At 19 inches high, 9.5 inches wide, and 24 inches long, the new chassis is shorter than the old model (24 by 8.5 by 21 inches), but it's more voluminous, most notably from its extra 3 inches in length. We like that the new case isn't as tall; it finally fits on our lab bench, and it stands a better chance of finding a spot under your desk. Thanks to a smartly designed electrical contact system, the side-panel fan and lights aren't connected to the PC's power supply by a wire; instead, they get their juice when the case-side and panel-side contacts meet. This feature means no messing with wires to take the panel off, but you still have to line up the alien eyepiece into its slot on the front. The contact boards also block expansion slot access, a minor nuisance.
The hands-down coolest feature of the new case is its lighting system. The new chassis has five external lighting locations. Through a custom-built software interface (we saw a beta version), you can change each light to virtually any color you can imagine. Better, you can also program certain behaviors to the lights to tie-in to application or general system activity. You can set the lights to turn off automatically when a DVD movie starts, and you can make them blink when you have a new e-mail message; its effectively like having a PC with an Ambient Orb built-in. Alienware isn't the first desktop vendor to give case lighting a practical use, but it's by far the most fully realized.
It should come as no surprise that the ever-performance minded Alienware debuts its chassis with Intel's new Core 2 Duo chip. Our review system came with the 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800, the top dog in the Core 2 Duo stable and also the overall CPU performance leader. Alienware even gave it a boost, overclocking it to 3.26GHz. Paired with 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, the Nforce 590 SLI chipset, and two 512MB GeForce 7900 GTX 3D cards, this Area-51 7500 competes against the Dell XPS 700, the Falcon Northwest Mach V, and other recent high-end systems outfitted with Intel's latest CPU. The only system we've tested that's faster than the Alienware is the Velocity Micro Raptor DCX, which won on all but a single benchmark. That doesn't mean that the Alienware is slow, especially considering that the Raptor DCX costs $1,000 more. The only pinch you might feel is when Vista hits and you find that your 3D cards don't support DirectX 10 and the latest gaming features that new API will bring. That problem is common to all of the reviewed systems, however, and won't change until ATI and Nvidia release their next-gen 3D cards.
For the rest of the Area-51 7500, you get a fairly standard high-end config. Our unit came with two 250GB 7,200rpm hard drives, giving you ample storage, although you might want the faster access speeds of a 10,000rpm storage setup, which Alienware offers via two 150GB drives for an additional $350. You get a single dual-layer DVD burner, complete with LightScribe capability. With two dual-slot graphics cards, there's room for only one other expansion card. Alienware offers sound cards and the PhysX card as options.
Alienware's support hasn't changed. You still get a single year of parts and labor coverage, plus 24/7 toll-free phone support and a year of onsite support. You can upgrade to additional years, but we think that a $5,000 system should come with three years of coverage for no additional charge, so we wish Alienware wasn't so stingy in terms of the duration. Online, there's a broad array of support features, including driver downloads, forums, a FAQ, and other useful information.
|McAfee VirusScan and DivX 6.1 multitasking test|
|Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test|
|Apple iTunes encoding test|
|Microsoft Office productivity test|
|Quake 4 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF||F.E.A.R. 1,600x1,200 SS 8xAF||F.E.A.R. 1,024x768 SS 8xAF|
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Alienware Area-51 7500
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.26GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; Nvida Nforce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX SLI; (2) Western Digital Raptors 150GB 10,000rpm SATA; Nvidia nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Dell XPS X700
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; Nvidia Nforce 590 SLI chipset; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX SLI; (2) Western Digital 320GB 7,200rpm SATA; Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
*Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.14GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; Intel 975X chipset; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 SLI; Western Digital Raptor 150GB 10,000rpm SATA;
*Velocity Micro Raptor DCX
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.19GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; Intel 975X chipset; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon X1900 Crossfire; (2) Western Digital Raptors 150GB 10,000rpm SATA; Western Digital 400GB, 7,200prm, SATA; Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
AMD test bed
Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard; Nvidia Nforce 590 SLI chipset; Corsair 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX (PCIe); WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; Windows XP Professional SP2; PC Power & Cooling 1kw power supply