MyGamer Hardware Score: 9.6/10
MSRP: $4,100.00 (as configured)
The Alienware Area-51 7500 is a desktop PC powered by a set of four Intel Core2 Quad CPUs clocked at 2.66GHz, running on a NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI Motherboard. 2 gig of system RAM came installed, along with a pair of striped RAID-enabled hard drives (250 gig and 300 gig respectively), DVD-RW and all the trimmings. Video is handled by a 768MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX card and audio is supplied by a Creative SB X-Fi device. Additional video cards can be added if required using a supplied SLI bridge connection, although as we will show, the extra video horsepower probably won't be needed by any mere mortal gamer any time soon.
With such high-end hardware, Alienware could have left well enough alone, but to make things even better, they then decided to overclock both the CPU and video RAM timing, in order to push out additional frames per second. Of course, overclocking results in the internals producing more heat, so Alienware opted to do away with traditional air cooling in favor of a custom water cooling solution.
This choice has resulted in a PC that's not only cooler when operating (crucial for performance and component longevity) but also in a system that's practically silent, even when put under heavy computing loads. Best of all, the water-cooling system is sealed at the factory and carries the same manufacturer's warranty as the rest of the unit – 12 months of AlienCare Toll-Free 24/7 Phone Support with onsite service if required. This should come as great news to more "enthusiast" level gamers and PC tweakers that might have shied away from the idea of water-cooling in the past.
All of this high-end hardware carries a somewhat lofty price tag: $4,100.00 for the unit we were shipped. We feel compelled to add, however that while this price may seem high, the 7500 is priced a few hundred dollars less than previous Alienware systems that we've tested, and we feel that the 7500 is far better equipped for that price point.
In our past Alienware reviews, we were always impressed with the overall level of craftsmanship displayed by the manufacturer – no other PC brand we can think of seems to capture the imagination as well as Alienware's stylish cases and innovative hardware configurations – but we were generally slightly disappointed in their performance, given their traditionally high price tags. We decided to take the Area-51 7500 out for a little spin to see if that was indeed money well spent.
Obviously, the 7500 handles everyday computing needs with grace and style. Windows Media Center ran smooth as quicksilver no matter what we threw at it. Want to play a game while also downloading a 4 gig media file and burn a DVD, all at the same time? No problemo. Honestly, we would expect no less from a machine of this pedigree, and the 7500 certainly didn't disappoint in this regard.
But what about games, the applications with which this beast was obviously bred to excel? We ran the 7500 against a gauntlet of applications, to see just how well it would handle them, and as you will see, the results are nothing short of breathtaking. (Editor's note: when configuring the Area-51 7500, we opted to load the more mature and predictable Windows XP Media Center Edition over Windows Vista, on the assumption that the truly hardcore gamer would likely still be running that more mature and predictable operating system. When it comes to the OS, we're still quite conservative and felt that using WinXP would give a more realistic set of frame rates – your mileage may vary).
When testing games, we set the game resolution to 1600X1200 with V-sync disabled and 2X antialiasing turned on where possible. Because of the 7500's very high frame rates, we then ran a second test where we turned every visual effect all the way up, just to see if we could make the machine sweat.
We started with the MMO City of Heroes, where we saw frame rates of 112 FPS on average. Even with the game's draw distance maxed, anisotropic filtering turned on and every particle effect cranked to the max we still couldn't get the machine to lug under 76 FPS. Impressive.
Moving on to shooters, we ran tests with the aging, but still demanding Doom III, where we experienced 176 FPS overall as well as Half Life 2, which resulted in a whopping 204 average FPS. Even F.E.A.R., a game that can still make modern high-end machines stumble, ran at an impressive 123 FPS in repeated tests.
Even new titles, such as Bethesda's Elder Scrolls: Oblivion ran at approximately 130 FPS, and that was with extra goodies like high-rez textures, light bloom and everything else switched on. Staff favorite Guild Wars ran at an average frame rate of 113 FPS with only a slight degradation in frames when we cranked the effects to the roof (81 FPS).
In every case, our games ran without a hitch the first time they were installed, and were rock-solid and stable, despite our torture-test conditions. Throughout the several weeks we tested the 7500, we only shut it down a handful of times, and in that time we experienced not a single hang-up, crash or glitch, no matter what we did. Even multitasking activities such as playing games while burning DVDs couldn't slow down the 7500 – we saw a slight drop in FPS rates while doing such tasks, but only noticed them after the fact when we viewed the benchmarking reports. To the naked eye, the games seemed every bit as smooth as when we ran them alone. Color us impressed… very impressed.
Couple this performance with the 7500's stylish case (programmable colored LEDs allow the user to create custom color schemes at will) and the wicked-cool, and practically silent, water-cooling setup, and you'll see why we're awarding the Alienware Area-51 7500 our coveted "Hard Core Hardware" award. Congratulations, Alienware, on your well-deserved win.
Pros: What more do you want than factory-configured (and warranted) liquid cooling, blazing fast frame rates, impressive multi-tasking ability and room to expand via the easy-to-upgrade NVIDIA SLI video card? The Alienware-designed case is possibly the best one we've seen, with none of the plastic-y feel of previous cases. We even like the LED bling – after all, a PC like this really does scream "Look at me!" If you've got it, why not flaunt it?
Cons: Pricy (like all Alienware systems), but in this case, we really do feel that "you get what you pay for". The 7500 is also monstrously heavy ("the case is full of bricks" heavy — seriously) which may cramp your LAN party style a bit. Better start hitting the free weights now if you pan to lug this baby around.