In a month when laptops outsold desktops for the first time, it’s a brave move to launch a desktop that weighs more than your fridge. The Alienware Aurora ALX is a no-compromises gaming PC which turns up in a box the size of a Marshall 4×12 with a box of accessories the size of a Marshall amp. Just in case I’m not being clear enough here – this thing is huge.
Standing alongside my humble G5 the ALX also chucks out an astounding amount of noise: The cooling solution within it is served by the two expected fans on the back of the case plus a further two, even bigger ones, blowing through the vents at the top. If you’re playing Doom3 with a suitable pair of speakers attached to the Creative soundcard you probably won’t notice it but this is certainly the noisiest computer I’ve ever heard and you definitely wouldn’t use it, for example, in an audio recording environment. Theoretically you could always quieten the unit by disabling one or more fans: There are controllers for the various fans sited, significantly, next to the temperature monitor which rather discouraged me from messing with them! The casing is also a pretty subjective thing. One visitor described it as the ugliest computer she’s ever seen whereas I personally really liked the whole Sky Captain future-retro aesthetic. Certainly with the machine powered up and glowing blue from within and the temperature monitor LEDs shimmering away this is a computer that makes a statement, and the statement is “I love computer gaming, I’ve got a good deal of money to spend on it, and I haven’t got the time to mess about building my own PC”.
You certainly could build a comparable gaming workstation and save yourself some cash but I want to stress that this thing is the Ferrari of computer games: From the minute you put the key in the lock (really!) to start it up every aspect of the ALX radiates power and quality. The front panel, behind the trademark Alienware door, features a DVD rewriter, a multi card reader, and even a floppy drive. There are 4 front-sited USBs and a further 4 on the back for specialised controllers, and so on. The previously mentioned temperature monitor is visible all the time and averages around 42 degrees in normal use (although tests were run on probably the hottest day of the year!). Bearing in mind the twin 256mb Geforce 7900s that seemed a pretty moderate working temp. I downloaded a selection of recent shooters (DOOM3, Half-Life 2, and Prey) and gameplay was, as you might reasonably expect, smooth and immersive with faultless graphics. There was 2gb of system RAM on the test unit and Windows XP Pro (SP2) ran beautifully on the Athlon 64 FX-60 Dual-core. Tasks in basic apps like Office ran too quickly to even measure properly.
The included Logitech keyboard and Razer Diamondback mouse enhanced the overall feeling of quality and attention to detail. For some reason you also get a briefcase and a really large polo shirt which would probably fit the only man capable of dragging this monster along to a LAN party. As long as you have the space, the budget, and the need for this kind of PC overkill the Alienware ALX is pretty much a dream purchase. The rest of us will just have to limp along with our Frankenstein hand-builds until we finally get some sponsorship for our Call of Duty clan.