Alienware's Area 51 desktop is ready to play (hands-on)

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The new Alienware Area 51 gaming desktop from Dell, teased earlier this year, will be available to order starting on October 28. While this unique-looking desktop shares a name with one of Alienware's classic boxy desktop PCs, the new version has an entirely new look and feel, and includes the very latest high-end processor and chipset from Intel, as well as Nvidia's newest generation of desktop graphics cards.

The system is built around Intel's new Haswell-E CPU, a late entry to the Haswell generation of CPUs designed to give that fourth-gen Core i-series technology a final boost for enthusiast PC gamers. Intel's Broadwell generation of Core i CPUs won't be around until next year, and the new Core M family is aimed squarely at tablets, hybrids and ultrabooks, so for now, this is likely to be the marquee processor for gaming desktops. It comes paired with a new motherboard chipset, called X99, that supports DDR4 RAM.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

To see how a similar configuration performs, see our benchmarks and review of the Origin PC Millennium, a similarly tricked-out desktop (in a much plainer case), which paired three Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 cards with a Haswell-E processor.

Before its revival, the last time we saw the Area 51 line from Alienware was around 2010, and at the time it was an impressive, if dated, black rectangle, with red accent lights and creature-like fins protruding from the top. This new version has a unique three-sided design, which Alienware calls "triad." The flat corners of the triad shape allow you to rock the massive chassis back easily and access ports or doors with only one hand. You can also grip two of the handle-like points of the triangle to lift or move the system.

Both side panels are removable, offering access to the motherboard, video card slots and hard drive trays. The Area 51 supports up to three full-width GPUs (both Nvidia and AMD options will be available) and up to five hard drives, and the system is designed to support an 850- or 1,500-watt power supply. Running hardware like that can generate a fearsome amount of heat, so Alienware says the angled design will allow you to push the chassis up against the wall while still allowing hot air to escape.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Like just about every Alienware laptop or desktop, there is an entire user-controlled light show built in, with nine separate zones, all controlled by the company's AlienFX software.

After briefly seeing the system earlier this year, we've now had a chance to go hands-on with it, feeling out the unusual chassis. Rocking the system onto a different corner via the built-in handles was nerve-wracking at first, as the unit weighs around 60 pounds. But once we did it, the movement felt very natural, and the body is balanced such that it would be hard to lose control and have it tip over. The side panels snapped off easily, but took a little more hand-eye coordination to snap them back on.

The build quality felt tank-like, and the design is much more sculpted than other gaming desktops, although the traditional market for these systems has been at least partially eroded by better gaming laptops, next-gen living room gaming consoles and new devices such as Alienware's own Alpha, a small-form-factor gaming desktop designed for living-room use.

The Area 51 is available to order starting October 28, from $1,699. In Australia, the system starts at AU$2,999. UK pricing was not immediately available, with Alienware's UK website teasing the system as "coming soon," but the US price converts to around £1,055.

Editors' note: This is an updated version of a story originally posted August 29, 2014.

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Where to Buy

Alienware Area 51 (2014)

Part Number: DPCWC01H

MSRP: $1,699.00

Buy the Alienware Area 51 at Dell