The Aurora 7500 is the perfect showcase for Alienware's ability to produce high-performance PCs. Its specification makes for impressive reading and should appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in games. Alienware has equipped it with not one, but two of the latest graphics cards, 1 terabyte of physical storage and the fastest gaming processor available. If you're after a PC that won't shy away from anything, you're reading the right review.
This PC is available direct from Alienware's Web site. If you click through to the Aurora 7500 page you can configure this review model -- it should come to about £3,400, depending on the extras you choose.
Wrestling an Alienware PC out of its enormous delivery box is always an exciting moment. It's a heavy beast -- it took two of us to safely extract it from its cardboard prison and lift it to its desk perch. Like all of the Aurora range, the 7500 uses the familiar Alienware Full Tower case, which is well over half a metre tall and has the customary set of gill/rib-like protrusions on either side of its lower quarters. Adhering to Alienware tradition, these are illuminated by LED lights -- the colour of which can be chosen when you purchase the PC.
The front of the chassis has a pull-out door, behind which lurks a pair of optical drives. There's an ordinary floppy disk drive mounted just below these, but there's a conspicuous lack of any memory card reader. There's some compensation in the fact that you get two pairs of USB ports at the bottom of the chassis, but you'll need to do a lot of bending over to access them if you position the base unit on the floor.
The rear of the PC plays host to a comprehensively-equipped rear input/output panel. This has four additional USB ports, a FireWire port, an external Serial ATA port, and a pair of Gigabit Ethernet adaptors. The motherboard has an onboard sound card, but Alienware has chosen to equip the PC with a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic, which includes four discrete audio ports and a serial port (other sound options are configurable on the site).
Internal examination of the Aurora 7500 reveals the same attention to detail we've come to expect from Alienware. All cabling is neatly arranged in an attempt to aid internal airflow and easy access. Our only gripe in this respect is that the outer shell of the case feels a tad plasticky and left us with the impression that Alienware has put all its efforts into the PC's components and neglected the exterior. Imagine a Ferrari made entirely of Lego and you'll see where we're coming from.
Despite its questionable outer build quality, the Aurora 7500 is still an Alienware, and as such, it uses quality components. The excellent Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe gaming motherboard serves as a great foundation for the PC and provides a number of useful features including twin gigabit LAN ports -- each of which can transfer files across a wired network at up to 10x quicker than an ordinary 100Mbps network adaptor.
One of these ports has Nvidia's ActiveArmor hardware firewall, which provides good security against Internet threats, and more so if used in conjunction with Windows XP Home's software firewall feature. By virtue of its twin LAN ports, the PC can function as a network router, enabling you to share Internet and printer resources with another PC.
Installed on top of the motherboard is an AMD Athlon FX-60 CPU -- currently the fastest desktop gaming processor available. Unlike its predecessor, the FX-55, it's a dual-core model, which means it uses a pair of processing cores on a single die. This is a tremendous aid to performance, particularly in multimedia or multitasking environments. If you like to listen to music, surf the Web and encode home movies all at the same time, you'll be pleased to know the FX-60 will do this without breaking a sweat.
The Aurora 7500 isn't lacking in memory, either. A hefty 2GB of DDR400 RAM is installed -- one 512MB DIMM in each of the motherboard's four memory slots, but this is something of a mistake on Alienware's part. The Athlon 64's memory controller can't access four separate memory modules at full speed -- the Command Rate in the BIOS drops to 2T instead of the faster 1T setting. We'd have expected the self-proclaimed experts in high-performance PCs to know this. If you want to make the most of your money, we'd recommend you buy the Aurora 7500 with two 1GB DIMMs instead of the four 512MB modules supplied here.
Gamers and specification junkies will love the fact that the Aurora 7500 uses two Nvidia Geforce 7800 GTX graphics cards running in a Serial Link Interface (SLI) configuration. The 7800 GTX has recently been superseded by the ridiculously quick GeForce 7900 GTX, but even this isn't a match for two 7800 GTXs running in tandem. Each card has a pair of DVI ports so you can drive up to four separate monitors. They also each have a TV-out port for piping your graphics through a television, but to get the most out of the cards you'll be better off using a dedicated PC monitor that's at least 19 inches in diagonal size.
Another of the Aurora 7500's star characteristics is its whopping 1 terabyte of physical storage space. This is provided by a single 500GB IBM Deskstar HDS725050KLA360 hard drive, and two 250GB Deskstar HDT722525DLA380 hard drives in a striped RAID array. The latter gives the PC the benefit of faster disc access, by splitting all read/write tasks equally between the two drives. Think of it as the equivalent of doing the washing up with four arms instead of two.
Reassuringly, Alienware has equipped the Aurora 7500 with a 600W Enermax power supply unit (PSU). This amount of power is overkill on most PCs, but it's a good addition here, as the system has a high number of internal components. There's a knob at the rear of the PSU that can increase or decrease the spin speed of its internal cooling fan, but this is fairly redundant because of the din emitted by the Akasa CPU fan and twin graphics cards.
Like most Alienware PCs, the Aurora 7500 comes with a variety of Alienware skins known as AlienGuise, to make the Windows XP Home operating system look different. It's ultimately a pointless feature, but it helps to remind users they've splashed out on a fairly exclusive PC.
The Aurora 7500's performance was unsurprisingly very impressive. Its FX-60 CPU helped it achieve a very strong PCMark 2005 score of 6,486 -- the highest result we've ever seen. The FX-60 is touted as a CPU primarily designed for gaming applications, but its dual-core architecture helps it chew its way through office productivity and multimedia applications quicker than any other desktop CPU we've seen.
Graphics performance was very impressive, as you'd expect from any PC that uses a pair of Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX graphics card in tandem. These helped the Aurora 7500 achieve a 3DMark 2006 score of 8,460 when running at a resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels -- again, the highest we've seen. Keen gamers will want to run games at a resolution of at least 1,600x1,200 pixels and in this case, the Aurora 7500 achieved an impressive 7,652.
Results from real-world gaming tests were also notable. It threw Doom 3 around the screen at a disturbingly quick 147 frames per second (fps) -- even at a resolution of 1,600x1,200 pixels. Increasing the image quality settings to 4x anti-aliasing and 4x anisotropic filtering did little to slow things down -- the game still ran at 120fps.
Only when applying the most intense level of graphics processing did the Aurora 7500 show any signs of fatigue. At a resolution of 1,600x1,200 pixels with 8x AA and 16x AF the game slowed to 61fps -- which is still perfectly smooth.
Editor's note: At time of publication, neither the graphics card nor the RAM configurations that we reviewed were available on the Alienware site. We expect them to be available again soon, however, and alternate configurations are available in the meantime.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide