Alienware is one of 13 desktop manufacturers partnered with Nvidia to sell PCs with four discrete graphics chips inside, ostensibly to deliver the highest of high-end 3D gaming power. Nvidia first announced this technology, called Quad SLI, back in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, by way of Dell's limited-edition XPS 600 Renegade. Five months later,
Nvidia itself admits that Quad SLI is meant for only the most demanding and well-off gamer, not least because in order to put it to best advantage, you need a high-resolution display (2,560x1,600). There are currently only two such screens on the market, the 30-inch LCDs from Apple and Dell, each of which cost more than $2,000. So before you even shell out for the computer, you need to spend the equivalent of four eMachines desktops on the monitor to get everything out of Quad SLI. Alienware didn't send us a display, and it's not included in the $6,752 price tag, but the company does offer the Dell model for $1,999. (Dell did let us hang onto the 30-incher we reviewed back in January in order to test Quad SLI.)
Finally, Nvidia impressed on us throughout the review that Quad SLI doesn't scale well at lower resolutions, meaning that you shouldn't expect quadruple the performance of a single GeForce 7900 GTX card at 1,280x1,024 resolution and lower. Instead, Quad SLI is supposed to let you play at heretofore unapproachable resolutions. It's also supposed to let you turn on higher image-quality settings, up to 32X antialiasing for example, which under normal circumstances taxes your graphics card at the 8X or even 4X setting. Our tests show that on two of today's most demanding games, Quad SLI succeeds under some of those circumstances, but there's still room for improvement.
We deviated from our standard desktop 3D testing methodology and instead used a custom-made Quake 4 demo and F.E.A.R.'s built-in performance test to assess the Alienware Aurora ALX and the $3,499 Cyberpower Gamer Ultra X1900 XTX, a similar system to the Alienware box. The Cyberpower's major difference is that it features Nvidia competitor ATI's highest-end 3D card setup, the Radeon X1900 XTX in dual-card CrossFire mode. We chose Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. because they're two of the most demanding 3D games on the market. It's safe to assume that the scores for most other games will be faster, especially when compared with our F.E.A.R. results.