Being recognised and standing out from the crowd is half the battle of being successful when it comes to making gaming PCs and laptops. Alienware is a brand acutely aware of this and thus has always been known for its eye-catching machines, embossed with that now iconic alien head. However, its systems are always guaranteed to polarise opinions – for everyone that loves the over-the-top designs, there’s someone else who thinks they’re simply overpriced.
If there’s one company that knows about value though it’s Dell, the world-famous PC box shifter that has owned Alienware since 2006. For a long while Dell has offered its own line of XPS branded gaming machines alongside Alienware's systems, giving the impression that it didn’t really know what do with the Alienware brand. However, now Dell has repositioned XPS as a lifestyle brand, leaving Alienware to fly the gaming flag on its own. So, with the Dell DNA inside, has Alienware managed to crack the performance and value nut while maintaining its distinctive look?
Click to enlarge
The first thing that struck us as we unboxed the new Aurora ALX was its size. Previous Alienware systems were housed in outrageously large cases, and while that’s great, we don’t all have the space for a massive PC. In contrast the Aurora ALX is housed within a relatively normal-sized midi-tower case, with dimensions of 250 x 645 x 426mm (W x D x H). That’s not to say that the Aurora ALX is a shrinking violet, and at over 20kg you’ll know about it if you’re planning on lugging it around to LAN parties.
The look of the case, as ever, is what will grab your attention, the design mixing elements of the classic HR Giger Alien with a bit of Cylon Raider thrown in for good measure. The classic alien head sits at the top of the case – and very much looks like the power button. But don’t be fooled by this human-style thinking –it’s simply a release mechanism for the door that slides down on a pleasingly smooth mechanism to reveal three 5.25in external drive bays, one of which in our review system was filled with a DVD-rewriter.
Alienware is offering two flavours of this system, in the guise of the Aurora and Aurora ALX, alongside the more expensive and traditionally sized Area 51 models. Alienware likes to compare the ALX brand to the M badge that BMW gives to its high-performance cars – but we don’t believe that this is an analogy that quite works for reasons we’ll explain later.
Click to enlarge - Roof vents automatically open and a side panel sensor automatically switches on the interior lights when you open the case
The differences between the standard Aurora and the pimped out ALX are subtle, as many of the core components are the same. However, unlike the Aurora, you can select 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM for your Aurora ALX, rather than just 1,067MHz or 1,333MHz memory. It also has more customisable light zones and an LED that turns on automatically when you take off the case side. This is a great idea as it enables you to easily see inside your case when performaing maintenance or upgrades. While we’re all used to a light turning on when you open a car door, it’s the first time we’ve seen it in a PC, so expect to see this feature copied by many high end cases from here on in.
The key difference between the Aurora and Aurora ALX though is, literally, a stand-out feature. The Aurora ALX has a row of vents on the top of the case that lift up when you boot the PC. It makes the Aurora ALX look alive, with the opening gills of a monster as it draws breath, and visually, it’s undeniably impressive. Alienware supplies its own Command Centre software, which you can use to configure the vents to lift when the CPU hits a given temperature, much as the spoiler on a sports car lifts automatically when you hit a certain speed for increased stability.