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Alienware Area-51 X58 review: Alienware Area-51 X58

Alienware Area-51 X58

Rich Brown
Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
7 min read

Alienware pitched us this $6,473 Area-51 X58 desktop as one of the first PCs it has shipped that truly takes advantage of the buying muscle afforded by its parent company, Dell. Given that the features you get for the dollar noticeably surpass the $8,000 Falcon Northwest Mach V we tested last week, we have a hard time arguing. We still find the classic Alienware case clunky. We also wish Alienware offered overclocking in this model. Still, for the sheer density of features, Alienware offers an amazing value here. If you're a gamer whose wallet can take such a large hit, you'll find everything you need in this PC.


Alienware Area-51 X58

The Good

Cost-effective for a $6,500 PC; more storage than we've ever seen.

The Bad

Clunky Alienware case; overclocking and other features reserved for a still higher-end Alienware system; no HDMI output.

The Bottom Line

Even if we have a few reservations about this system, we can't deny that Alienware has an outstanding deal on its hands, with the Area 51 X58. It offers the same core hardware and twice the storage capacity as PCs that cost $1,500 more. High-end bargain hunters, assuming they exist, will find an amazing deal in this PC.

We won't spend too much time on Alienware's classic case design. It's one of the best known gaming chassis, and as such it's something of an icon. The stylized outer shell also lends more weight to the system and complicates removing and replacing the side panel. We don't love it, but perhaps you do.

  Alienware Area-51 X58 Falcon Northwest Mach V
Price $6,473 $8,028
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 Intel X58
CPU 3.2GHz Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition 3.79GHz Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition (overclocked)
Memory 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2
Hard drives (2) 128MB Samsung MLC solid state hard drives; (2) 1TB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drives 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive; 80GB Intel X-25M solid state drive
Optical drive 4x dual-layer Blu-ray burner 20x dual-layer DVD burner with LightScribe; 4x dual-layer Blu-ray burner
Networking Killer K1 Gaming NIC; Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit

To get a sense of just how much Alienware has crammed inside this desktop, consider the side-by-side features chart above that pits the Area-51 X58 against the Falcon Northwest Mach V. Each has Intel's latest high-end processor, 12GB of DDR3 system memory, and a pair of dual-chip ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards. We expect those features in any $5,000-plus PC. But the Alienware also has twice the storage capacity in standard hard drives, 2TB between two hard drives, compared with the single 1TB drive in the Mach V.

Alienware offers more storage than we've seen in any other desktop.

Each vendor installed the operating system on fast, silent solid-state storage. Alienware trumps Falcon Northwest here by spanning the Windows boot partition across two 128GB Samsung solid-state drives. Falcon Northwest went with a single 80GB Intel X-25M drive. We can't speak to the Samsung versus the Intel drives in side-by-side competition, but as our system-level performance charts show, the Area-51 X58 competes very well against the Mach V, especially given that the Alienware isn't overclocked, and Falcon Northwest system costs $1,500 more.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Alienware Area-51 X58
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Maingear Ephex
Dell XPS 730 H2C

You can see on our charts that clock speed definitely matters. The 3.2GHz Alienware lags noticeably on our iTunes tests behind both the 3.79GHz Falcon Northwest Mach V and a 3.8GHz Dell from earlier this year. It also loses on our other tests, by measurable amounts. Professionals and performance-sensitive gamers will find that the Falcon Northwest PC will provide a faster user experience, so we can't recommend the Alienware to those for whom speed matters above all else. Of course, if you value storage capacity as well as performance, we have yet to see a computer that offers such an impressive balance of both as the Alienware.

Unreal Tournament 3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  

Our gaming tests reveal the Area-51 X58 to be one of the fastest desktops we've ever tested, and it even squeaks by with a win on our high-resolution Unreal Tournament 3 test. Because both this system and the Falcon have a pair of dual-chip ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards inside, each system has four distinct 3D chips to work with. We give our Crysis test a bit more credence at this point, since the 300-plus scores on Unreal Tournament 3 push that test beyond the point of relevance (we're working on a new gaming benchmark). On Crysis, the Falcon Northwest Mach V remains the only system to handle that game at 1,600x1,200 with full detail and hit 60 frames per second, the PC gaming hallowed ground. Again, the Area-51 X58 is no question a member of the upper echelon of gaming PCs. If Alienware offered overclocking in this model, we suspect it would compete with the Falcon Northwest Mach for the top spot across every test.

Which is not to say that Alienware doesn't overclock any of its PCs. The Area-51 ALX X58 has a liquid-cooling option that allows it to ship with the CPU clocked above its factory settings. We can't say we understand the necessity of the distinction, especially when with the various options you can still get the price of a non-ALX Area-51 up to $7,000 with little effort. We suspect this has something to do with offering an "ultra-premium" experience with the higher-end ALX model.

In any case, Alienware still offers plenty to like in the Area-51 X58. We've mentioned the plentiful storage space. If that wasn't enough, Bigfoot Networks' Killer K1 gaming network card is also a popular gaming performance feature. That card has been shown to accelerate networked gaming performance beyond even a Gigabit Ethernet adapter, so it will surely be welcome by first-person shooter fans who compete online. Falcon Northwest offers the same option, but for an extra $150.

To be fair to the Mach V, Falcon sent it to us with a $600 paint job that you could very easily opt out of. That would knock the price of that system down to $7,400, which would still get you overclocking and faster performance than the Area-51 X58. That still leaves the Mach V with only half as much hard-drive storage, and no gaming network card.

We find it mildly disappointing that Alienware offers no media card reader option for this system, although you can always add one yourself. The front drive bays are relatively free, with only one slot occupied by a Blu-ray burner and two left open. There's also one free hard-drive bay inside, as well as a single 1x PCI Express card slot. Given the number of hard drives and cards included in the system, it's not exactly surprising that internal expansion is limited.

External ports include a pair of FireWire 400 ports, a single eSATA port, optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital audio outs, as well as the standard collection of analog audio and USB 2.0 jacks. We're surprised that Alienware sent no HDMI adapter for the graphics cards. HDMI may not exactly be crucial for a full-tower PC such as this one, but many vendors at least include an adapter to make the option available.

Finally, there was a time when Alienware included its AlienFX case lighting control software in all of its PCs, but apparently it's changed that strategy. Like overclocking, the lighting control option is now only available in Alienware's ALX desktops. We understand that Alienware might want to differentiate its very highest-end desktop, but it makes us wonder why it needs two high-end tiers at all, especially when the price of the vanilla Area-51 can become just as stratospheric as the ALX model.

Alienware's service and support compares favorably with the rest of the desktop PC industry. The default warranty gets you one year of parts and labor coverage, with onsite service included, as well as 24-7, toll-free phone support. Alienware includes its Respawn recovery software for returning the system to its factory-pure state. You can also find support Alienware's Web site, including driver downloads, warranty upgrades, and other help.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Alienware Area-51 X58
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.2GHz Intel Core i7-965; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 128GB Samsung MLC solid-state hard drives; (2) 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drives.

Dell XPS 730 H2C
Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 3.8GHz Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770; 2GB 1,600MHz (overclocked) DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive.

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition)
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card: 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive; 80GB Intel X-25 solid-state hard drive.

Maingear Ephex
Windows Vista Ultimate; 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; 2GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drives; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive.

Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive


Alienware Area-51 X58

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Support 8
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