Alienware Aurora 7500 Gaming Desktop
MyGamer Hardware Score: 8.3/10
Before we begin, let’s get one thing out in the open – the Alienware Aurora 7500 is, as configured, a desktop gaming system with a street price of almost four grand.
OK, great, you’ve made it past a potentially nasty case of sticker shock. Congratulations.
Without a doubt, the Aurora 7500 represents some of the hottest hardware currently available. The system is powered by a AMD Athalon 64 FX-62 dual-core processor, running at 2.8 MHz. The PC also features two gig of RAM, two 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT video cards running in a SLI configuration and a Creative SB X-fi audio card. In addition, this bundle of joy is wrapped in a custom-made case sporting internal LEDs, a side-mounted supplemental cooling fan (designed to blow cool air across the main graphics array), all featuring the distinctive Alienware logo. The system that Alienware graciously shipped out even came with nice pro-end touches like a Lightscribe DVD burner, a Logitech G5 gaming mouse and a black Microsoft keyboard.
It’s fair to say that the 7500 is truly a “kick ass” system (we’ll get into the PC’s gaming performance in a bit), but the question that’s no doubt first and foremost in your mind right now is: is it really that good? Is the 7500 worth its price tag? Let’s find out.
The 7500 arrived in a gigantic black box, carried by an alarmingly sweaty UPS driver. Opening the box, we discovered why: the custom-built Alienware case is mammoth, made of polished silvery-gray plastic and fitted with the exterior trim pieces and vents that give the unit its unique look. The interior is liberally fitted with sound-dampening foam, a nice touch considering the PC’s extensive array of cooling fans. The entire PC was packed in a deep bed of protective foam – Alienware certainly didn’t skimp on the packing materials when they boxed up the Aurora 7500.
Cracking the case, we beheld the unit’s interior layout, including the PC’s striped RAID-enabled hard drive array, the huge cooling fan for the Athalon processors and the linked, SLI video cards. Compared to the twin 7900 video cards, the Creative X-fi sound card is almost invisible, nestled beneath the lower video card in the motherboard’s last remaining expansion slot. The case has plenty of interior room to work in, and has three open 5” hardware bays and a second 3.5” bay beneath the included card reader device. The case is fitted with twin locks, one securing the side access panel and a second that locks the front drive bay door.
Despite the case’s ample room to expand in the future, however, we were a bit disappointed in the quality of the exterior case fittings. The main optical drive, power and reset buttons, for example, are set behind a hinged plastic door. When closed, this door gives the case a sexy, seamless appearance, but the door itself (which must be opened every time you wish to access any of the 7500’s drive bays) felt a bit thin and cheap. While playing, we often left the door open, to facilitate easy access to the DVD and card reader drives, and occasionally banged the door with our knees (which was alarming) or scraped our knuckles across the pointed edge at the top of the door (which was painful). While the door never felt like it was even close to breaking, we wonder what it would feel like after months of such repeated abuse, and wished that Alienware had provided us with a way to remove the door without also removing the sexy, glowing alien-head logo set into it.
Also, we were a bit confused to see that, when we looked at the back of the 7500, two of the rear USB ports were taken up by plugs leading back inside the case, which provided connectivity to some of the installed hardware. It seemed strange to us that, with such an otherwise impressive and clean installation job, Alienware would have to resort to manually running USB cables outside of the case to provide connectivity for internally-installed components.
After loading up our gaming test suite and hooking up our 5.1 audio system, we set out to discover just how well the 7500 would perform at its primary duty, and we can report that the PC put up some really impressive in-game numbers. Using our standard test configuration, with all games running at 1600X1200 using 2X antialiasing and 4X anisotropic filtering (where available) and V-sync disabled, we saw smooth-as-glass performance with virtually every game we tested.
The venerable World of Warcraft, for example, ran at 54.75 average frames-per-second, while the aging, but still visually demanding Doom III performed at 57.86 FPS. We experienced similar frame rates with the effects-heavy Guild Wars Factions (68.4 FPS) as well as with newcomer The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (45 FPS). Even F.E.A.R. (a game known for bringing even high-end systems to their knees with all of its graphic goodies enabled) performed admirably at 63.62 FPS on average. When we loaded up Half Life II, however, the doors really were officially blown off, when we observed over 107.92 FPS on nearly every map we tested. We have to admit that, given the Aurora’s SLI video and dual-core CPU, we expected a bit more “oomph” performance-wise than we saw, especially with older titles like WoW, however.
Following our gaming crucible, testing the 7500 in a variety of everyday computing tasks almost seemed anticlimactic. Every Office application we tested launched with lightning speed, and even apps like Photoshop got up and running almost before the loading screen had the chance to paint on our monitor. DVD playback through the Creative SB X-fi sound system was sublime and, if anything, sounded even better than the amped stereo that I usually use for watching movies.
The dual-core CPU made multitasking a breeze and we tried our best to force errors in such tasks as DVD and CD burning by playing rounds of Half Life II and Guild Wars online while simultaneously creating disks. At no time did any of our created media experience any burning errors. During this time, our games did run a tad slower, but were all certainly more than playable, and the extra convenience of being able to multitask in this manner was very exciting. We certainly can’t wait until dual-core CPUs are the norm for all enthusiast-class PCs rather than the relatively rare exception to the rule that they are now.
So, did we like the system? Well, of course we did – in many ways, the Aurora 7500 reminded us of a high-end sports car, like a Ferrari. It’s wicked fast, yes, but it’s only within the reach of those select few with the means (or who are willing to make the sacrifice) to purchase such an advanced piece of hardware. 107+ FPS with Half Life II without having to resort to lowering the game’s resolution or disabling advanced features is really a pleasure to behold – we’ll give credit where credit is due. Combine the Aurora 7500’s raw performance with the inclusion of high-end components like the SB X-fi audio card and the Lightscribe drive and you’re looking at a system that any gamer would be proud to have sitting on their desk.
But does all of that make the 7500 worth its equally impressive price tag? In the end, only the consumer can make that judgment. The Aurora should certainly appeal to those “well qualified” PC buyers that want the most bang for their considerable bucks, without having to do all the work of manually parting out all the latest and greatest hardware that’s out there and assembling it themselves. Can a technically-minded buyer save several hundred dollars by custom-building a system similar to the 7500? Without a doubt, however, such a machine would carry a warranty that’s likely inferior to the Alienware’s and would lack any technical support on an ongoing basis when problems ineVitably arise. Plus, you wouldn’t have the satisfaction of telling all your gaming friends about your killer new rig and watching their eyes go green with jealousy, and, really, isn’t that half the fun?
Whether or not that wicked pleasure is worth four grand is up to you.
Pros: All of the hardware that makes up the Aurora 7500 is top-notch, from its dual-core Athalon 64 FX-62 processors to its Creative SB X-fi audio suite, and is well-configured in a roomy tower with plenty of extra bays and power for upgrades down the line. The Aurora handled everything we threw at the system with admirable aplomb, and even demanding multitasking applications like simultaneously burning DVDs while playing games online barely made it break a sweat. Color us impressed. Also, there are plenty of open 5” drive bays available for users that want to install additional DVD drives or other goodies later.
Cons: The 7500’s case, while striking, is also quite large, with lots of unused space behind its custom plastic faring. The PC’s motherboard has but a single free expansion slot after the dual GeForce 7900’s are installed, and that slot is filled with the Creative X-fi sound card. The 7500’s price has dropped quite a bit since its release a few months ago, but it’s still very pricey, indeed. A good warranty and Alienware’s proven acumen in designing and installing hardware help mitigate this, however. Performance was impressive, but, honestly, we expected faster FPS-rates from such monster hardware.