Short version: The Aurora ALX is quite possibly the fastest computer I’ve ever used. It is in a word, amazing. The water cooling, thermally reactive venting system, and lighting combine to make a system that runs great, looks amazing, and has some innovative features that make you go “duh. why didn’t I think of that?” Of course performance has its price, and you will have to pay a premium price for this system.
Full review: The Aurora ALX is unabashedly a gamer’s PC. It’s main focus in life is to run the latest software, and run it as fast as possible. The case makes no apologies about this, it doesn’t try to disguise itself as a business product, you can tell by looking at the case that it’s designed to go fast. The front of the case is smooth, with the alienhead logo prominently displayed at the top. When you push on the head, the front panel drops exposing the Blu-ray drive, gently lit by white LEDs. The bottom of the front gapes open, allowing air to flow through as quickly as possible. The top of the case is covered by a row of thermostatically controlled louvers, which open to allow more air flow as needed. It’s actually hard to get the louvers to open, since the factory installed liquid cooling system is so efficient. The side of the case are actually restrained. There’s a small window, lit from behind via multicolor LEDs (which you can control from in Windows). The whole design of the case is remarkably restrained, considering Alienware’s reputation for, shall we say, extreme design. One interesting feature is the addition of a small, pressure sensitive button on the back of the computer near the card slots. If you push this button (regardless of if the computer is on or not), several small LEDs light up and show you the area where you plug in the video, sound, and network connections. This is frankly brilliant, I don’t know how many times I’ve been crawling under a desk wishing for a flashlight while plugging everything in to get the thing up and running. These little LEDs are in other places as well. Taking the side of the case off reveals not just the extremely well routed wires and hoses, but also another one of these small buttons. Pushing on that button lights up the entire inside of the case, making it incredibly easy to see what you are doing while hooking up and routing said wires, connectors, and hoses. Again, a brilliant inclusion in design, that I wish more PC makers would use. After mentioning how much I liked these lights to my contact at Alienware, I was told that both sets of lights run off of a rechargeable battery.
Intel Core i7 975 Extreme (3.33GHz, 8MB Cache)
Dual ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB video cards
6GB of RAM
2x 1TB Hard drives, running in a RAID0 configuration
Cosmic Black ALX case, with 875 watt power supply
You can see why this system is so fast after looking at the specs. To give you some hard numbers, running at 1680×1050 @ 120Hz, AAx8, and Ultra High on all options, the average FPS in the Far Cry 2 “Ranch Long” benchmark was 63 FPS. It peaked out at 139 FPS, and dipped down to 25 FPS at the slowest point. Crysis averaged 35 FPS during the “Island Time-demo”. Very respectable. From a purely organic viewpoint, I’m happy to report that any game I threw at the ALX ran perfectly, and incredibly smoothly.
The Good: the Aurora ALX is a great machine. It’s a gamers dream, and it’ll run anything you throw at it with no problem. The water cooling keeps the temps down while running quiet, and the thermal venting is really cool. The LED lights are cool, but you can shut them off if you are so inclined.
The Bad: The price. Let’s be honest, not a whole lot of people have $4500 to drop on something like a PC, particularly these days. If you do though, this is the machine to get. It’s also really really heavy. Liquid cooling and an 875 watt power supply do not make for a light weight computer. I also noticed that because it is liquid cooled, it seems to pull in more dust and fibers then an air cooled system.
Bottom line: if you can afford it, buy it. The Aurora ALX is a great machine. I’ve really enjoyed my time “reviewing” it (meaing playing Far Cry 2, Crysis, and Borderlands) and will be sad to see it go back to Alienware. Particularly because my wife will expect me to help out around the house again since I’m not busy doing work.