Alienware Area-51 ALX (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770) review: Alienware Area-51 ALX (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770)

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The Good Fastest gaming performance to-date; fair pricing compared with other high-end PC vendors; useful customizable case lighting.

The Bad No 64-bit Vista option limits performance and memory support; distinctive case design not for everyone.

The Bottom Line Alienware delivers most of what we expect in a high-end gaming PC, but without 64-bit Vista support, the Area-51 ALX's overall performance is limited. It's the fastest thing going for PC gaming, but at this price we expect the complete package.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

From its chrome trim to its customizable case lighting, Alienware's Area-51 ALX high-end gaming desktop bears all the visual hallmarks of a luxury-class gaming PC. Our $7,738 review model came configured with Intel's highest-end Core 2 Extreme CPU, overclocked, no less, and a quad-graphics card set up, which give it the best gaming scores we've seen to date. But without an option for 64-bit Windows Vista, chances are you'll want to upgrade this system sooner that you'd like. If the Alienware chassis does it for you, and you're after the best gaming performance you can get today, the Area 51 ALX makes a strong case for itself. Forward-looking gamers with a lot of money to spend are better off looking to the Falcon Northwest Mach V or Maingear's Ephex for better future-proofing.

The Alienware case design remains unique in the industry. It's not for everyone, but it also comes with the best use of case lighting around if you opt for the $100 AlienFX upgrade, as was included in our review unit. AlienFX is an LED lighting and software combination lets you not only customize the color of the various LED lights zones around the case, but it also lets you tie the lights to various functions. You can use the software to shift the lighting to a particular mood-setting scheme when you open a game, and you can even tie it to certain application functions, like making the front panel alien head blink when you have new e-mail. No other vendor has such a feature that we know of, and although it's borderline gimmicky, it helps set Alienware's desktops apart.

AlienFX is an option for several Alienware desktops, but Alienware kept a few options exclusive to the Area-51 ALX. Chief among them is the capability to overclock the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 quad-core processor from 3.2GHz to 4.0GHz. Choosing that option costs you $450, because in addition to the $200 fee to overclock, Alienware also requires you to upgrade to a 1,200 watt power supply, a $250 premium over the 1,000 watt standard PSU. The other major exclusive feature is 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM. Alienware offers only 1,333MHz RAM on its other Area-51 systems.

While those features are unique to the Area-51 ALX, they're not exclusive to Alienware. Short of the custom lighting and the Alienware case, you can buy the exact same configuration from Maingear, and almost the same system from Falcon Northwest, minus the faster RAM. What Alienware doesn't offer that others do is 64-bit Windows Vista. If it did, the Area-51 ALX would be able to take advantage of all 4GB of RAM that came with our review unit. But because it only comes with 32-bit Vista, the Alienware system loses a portion of that memory, and its application performance suffers as a result.

Before we list the performance charts, we'll outline the difference between the Area-51 ALX and the Falcon Northwest Mach V we reviewed last week, because the two are similar, but with a few relevant differences.

  Falcon Northwest Mach V Alienware Area-51 ALX
Price $6,957 $7,738
Motherboard chipset Nvidia NForce 790i SLI Nvidia NForce 790i SLI
CPU 4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked) 4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked)
Memory 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2
Hard drives 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive (2) 160GB 10,000 rpm Western Digital Raptor hard drives (RAID 0); 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner with LightScribe 4x dual-layer Blu-ray burner
Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit)

From a price comparison stand-point, don't put too much stock in the Alienware's higher cost. It has a pricey pair of 160GB 10,000rpm hard drives, as well as the expensive 1,600MHz memory. Falcon only offers up to 1,066MHz RAM with the Mach V, but you can upgrade its single 7,200rpm drive to match the Alienware's storage configuration. Indeed, if you spec out either the Mach V or the Maingear Ephex in the charts to match the Alienware, the prices come within $100 of each other, so Alienware's value proposition is in line with other high-end PC manufacturers. But as you'll see, while its faster RAM and faster hard drives likely help it beat the Mach V on many of our tests, because the Area-51 ALX only has 32-bit Vista, it can't overcome the Mach V on all of our tests.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Uberclok Ion

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Uberclok Ion

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Uberclok Ion

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Maingear Ephex
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Uberclok Ion

The chart to look for here in particular is Photoshop, which is very memory intensive. As you can see, the Mach V finished the test almost 20 seconds faster than the Area-51 ALX. The Falcon also ekes out minor wins on our multitasking and CineBench tests. The Alienware systems is definitely no slouch, but imagine how much faster it could have been if Alienware had been more aggressive and adopted 64-bit Vista.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Maingear Ephex
Uberclok Ion

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