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Alienware Aurora 3500 review: Alienware Aurora 3500

Alienware's Aurora 3500 gaming PC has all the configurability and solid support of a higher-end system, but without the heart-stopping price tag. Especially if you're already set with a monitor and speakers, the Aurora 3500 lets you configure a strong, expandable gaming PC without going into major debt.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
6 min read
Alienware Aurora 3500

Alienware's ultra-high-end ALX systems may grab the headlines, but the company can still build a gaming PC that doesn't require a second mortgage. Witness the Aurora 3500, the entry-level model in Alienware's AMD-based Aurora line. A competent, if somewhat unexciting, gaming PC for users who want that Alienware cachet but don't have a lot of extra cash, the Aurora 3500 starts at $689. Our $1,995 review unit includes upgrades that deliver high-end performance, though the bundled monitor and speakers fail to impress. Neither peripheral kills the deal, and if you have your own already, you can shave something off the price and still end up with a powerful gaming PC that has the potential to grow with you.


Alienware Aurora 3500

The Good

Above-average performer; gives you room to grow, including a slot for a second graphics card; 10 USB 2.0 ports.

The Bad

Boring case; small hard drive; entry-level speakers; so-so monitor.

The Bottom Line

Alienware's affordable Aurora 3500 gaming rig puts the pedal to the metal, but you'll be happier if you bring your own monitor and speakers along for the ride.

The jet-black Aurora 3500 eschews the alien-head cases for which Alienware is known and instead uses a more understated midtower chassis. We're not sure why the company opted for this model; according to the Aurora 3500's online configurator, you can select the full-tower case for $21 less.

The midtower case is not without its merits, however. For one, it has a smaller footprint (16.7 inches high by 7.8 inches wide by 18.3 inches deep) than the clunky full-size case (22 inches high by 9.5 inches wide by 22.5 inches deep). The smaller chassis also has a lockable, double-hinged front door that folds around to the side of the case, where it stays neatly out of the way. This feature is handy in that it solves the common door-is-always-flopping-around problem, but the plastic construction seems flimsy. One accidental knock with a knee or an elbow would likely do some damage (the Aurora 3500 is not the only system with this problem). We're also less than thrilled with the front-panel USB 2.0, FireWire, and audio ports, which are deeply recessed behind a spring-loaded access panel.

Despite its relatively small footprint, the Alienware Aurora 3500 remains an extremely expandable system. It's neat and roomy on the inside, with ample space for extra drives, cards, and RAM sticks. It also features a whopping 10 USB 2.0 ports (and two FireWire, for those counting).

We appreciate the plastic locking mechanism that holds the graphics card in place. All too often, we receive PCs with cards that have jostled loose in shipping, resulting in a system that won't boot. This simple contrivance prevents that from happening. Speaking of graphics cards, the Aurora comes with the enviable Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT--and room for a second one, should you someday to decide to invest in an SLI configuration. This expandability is crucial for gaming systems, and we're glad to see Alienware make the allowance for upgrading. The near-ridiculous 650-watt power supply gives you plenty of power overhead as well.

Before you upgrade the graphics, however, you may want to consider investing in a larger hard drive: the included 160GB Serial ATA II drive probably won't satisfy power users. Thankfully, for just $66 extra, you can opt for a 250GB drive at the time of purchase. As for everything else--the single-core AMD Athlon 64 3800+ processor, the 1GB of dual-channel PC3200 RAM, and the double-layer DVD burner--the Aurora 3500 is more than sufficiently stocked. You can also upgrade it with a dual-core CPU down the road, thanks to the motherboard's AMD-compatible Socket 939 chipset.

In its current configuration, however, the Alienware Aurora 3500 is well suited to gaming and day-to-day computing. Its SysMark 2004 scores placed it exactly where we expected it on the application-performance scale, which is to say that it's capable of handling common tasks with aplomb. Its score of 187 was second only to that of the overclocked Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX. For gaming, you should have no problem with the likes of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, even with all the graphics bells and whistles turned on. You might need to dial down the settings for newer games, such as F.E.A.R. or Call of Duty 2, but the Aurora 3500 will still tackle them well enough for all but the pickiest performance wonks.

While we're happy with the Aurora 3500 on the inside, on the outside it's plain to see where Alienware skimped to meet our sub-$2,000 criteria. We were displeased with the slightly fuzzy picture quality of the AOC LM740e monitor, a 17-inch analog LCD with limited tilt range and blown-out colors. Some fiddling with the contrast and brightness settings helped, but ultimately this is not a superior monitor. At least its 12ms response time kept movie and game images free of ghosting and streaking.

Similarly, the bundled Creative Inspire T3000 speakers--two satellites and a subwoofer--are competent but hardly powerful enough to please serious gamers. We think a $2,000 PC should come with better than a $40 set of speakers. Likewise, we wouldn't mind finding at least one game in the box, if not antivirus software, but Alienware provides little more than CyberLink's PowerDVD and Nero's OEM suite of disc-burning software.

The company is a bit more generous in the service department, offering 24/7 toll-free phone support on top of its one-year warranty (which includes onsite service). The only downside is that adding just one more year to the coverage costs a whopping $195. You'll also find comprehensive support for the Aurora 3500 online, with a knowledge base, driver downloads, and Alienware's My Hive Personal Support Area, which features help specific to your exact configuration.

Application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

Half-Life 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF  
Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF  
* Indicates graphics and CPU are overclocked

Doom 3 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Doom 3 1,024x768, 4XAA and 8XAF  
Doom 3 1,600x1,200, 4XAA and 8XAF  
* Indicates graphics and CPU are overclocked

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce-4 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT (PCIe); Seagate ST3200826AS 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Alienware Aurora 3500
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT (PCIe); Samsung HD160JJ 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Maingear Prelude 64
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 3200+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GS (PCIe SLI); two WDC WD2500KS-00MJB0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce-4 RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX (Athlon 64 3700+)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3700+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT (PCIe); WDC WD2000JB-00GVC0 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA


Alienware Aurora 3500

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Support 7