Alienware Area-51 ALX review: Alienware Area-51 ALX

This PC has been a somewhat humbling lesson for us because, for all of the time we spend testing and analyzing computers, we can find no explanation for why the Area-51 ALX's 3D scores aren't better. We were so surprised by the test results that we sent the system back to Alienware, thinking that something wasn't working properly. Alienware chalked it up to a bad motherboard and resubmitted the system after signing off on every part. The second round of testing produced the same results. We still can't say why the Area-51 ALX, on paper the fastest computer to grace our Labs, does not return test scores that befit its specs. This disconnect may be due to the fact that this PC is simply laden with so much new technology that an as-yet-undetermined incompatibility or bottleneck is having an adverse effect. We invite Alienware to reinvestigate and resubmit the system for testing, at which point we will update our review if we find any new information. For now, although the Area-51 ALX delivers top-notch 3D performance that will let you play any game at high details and a smooth frame rate, it beats the competition on only certain 3D applications and then by only a slim margin. For a PC that costs $2,000 more than its closest competitor, we feel that not only should the Alienware Area-51 ALX win in every test, it should do so by a large margin. Unfortunately, it does neither.

3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4X AA, 8X AF  
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  
Note: * Velocity Micro ProMagix PCX and Alienware Area-51 ALX CPU and graphics card are overclocked.

Far Cry Custom Demo Rebellion (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Far Cry 1,600x1,200 4X AA, 8X AF  
Far Cry 1,024x768 4X AA 8X AF  
Note: * Velocity Micro ProMagix PCX and Alienware Area-51 ALX CPU and graphics card are overclocked.

Doom 3 Timedemo 1 (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Doom3 1,600x1,200, ultraquality, 4X AA, 8X AF  
Doom3 1,024x768, high quality, 4X AA, 8X AF  
Note: * Velocity Micro ProMagix PCX and Alienware Area-51 ALX CPU and graphics card are overclocked.

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X, respectively, during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).

For high-end gaming PCs, we've added UbiSoft Entertainment's Far Cry to our benchmark arsenal. Far Cry is a DirectX 9.0-based game that uses a number of advanced rendering techniques, all of which combine to produce some of the most realistic scenery and physics we've seen in a game title to date. As such, it is very demanding on a graphics subsystem and, therefore, an excellent tool for evaluating high-end PCs. We run a custom demo on the Rebellion level and run it two times each at a 32-bit color depth and at resolutions of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are set to 4X and 8X for both resolutions during our 1,600x1,200 tests. After installing the retail game, we patch it to version 1.1.

We've also made Doom 3 the latest addition to our high-end gaming PC tests, not only because it's an exciting new game, but also because it was created using OpenGL, an alternative to DirectX as a 3D design specification. This gives us a broad picture of the dominant 3D engines being used to make PC games. We run Timedemo 1 two times each at a 32-bit color depth and at resolutions of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. The 1,024x768 test is set to high quality, while the 1,600x1,200 is set to ultraquality. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are set to 4X and 8X for both resolutions. This is done through the game and not the display control panel.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Alienware Area-51 ALX
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.4GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 925X chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra (PCIe); two WDC WD360GD-00TNA0 36GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801FR SATA RAID controller

Alienware Area-51
Windows XP Professional; 3.4GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra (AGP); two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller

Cyberpower Gamer Infinity 6800GT
Windows XP Professional; 3.4GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 925X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT (PCIe); two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; Maxtor 7Y250M0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Silicon Image SiI 3114 SATA RAID controller

Polywell Poly 939VF-FX53
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-53; Via K8T800 Pro chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce FX 5900XT (AGP); two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated WinXP Promise FastTrak 579 controller

Velocity Micro ProMagix PCX
Windows XP Professional; 3.6GHz Intel P4 560; Intel 925X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra (PCIe); two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; Hitachi HDS724040KLSA80 400GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801FR SATA RAID controller

The Alienware Area-51 ALX comes with a standard one-year warranty that includes toll-free, round-the-clock phone support and onsite service, as well as access to online driver and knowledge databases, technical-support chat rooms, and free shipping for replacement parts. An additional $199 extends the warranty to two years, and $300 covers your system for three years. At its price, we expected the system to be backed by a standard warranty longer than the single-year industry average.

In addition to Alienware's usual personalized technical-support service, ALX members enjoy preferential treatment. At the time of your order, a technical representative will help you configure your ALX system and keep you informed of your machine's status while it is being custom-built (the company builds only 200 per month). If you order a system online, a technician will call within the hour to discuss the specifics of your order, and Alienware will preship the keys to your ALX before it leaves the plant; the case comes with a Kensington lock on the front-panel door. As an ALX member, you can send Alienware up to three legitimate games or applications--no copies, please--for which the company will install, configure, and guarantee optimal performance. The software will be returned with your system.

ALX members also gain access to Alienware's game servers, where they can compete against other ALX owners and Alienware staff, plus members get a one-year pass to the ALXOnly Gamehelper portal, where you can request gaming tips and cheats; chat with other ALX owners; download the latest patches, drivers, and beta programs; and receive discounts on future game purchases.

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    Alienware Area-51 ALX

    Part Number: Area-51 ALX Released: Jun. 3, 2004

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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Release date Jun. 3, 2004
    • Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra
    • OS Provided Microsoft Windows XP Professional
    • Video Memory 256 MB GDDR3 SDRAM
    • Monitor Type CRT
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