X DL Blu-ray burner
  • Front ports: 3x USB2.0, eSATA, FireWire, Mic in, Headphone out, 19-in-1 card reader
  • Rear ports: eSATA, 2x Gigabit Ethernet, 6x USB2.0, FireWire, Mic in, line-in, 7.1 out, S/PDIF optical out, S/PDIF coax out, 2x PS/2 connectors
  • Dimensions 10.9 x 25.8 x 22 inches (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 84 lbs (this is not a typo!)

Aurora/ALX:

  • Processor: up to overclocked Intel Core i7 975 3.6GHz (8MB cache)
  • Graphics: up to dual 1GB GDDR5 Radeon HD5870
  • Memory: up to 12GB DDR3 @ 1600MHz on ALX, up to 24GB DDR3 @ 1333MHz in regular configuration
  • Hard drive: up to 2TB 7200RPM in RAID1+0 configurations or 256GB SSDs
  • Optical drive: dual drives with a 6X Blu-ray burner
  • Front ports: 2x USB2.0, FireWire, Mic in, Headphone out, 19-in-1 card reader
  • Rear ports: eSATA, Gigabit Ethernet, 6x USB2.0, FireWire, Mic in, Line-in, 7.1 out, S/PDIF optical out, S/PDIF coax out
  • Dimensions: 9.84 x 25.39 x 16.77 inches (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 45 lbs

One issue I see with the Area-51 setup is that the front USB ports are on the top of the machine, facing the rear.  The engineers said this was so the cables of any attached devices can fall over the sides of the machine and not look quite as messy. I’m not sure if users will have to contort themselves in order to plug anything in or not, but it’s certainly going to take some getting used to.  On the other hand, the case doors were also redesigned to make them much easier to open and shut; the older style doors were a constant source of frustration in our review units.

Still, Alienware has certainly outdone themselves with the design and construction of these new machines. They are as stylish as anything available on the market today, and deserve the high-tech claims their makers cry out; there is a significant amount of very cool engineering in both of these computers. Yes, they’re expensive, and yes, you can build something yourself for much cheaper, but if you can afford it, the new Alienwares are a very powerful, very stylish, and very cool way to go.  For those so inclined, the Aurora starts out at $1299 (and includes a Core i7 CPU and GTX 260) while the Area-51 starts out at a much higher $2299.  Both are available now; stay tuned to DesktopReview for our review on both of these machines, coming in the next few weeks.

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