Alienware's desktop gaming lineup has seen a recent shuffle, mixing up the catalog of products available, while keeping the same general small-medium-large division between them. Losing out in the reshuffle is the X51 desktop, a slim but flexible small form factor system. In its place, Alienware has launched the Aurora, a new mid-size tower with a more accessible chassis and wider configuration options. Anchoring the small and large slots in this lineup are the newly refreshed Alienware Alpha and the giant Area-51 desktop.
In one sense, it's a shame, because the X51 was one of the smallest desktops that could be configured to run current-gen virtual reality headsets (which have very heavy hardware requirements). But the switch-up also makes sense because the revamped Alpha -- itself smaller than a living room game console -- now has desktop-level processors and graphics, making it a much more practical entry level gaming rig.
Taking over that middle spot in Alienware's lineup is the Aurora, a new system that uses a resurrected name previously used on other Alienware products from the mid-2000s until just a few years ago.
Like most Alienware systems, the Aurora offers a deep set of configuration options. Our test unit included an Intel Core i7-6700K, the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card, and a 256GB SSD/2TB HDD storage combo, for a total of $2,279 (the closest similar configurations in other territories go for £1,609 and AU$3,667). The least-expensive configurations (which are decidedly not VR-ready, start at $799/£699/AU$1,599.
|Price as reviewed||$2,279|
|PC CPU||4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2400MHz|
|Graphics||8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080|
|Storage||256GB SSD + 2TB 7200rpm HDD|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)|
Design and upgradability
This new Aurora is a relatively svelte 14 inches deep by 18 inches tall by 8 inches wide, and the chassis takes a good deal of its design DNA from the larger Area 51, with three side lights on the angled case echoing the pyramid-like design on that larger desktop. It's very sharp-looking, without going over the top. And keep in mind that this is a custom design, while gaming desktops from smaller PC makers almost always come built into off-the-shelf cases, despite costing as much or more than an Alienware.
This is the smallest Alienware desktop that can handle dual graphics cards, and if you want to start out with a single card and add another later, the traditional side panel screws have been replaced with a simple rear latch, making it easy to access the case interior. That's often called a "tool-less" design, as you don't need a screwdriver or other tools to get to the motherboard and accessory slots.
Inside the easy to open case, you can access the second graphics card slot, as well as the hard drive bays, but the CPU and RAM are hidden away behind the power supply, which folds out on a hinge after undoing a couple of screws. It's all part of how the relatively small chassis can hold two GPUs, three hard drives and more in a very compact space.
The end result is an interior where everything fits, but also one that feels cramped, with its internal cables densely packed, at least compared to the full-size desktops from Origin PC, Velocity Micro, Digital Storm and others we've tested recently. Despite this, we didn't notice any heat issues or excessive fan noise, even when running high-end VR applications.
Like the company's other systems, the Aurora includes a handy software suite for controlling various system functions, from the AlienFX lighting scheme to thermal controls. You can, for example, set the system fan speed manually or leave it up to the system to control automatically. I left the lights on their default blue settings, but you can program all sorts of of patterns and color combinations.
Performance and gaming
In our performance tests, we compared the Aurora to a handful of other recent gaming desktops with Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs. All the systems in that roundup had either one or two GeForce 1080 cards and one of a handful of high-end processor choices. With only a single GPU, and the Intel Core i7-6700K CPU rather than a faster 6900K or 6950X CPU, it was one of the slower performers in this particular high-end collection, but also one of the least expensive. That high-end Core i7 6950X and the just-released GeForce 1080Ti GPU aren't currently listed as configuration options in the Aurora.
With a couple of tweaks, you could get very similar performance to our test system for just around $2,000, and that includes the 1080 graphics card, so there's plenty of built-in future-proofing here.
In standard PC games, from Overwatch to Fallout 4, or VR games, such as Edge of Nowhere and Raw Data, the Aurora performed smoothly, with no slowdown or stuttering, and no random crashes (always something to look out for in bleeding edge gaming desktops).
Despite not being as fast as some of the other Nvidia 1080 desktops we've tested (which can easily cost more than twice as much) if you go back to the first round of VR-ready desktops we tested just a few months ago, which featured systems with GeForce 970 and 980 graphics cards, this Aurora configuration stands out.
Compared to it's sister system, the VR-ready Dell XPS 8900, which runs around $1,200, the Aurora doubled many of the performance scores. My opinion continues to be that just around $2,000 is the sweet spot for performance and value in a VR-ready desktop,
|Origin PC Millennium||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.4GHz Intel Core i7-6950X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; (oc) (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 3TB HDD|
|Origin PC Omni||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 500GB SSD + 2TB HDD|
|Alienware Aurora R5||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 256GB SSD + 2TB HDD|
|Digital Storm Velox||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.3GHz Intel Core i7-6900K; 30GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; (2) Nvidia GeFroce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD|
|Digital Storm Aura||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 1TB HDD|
|Velocity Micro Raptor Z55||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4.2GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 3TB HDD|
|Acer Predator G1 710||Micorsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-6700; 30GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 8GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD|
|Falcon Northwest Fragbox||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6950X; 64GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; (oc) (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 6TB HDD|