Which is not to say that Alienware doesn't overclock any of its PCs. The Area-51 ALX X58 has a liquid-cooling option that allows it to ship with the CPU clocked above its factory settings. We can't say we understand the necessity of the distinction, especially when with the various options you can still get the price of a non-ALX Area-51 up to $7,000 with little effort. We suspect this has something to do with offering an "ultra-premium" experience with the higher-end ALX model.
In any case, Alienware still offers plenty to like in the Area-51 X58. We've mentioned the plentiful storage space. If that wasn't enough, Bigfoot Networks' Killer K1 gaming network card is also a popular gaming performance feature. That card has been shown to accelerate networked gaming performance beyond even a Gigabit Ethernet adapter, so it will surely be welcome by first-person shooter fans who compete online. Falcon Northwest offers the same option, but for an extra $150.
To be fair to the Mach V, Falcon sent it to us with a $600 paint job that you could very easily opt out of. That would knock the price of that system down to $7,400, which would still get you overclocking and faster performance than the Area-51 X58. That still leaves the Mach V with only half as much hard-drive storage, and no gaming network card.
We find it mildly disappointing that Alienware offers no media card reader option for this system, although you can always add one yourself. The front drive bays are relatively free, with only one slot occupied by a Blu-ray burner and two left open. There's also one free hard-drive bay inside, as well as a single 1x PCI Express card slot. Given the number of hard drives and cards included in the system, it's not exactly surprising that internal expansion is limited.
External ports include a pair of FireWire 400 ports, a single eSATA port, optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital audio outs, as well as the standard collection of analog audio and USB 2.0 jacks. We're surprised that Alienware sent no HDMI adapter for the graphics cards. HDMI may not exactly be crucial for a full-tower PC such as this one, but many vendors at least include an adapter to make the option available.
Finally, there was a time when Alienware included its AlienFX case lighting control software in all of its PCs, but apparently it's changed that strategy. Like overclocking, the lighting control option is now only available in Alienware's ALX desktops. We understand that Alienware might want to differentiate its very highest-end desktop, but it makes us wonder why it needs two high-end tiers at all, especially when the price of the vanilla Area-51 can become just as stratospheric as the ALX model.
Alienware's service and support compares favorably with the rest of the desktop PC industry. The default warranty gets you one year of parts and labor coverage, with onsite service included, as well as 24-7, toll-free phone support. Alienware includes its Respawn recovery software for returning the system to its factory-pure state. You can also find support Alienware's Web site, including driver downloads, warranty upgrades, and other help.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Alienware Area-51 X58
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.2GHz Intel Core i7-965; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 128GB Samsung MLC solid-state hard drives; (2) 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drives.
Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 3.8GHz Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770; 2GB 1,600MHz (overclocked) DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive.
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card: 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive; 80GB Intel X-25 solid-state hard drive.
Windows Vista Ultimate; 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; 2GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drives; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive.
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive