Alienware Area-51 7500 (Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800) review: Alienware Area-51 7500 (Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800)

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The Good Intel Core 2 Extreme is the fastest chip out there; new chassis is shorter than past alien-head cases; innovative and customizable lighting; untethered side panel.

The Bad New case is still huge.

The Bottom Line It's not the fastest PC (it's second), nor is it the most competitively priced, but Alienware's Area-51 7500 does have the most innovative case. With a wholly customizable lighting scheme in its new chassis, Alienware makes case lights functional, a trick no one has really pulled off yet. That and its fast performance make it stand above other current high-end PCs.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 6

Alienware is perhaps the best known of the high-end gaming PC vendors, thanks in large part to its distinctive alien-head chassis. We've never really liked the design; the plastic shell is cumbersome, and simple tasks, such as removing and reattaching the side panel, were a pain because of the sculpted front. We're pleased to see that Alienware has redesigned the case, shortening the height and extending the length, streamlining the front and side panels, and adding a best-of-breed--and actually useful--lighting system. Add in Intel's brand-new Core 2 Extreme X6800 chip, and the Alienware Area-51 7500 becomes as cutting-edge as any other PC on the market. In terms of price and performance, it sits in the middle of the high-end Core 2 Duo pack. At $4,970, the system is $1,000 more than Dell's slower XPS 700 and $1,000 less than the benchmark-leading Velocity Micro Raptor DCX. All of these systems are fast and expensive; the Alienware Area-51 7500's truly innovative case helps it stand out.

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.

Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
McAfee VirusScan and DivX 6.1 multitasking test  
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 test bed
Note: * CPU and graphics card are overclocked

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test  
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 test bed
Note: * CPU and graphics card are overclocked

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test  
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 test bed
Note: * CPU and graphics card are overclocked

Microsoft Office productivity test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Microsoft Office productivity test  
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 test bed
Note: * CPU and graphics card are overclocked

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