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Why so serious?

tech-reviews Updated: Jun 08, 2010 13:08 IST
Dushyant Khilnani
Dushyant Khilnani
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Alienware is known for being the one-stop solution for gaming PCs and laptops, and their Aurora and new Area-1 series of gaming desktop PCs only affirm that. These high-end variants have given terms like powerful processor, a whopping amount of RAM, and dual-GPUs — common while reviewing a gaming PC — a whole different meaning.

It’s pretty common to see mainstream and high-end PCs use dual-core and quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU variants. It’s also fairly common to see 6 GB and 8GB RAM on high-end machines. But what makes us think of pots of pure gold is a configuration that includes twice the RAM, awesome graphics cards that run in SLI (Scalable Link Interface, a multi-GPU solution developed by Nvidia) and an ultra-high-end CPU — all in a PC.

Design
Illuminated customisable colour LEDs on the grill and and the chrome Alien logo. Check. Alien logo that doubles as button for collapsing the front cover to expose a Blu-ray combo drive and multiple memory card readers. Check. The black cabinet has translucent plastic panels.

Though the entire exterior is plastic, the material used is top notch. The side panels are glossy, the top grill and the front panel are matte. The overall design of the machine is truly a gamers’ delight, with its lights, contours, and illuminated logo.

The interiors are equally impressive; all the bays are well-spaced and accommodate the hardware in a channelised fashion, resulting in no cable clutter at all. It’s a great-looking machine to have on your desk.

Power
But if you think looks maketh this machine, wait till we tell you about its inner beauty.

This baby is powered by an Intel Core i7 975 Extreme Edition processor. It has 12 GB triple channel DDR3 RAM (that’s right 12 GB), two Nvidia Geforce GTX 260 (1.8 GB each) cards in SLI and two 500 GB hard drives in RAID 0. Wait, it gets better. That’s a lot of room, and a lot of speed too.

The package includes an Alienware lazer gaming mouse, a stiff gaming mouse pad with the Alien face on it, a couple of Alienware-stickers, a power cord, and discs for OS recovery, drivers, utilities and such. Setting up the PC was seamless — 10 minutes, and it was up and running.

Features
So the hardware’s impressive. The features are too. To begin with, the Aurora has the Alienware liquid-cooling for the CPU, there’s a Blu-ray combo drive, so even an HD-movie experience is awesome. We connected an HDTV to this machine and it worked like a charm. Though we didn’t find an HDMI port on the machine, a DVI to HDMI cable did the job. You can use the Nvidia control panel to use the card, and even switch on the Nvidia 3D stereoscope vision feature. The machine comes with Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit) and we didn’t come across any serious hiccup, with either the games or the OS.

There’s 7.1 channel audio, so you’ll find six audio jacks, co-axial out and optical. Display options include four DVI ports and two S-video ports. Other features include six USB ports, FireWire, an eSATA and an Ethernet (gigabit) port. Push the cover inward behind the power button to reveal two more USB ports, a FireWire port and audio jacks, which are connected via headers on the motherboard.

No surprises here
There are two 500 GB (7200 rpm) hard drives configured in RAID 0 and the available storage space is 1 TB. This setup is usually used in gaming machines where performance is a prerequisite, and data management takes a back seat.

Processor
Is the Core i7 975 Extreme CPU all that Intel makes of it on its website? The quad-core processor has a Hyper Threading (HT) technology because of which you get eight simultaneous processing threads. So multitasking is what this machine does best.

To add to this, the default core speed is 3.33 GHz, much faster than mainstream and even some high-end CPUs. So, imagine what all cores running at the same speed can churn out. To take this ascension further is the whopping 8 MB L3 cache, which boosts the performance of the machine like nobody’s business.

The motherboard helps leverage all this power due to the technologies involved in the chipset. The PC uses an Intel X58 chipset motherboard, which supports the Core i7 series of processors. Technologies like the Intel Quick Path Interconnect (QPI) and the dual x16 PCIe 2.0 interface not only help deliver phenomenal PC performance, but also get the best out of the graphics cards that are working in SLI.

Performance
The Aurora is not only a gaming rig but a very powerful desktop PC too. We put the machine through several tests before being convinced of that. First we ran the standard benchmarks and noted the real-world game play also. Although the GPUs aren’t the most powerful individually, two of them used in SLI make up for it.

For gaming, we used Crysis, Batman Arkham Asylum and Left 4 Dead and got playable frame rates even at high resolutions and settings. At high settings Crysis was playable with over 40 fps, and so was Batman Arkham Asylum, and Left 4 Dead, which, with over 60 fps, was a piece of cake for this machine. The playback for the HD movies we saw was seamless, so this PC with its 7.1 channel sound and excellent movie playback can double as an home theatre PC too. The number-crunching power steals the show. Heavy computing tasks such as using designing suites, and, audio and video editing/encoding can be done on this machine. All-in-all, it’s a true workhorse.

Options
Though this particular variant is one of the most powerful and quite awesome, there are other options. Aurora PCs are available in two forms, Intel P55 and Intel X58. The former targets entry-level and the latter mainstream users, with their Core i3 and Core i5 processor variants respectively. The X58 is of course for the enthusiasts, as it features the Core i7 variants bundled with other high-end end hardware.

Verdict
This particular model evidently targets a very specific set of consumers. It costs Rs 2 lakh, so clearly, it is meant for people who want a performance machine with good gaming capabilities and it’s certainly not for someone looking for any run-of-the-mill gaming rig. Now we’re waiting to get our hands on the new Dell Alienware Area-51 series of gaming PCs and see if “merciless performance” truly exists or not.

What we like
Superb performance
Low sound emission
Looks yummy

What we don’t
No HDMI
It’s really expensive