capsule review

Alienware Aurora Extreme

At a Glance
  • Alienware Aurora Extreme with 2.2-GHz Athlon 64 FX-51

  • Alienware Aurora Extreme

Alienware Aurora Extreme
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard
The latest gaming rig from Alienware is one of the first machines we've tested that's powered by AMD's Athlon 64 FX-51 processor, a 64-bit CPU. Drawing on 1GB of DDR400 memory, the system posted a 141 score on PC WorldBench 4 tests, making it one of the fastest machines we've tested to date.

This model's ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card also contributed to outstanding performance in our graphics tests, where the system scored the second-fastest frame rates we've seen to date in our demanding Return to Castle Wolfenstein test. It also came in near the top in Unreal Tournament.

Gamers yearning for the best audio experience will surely like the outstanding audio gear. Combined with the Creative Labs Audigy 2 Platinum Pro sound card (a $144 option), the Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 sent out some of the most gratifying sound quality we've heard. When we listened to a DVD movie soundtrack, this system--comprising four satellites, a center speaker, and a subwoofer--thrilled us with pounding and undistorted bass notes and crystal-clear trebles. For those who want over-the-top oomph, the subwoofer has a tempting connector on back for hooking up another subwoofer. An accompanying control box lets you crank up the volume to wall-rattling levels, as well as adjust the sound output for the rear and center speakers.

Bundled with the sound card is an Audigy 2 drive, which is mounted in an externally accessible drive bay and has a FireWire port, along with ports for connecting A/V devices such as a MIDI keyboard, microphone, headphones, DVD player, or stereo amplifier. Optical and coaxial S/PDIF ports let you record to or play from digital devices, such as a MiniDisc or DAT player.

High-end gaming machines usually cost an arm and leg. As configured, the FX-51 costs just over $4100. The side panel is easy to remove, but putting it back on takes extra effort, a minor inconvenience. That operation doesn't require any tools, but when you replace the side panel, you must align its curved edges precisely to grooves on the inside of the front panel. We had to try several times before we could finally get the side panel securely back on.

All four USB 2.0 ports on the back of the case are used by pass-through cables that connect to the four USB ports on the front of the case. Of those, we had to use one to connect the optical mouse, leaving only three ports free--far fewer than on other high-end systems. We also took issue with the bare-bones user manual, which has scant information on upgrading and troubleshooting. The manual is not likely to be of much use if you're looking for system specifics or intermediate, do-it-yourself help. Alienware provides manuals for some components, such as the sound card and monitor, but our system lacked one for the motherboard. We consider that vital information for the people this system is aimed at--gamers who upgrade their systems frequently.

The 19-inch NEC MultiSync FE991SB-SK flat-screen CRT is a fine fit for this system. It handled our tests for color quality better than it did those for small-size text. Colors appeared detailed on a photo and during game play.

Our test system arrived in a glossy black tower, accented with grill-shaped air-flows, a unique feature on Alienware cases. You can opt for bolder, more eye-catching colors (such as green and blue) at no additional charge. Most of the outside chassis is plastic; hence, it doesn't feel as sturdy as the steel cases of gaming systems we've seen from companies such as Falcon Northwest or Voodoo.

This Aurora is pricey, but hard-line gamers looking for a performance edge from the latest components will find it hard to resist.

Mick Lockey

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At a Glance
  • Alienware Aurora Extreme with 2.2-GHz Athlon 64 FX-51

  • Alienware Aurora Extreme

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