Buying a high-end gaming rig isn't supposed to be cheap. We've come to expect that the best of the best in PC hardware will run you around $5,000 or more. The problem is that once one vendor throws a wrench in the works, the whole game changes. The Alienware Area-51 7500 we've reviewed here will cost you $5,779. For that price you get an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 chip, aka an "Intel Quad", and a single Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card, among other performance hardware. That price tag seems high for a game PC with a single 3D card, but knowing that you'd add about $1,000 worth of additional hardware to make this system an SLI rig (scalable link interface, which allows two video cards to be linked together, producing a single output), we don't blame Alienware for trying to keep the price lower on this review unit, especially when even one 8800 GTX is overkill for games currently on the market. Here's the problem: Polywell offers a nearly identical configuration but for $2,000 less. The Area-51 7500 has more bells and whistles, from its case to its internal cooling hardware, and its look is definitely more distinctive. But from a raw price-performance outlook, it's hard to look at the price tag of this Alienware system and feel like you're getting a good deal.
When you compare the Area-51 7500 and the Polywell Poly i680 SLI side by side, the Alienware box has more features but not as many as you'd expect. Both come with the aforementioned Intel quad-core CPU and the GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card. They also both have 2GB of high-quality 800 MHz DDR2 SDRAM. They each have the same pair of 150GB, 10,000rpm hard drives working in tandem as the same boot partition for fast loading of the operating system and applications, although Alienware gets the edge here with its extra 250GB, 7,200rpm storage drive. Alienware also has a $200 special Alienware-branded Sound Blaster X-Fi card, while the Polywell relies upon onboard audio. Polywell gets the win with optical drives in that it has a dual-layer DVD burner and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. Alienware only has a single DVD burner, although it does give you the option to add two Blu-ray burners for an additional $900.
Beyond the typical features, our Area-51 7500 included all of Alienware's chassis upgrade options: liquid-based cooling hardware, a video cooling fan array, and the finally finished AlienFX System Lighting software. The lighting software, which lets you customize the external lighting color and make it blink or otherwise alert you to various system events (new e-mail and so on), is actually useful and lives up to the claims Alienware made about it when they showed us an early version of the software in 2006. No other PC we know of has lighting you can customize to that extent, and we especially like the fact that it actually serves a purpose other than looking gaudy.
It might surprise you to find out that even though this system's price tag is close to $6,000, it's not quite SLI capable. Its Nforce 680i SLI motherboard has three full-length PCI Express slots (two at PCI Express's full 16x of bandwidth), but the problem is the power supply unit (PSU). The review unit that Alienware sent us only has a 700-watt PSU. A modern SLI configuration will require at least a 750-watt power supply, if not a 1-kilowatt unit. This means this system can only run a single GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card, not two of them, which the motherboard is designed to support. Alienware offers a 1-kilowatt PSU on its configurator for an additional $350, so you can certainly turn the Area-51 7500 into a viable SLI platform. We can also see why you might only want a single GeForce 8800 GTX card right now. Two of those cards are probably overkill for current games unless you're going really crazy with resolution and image-quality settings. The 700-watt PSU also helps keep the price down, but not enough to stop us from scratching our heads over the Area-51 7500's value proposition.
At $5,779, this system is the priciest Core 2 Extreme QX6700-based unit we've seen so far, even surpassing the
For games' performance, the Alienware has a slight edge over the Polywell but, again, not enough to justify its cost. We should add that given their next-generation hardware, both of these PCs will play any game on the market at its highest image-quality settings. Interestingly, the Alienware Edition sound card that comes in the Area-51 7500 is supposed to improve game performance thanks to added onboard memory, but based on our 3D testing (which we conduct with audio enabled) the games we tested it with don't seem to benefit from the added X-RAM. Perhaps other titles would see some performance gain, but we suspect this new technology will need developers to code their games to support it, and we haven't heard any announcements along these lines so far.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
|2,048x1,536 (4x AA, 8x AF)||1,600x1,200 (4x AA, 8xAF)||1,280x1,024 (4x AA, 8x AF)|
|2,048x1,536 (4x AA, 8X AF)||1,600x1,200 (4x AA, 8x AF)||1,280x1,024 (4x AA, 8x AF)|
Given the relatively negligible performance difference, we have to ask what you'd get with the $5,779 Alienware that you don't with the $3,799 Polywell. You can add a standard Creative X-Fi sound card and a comparable third hard drive for an extra $220, and Alienware also included the Logitech's G15 Gaming Keyboard and its G5 Laser Mouse, which add $150 to its price tag. But accounting for all of that hardware still leaves Alienware about $1,550 over. We like the customizable lighting on the Alienware case, but even combined with the cooling hardware, those parts alone aren't worth the cost of a decent midrange PC. We'd feel better about the price if Alienware included an SLI-capable power supply, which would at least leave you with an easy upgrade option. Right now, this system seems to have a "boutique vendor" cost added onto it that doesn't apply to similar PCs from the smaller guys. We will credit Alienware's service and support as superior to Polywell's, although again, that doesn't really balance the ledger. Its default warranty includes 24/7 phone support, as well as on-site service. We wish it lasted for more than just one year, especially for such an expensive PC, but we've complained about this for years now, and no vendor seems willing to extend the default warranty. We also like Alienware's helpful online resources, which include all manner of documentation and other support for troubleshooting problems. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Alienware Area-51 7500 (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700)
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (overclocked to 3.2GHz); 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; two 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drives (RAID 0); 250GB Samsung 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive
Apple Mac Pro
OS X 10.4.7; 2x 2.66GHz Xeon 5150; 1,024MB 667MHz DDR2 FB-SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7300GT; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive
PC Club Enpower Velocity 05 SLI
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0)
Polywell Poly i680SLI (quad-core)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0)