capsule review

Alienware Area-51 ALX

At a Glance
  • Alienware Area-51 ALX

Alienware Area-51 ALX
Photograph: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

For $5697 you expect a first-rate gaming PC with cutting-edge hardware, an innovative design, and superlative performance. Configured with an Intel dual-core processor, the Alienware Area-51 ALX delivers on the first two but misses the mark on the third.

The Area-51 ALX's shiny black-and-silver tower case, which suggests the head of a space alien, houses Intel's fastest dual-core Pentium D processor, the 3.2-GHz Pentium D 840; 1GB of DDR2 RAM; two EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GTX graphics boards linked by SLI technology to act as a single card; and two 10,000-rpm, 74GB Western Digital Raptor hard drives striped in a RAID 0 array for faster performance.

But despite the high-priced hardware, the Area-51 ALX's test scores lagged behind those of most of our current power PCs. Its WorldBench 5 score of 99, while comparable to the marks of other Intel dual-core systems we've tested, is about 30 percent slower than the performance of high-end gaming systems using AMD's dual-core processors.

The Intel CPU may have limited the graphics performance, as well: Frame-rate scores on our tests running Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Unreal Tournament were much lower than the marks for other dual-graphics-card SLI systems we've tested. For example, Alienware's Aurora 7500 (with a 2.8-GHz Athlon 64 FX-57 CPU) posted scores on Unreal Tournament at 1024 by 768 resolution that were 40 percent higher.

To be fair, the Area-51 ALX's scores still qualify it as a very fine gaming system, but at this price a hard-core gamer should expect to get every last bit of potential performance.

In design, the Area-51 ALX excels. Thanks to a liquid cooling system and foam pads that line the interior of the case, the PC runs very quietly for a high-performance machine. A small LCD on the top of the case continuously displays the internal temperature. Adjacent is a button that cycles the ventilation fans through three states; switching from the lowest (very quiet) setting to the highest (very noisy) one lowered the internal case temperature by 11 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few minutes.

The case interior, remarkably uncluttered by the cooling system, is a do-it-yourselfer's dream. Access to the two free RAM slots and one free PCI slot is unhindered, optical drives slide easily in and out of the drive bays, and the hard-drive cage faces outward. The drive cage has room for up to four more drives, although the motherboard has only two open SATA connectors. The sole drawback of the interior is that access to the one open x1 PCI Express slot is blocked by the bridge connecting the two SLI graphics cards.

Our test system included two double-layer DVD±RW drives--great for anyone copying lots of DVDs or CDs, but overkill for many users--and an external SATA port on the back of the case that offers a high-speed connection for an external hard drive.

Each of the graphics cards has two DVI connectors, but no VGA ports (so you'll need an adapter if you own a VGA monitor). Also included are coaxial and optical digital audio connectors, as well as four USB ports on the back of the case and four on the front. The PC's Creative Audigy 2 ZS sound card supports 7.1-channel surround sound.

The system's solid-feeling Microsoft keyboard has ten shortcut buttons and big, easy-to-reach multimedia control buttons. The sinister-looking mouse feels good in the hand. Small text was comfortably readable on the 19-inch Samsung SyncMaster 930BF flat-panel display.

A setup poster does a good job of pointing out what connections go where; but the user manual is rather sparse, covering basic usage with little depth. Advanced users will find details in the motherboard manual and in other individual component manuals.

The Area-51 ALX is a relatively fast, well-designed, well-equipped gaming PC for buyers with deep pockets who must have an Intel CPU.

Kirk Steers

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At a Glance
  • The Area-51 ALX is a relatively fast, well-designed gaming PC for Intel fans with deep pockets.

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