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Alienware Area-51 ALX: Exclusive hands-on with the fastest PC ever

Bow before us, mortals, for we have an exclusive look at the fastest gaming PC in the world. It calls itself the Alienware Area-51 ALX, but you, puny human, will refer to it as Sir

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Bow before us mortals, for we have a exclusive look at the fastest gaming PC in the world. It calls itself the Alienware Area-51 ALX, but you, puny human, will refer to it as Sir, lest it tear your arms off at the sockets and beat you about the face with the wet ends.

The most impressive thing about this system is its audacious chassis, which is beautiful and scary in equal measure. Once you've heaved this 20kg behemoth from its box and treated yourself for the resultant back injuries, you'll want to take a moment to admire its half-alien, half stealth-bomber design. Its matte black finish and contrasting chrome highlights give it the futuristic, almost industrial look of a product that wouldn't look out of place on a Romulan warship.

The Area-51 ALX does a good impression of a living, breathing weapon of mass destruction, particularly when you hit the power button and it suddenly comes alive. As its many cooling fans roar to a crescendo, seven cooling slats along the top edge rise (like the feathers on the head of a cockatiel, only scarier) creating a larger venting area that assists in keeping this monster from overheating. It's totally unnecessary, yes, but boy is it cool.

The drama of the boot-up sequence continues with the machine's elaborate AlienFX lighting system. These aren't the ordinary LEDs you find on most gaming rigs -- oh no -- this is far more elaborate. The light show is split into eight zones: two vertical strips along the front, one horizontal strip across the lower front edge, two larger strips on each of the side panels, one along the motorised vents on the top, and one for the alien-head logo, which doubles as a button for opening the motorised optical drive shield.

Each of these can be independently assigned one of 20 colours (or told to cycle between a pair of colours) through the Windows-based AlienFX Command Centre software. According to Alienware, this allows for 64 million possible colour combinations, so you can be as gaudy or as tasteful with it as you like.

Our Alienware Area-15 ALX test rig uses the top-end Intel Core i7 975. This monster of a CPU has four cores, each designed to run at 3.33GHz. Users are given the option of a factory overclock to bin+1. In the case of our test rig, this results in each core running at a relatively ludicrous 3.66GHz, though Alienware says it'll reach as high as 3.86GHz. We also got the standard 6GB of DDR3 running at 1,600MHz, upgradeable to 12GB of DDR3.

Graphics are handled by not one but two Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 graphics cards, which between them have four graphics-processing units and 3.6GB of DDR3 memory. It's also packing two 1.5TB SATA hard drives (totalling 3TB) and two 256GB solid-state drives, on which the operating system is stored. Dell gives you a choice of either Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows 7 Ultimate.

So, is it fast? In a word, yes. We've yet to run official benchmarks, but it's already scored 5.9 on the Windows Performance Index (the highest we've ever seen) and it treats demanding games such as Tom Clancy's Endwar and the legendary Crysis as if they were Snake for the Nokia 5800. Get this -- while running Street Fighter IV at 2,560x1,600 pixels, with all graphics enhancements switched on, CPU usage was a meagre 14 per cent.

When you're done reading this, click through our photo gallery to check the system out in more detail. In the meantime, we're off to conduct a full test and will be back to let you know exactly how good this monster really is.

The Alienware Area-51 ALX will be available from Alienware's UK site in November, starting at a teeth-sucking £2,899.

Update: A previous version of this story was published with the wrong product name. We apologise for the error.

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The Area-51 ALX looks pretty menacing, even when sat in front of CNET UK's cutesy ball pit. Right now, it's saying, "Come any closer and i'll cut you with my fins."
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These scary fins are part of an active venting system. They open and close automatically, depending on the amount of heat being dissipated by the internal components.
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Both sides of the case open and no screwdrivers are required to do so.
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On the left, you'll find the storage area, consisting of six hard drive bays. Two are empty, while two are occupied by twin 1.5TB SATA units for primary storage, and two are fitted with twin 256GB solid-state drives used to house the operating system.
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The right side gives you access to the Area-51 ALX's main components.
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Open the door and the white LED 'theatre lights' come on, just like in a fridge. A set of AA batteries can be installed in the unit to allow the lights to come on even when the machine isn't plugged into the mains. This comes in really handy when you're tinkering in the dark.
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Fire up the power, and the AlienFX lighting system comes to life. Each of the lighting zones can be assigned its own colour.
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Lovin' the alien-style glyphs on the side panel.
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The keyboard has two independent lighting zones for the backlit keys, and the shortcut media buttons along the top edge.

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