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On paper, the Area 51 has the heart of a champion. It sports a speedy Intel Q9550 quad-core processor running at its stock-clock frequency of 2.83 GHz. Four gigabytes of DDR3-1066 memory further beef up its specs, while 800GB of storage comes courtesy of two high-performance (10,000-rpm) Western Digital 300GB Velociraptor drives--striped in RAID array--alongside a single 500GB, 7200-rpm Seagate Barracuda drive.
The included video card, a 2GB ATI Visiontek Radeon HD4870x2, is no slouch for gaming. But it doesn't set any records, either. All in all, the Area 51's guts brought forth an above-average score of 120 on our WorldBench 6 tests--not bad, but still 10 to 20 points behind the fastest systems in our power desktops category.
At least Alienware gives you a small chance to upgrade your system and whip more performance out of this filly. There's space for two more PCI Express x16-friendly video cards, one more hard drive, and two 5.25-inch devices should you want to augment the Area 51's sole LG Electronics GSA-H55 20X Super Multi DVD writer. The Area 51's internals are well-managed and clutter-free, but we're just tired of the outside of the case--there's so much more that could be done over this dead horse of an alien-head design that the company keeps beating consumers over the head with.
For example, the Area 51's EVGA 790i motherboard hits the holy trinity of external connections with its six USB ports, one Firewire 400 port, and one eSATA port. But the front of the chassis only sports two USB and one FireWire 400 port. We might be sticklers for detail, but that's just not very much to work with. It's just barely enough to plug in the Area 51's two awesome peripheral offerings--a Logitech G5 mouse and a G15 keyboard. We're not sure which we like more: the soft, leathery feel of the G5 or the built-in digital orange screen of the ever-informative G15.
We can't bear to shoot Alienware's Area 51, but there's no question that this thoroughbred PC has outlived its days at the top of the system charts. At $3219 (as of December 3, 2008; $380 extra with a bundled Samsung 2253BW monitor), it's far too pricey a starter machine to be acceptable for power users, especially gamers.
This updated version of an old favorite remains competitive, but we wouldn’t place bets on it winning races.
- Tired case design
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