Alienware Aurora review: A lot of VR-ready desktop in a small package

The Good The Alienware Aurora can fit two graphics cards into a relatively small case. Interior access doesn't require a screwdriver, and future GPU upgrades should be easy.

The Bad This is still big and heavy for a mid-size gaming desktop, some components are hidden behind the power supply, and some of the latest highest-end component options aren't available yet.

The Bottom Line Alienware's mid-size Aurora is very flexible, and one of the smallest dual-GPU-ready gaming desktops, but it's still going to hog a lot of floor space under your desk.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Alienware Aurora

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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