Alienware always whacks in top class components, but it doesn't always get the build details exactly right. Has it done better this time?
Well, it's kitted out the fastest gaming processor with the fastest gaming cards - a Core 2 Extreme X6800 and a pair of GeForce 8800 GTXs. There is some debate in the office about which is the best processor overall right now - the X6800 and the quad-core QX6700 both come in at the same price. Tim suggests that the QX6700 is the way forward for non-gaming power users, whereas I point out that, for a gaming rig, the extra clock speed is more important than the extra cores, at least for the next year or so. So whether you're happy with the processor will depend on your point of view. Frankly, it's good to see that Alienware has included the right
CPU for a flagship gaming PC at this point in time.
Dual 8800 GTX is another debating point. Is there any point in SLI 8800s right now, especially of the GTX variety? There's arguably nothing out there that will make use of the horsepower, although the arrival of Crysis, Supreme Commander and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will change that in the fairly near future. You're going to need a minimum of a 24" display to even begin to start taxing these bad boys, so unless you're dropping the cash on a suitable display, don't even think about this kind of graphics set up.
As for the RAM, it's Patriot - not a bad brand, but not one of our preferred manufacturers - and it's PC6400, which is not ideal for overclocking, given that the X6800 will quite easily clock up to speeds that require PC8000 or even 10K memory. At least Alienware has supplied the 2GB of RAM on two sticks, not four sticks as we have seen previously.
The processor sits underneath a hefty heatsink which actually has the fan in the middle. The motherboard is the reference NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI setup, the EVGA board. We have had countless problems with early releases of this board, but it seems that NVIDIA has finally gotten in control of the BIOS and manufacturing issues that plagued the chipset and board. We found that our machine from Alienware ran perfectly, so we're now convinced that we've had a terrible bout of luck with no less than three bad
boards from three different batches. The board has got all the gubbins you'd expect - dual Gigabit LAN, loads of SATA ports, screaming fast performance and masses of headroom for overclocking.
The pair of EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX cards dominate the centre of the system, with card keepers holding their massive weight in place.
The power supply, which is branded just as Alienware, is 1kW and a pretty large size. It does, however, have four PCI-E power connectors included, which means there's no need for crazy cable converters in order to get the pair of 8800 GTX's up and running. It's not very loud, although it does have that obnoxious proprietary connector.
The hard drive is a Seagate 500GB drive, which is plenty of storage for anything you could possibly achieve within the confines of the law. The Blu-ray drive is unbranded, but displays as a Matshita drive in Device Manager. It cranks out Blu-ray writables at 2x, which isn't exactly fast, but will net you 25GB chunks of backup storage.
The Patriot memory is installed to run at 800MHz, with 5-5-5-16-2T timings. This is a little bit slow, in our opinion, and this was born out by the test results. We run Corsair PC6400C3 memory at DDR2-800 3-3-3-9-1T, for comparison. The Sound Card is an X-Fi Xtreme Gamer, which doesn't have the on-board RAM that other X-Fi boards have, but does still have a digital output and support for EAX Advanced HD and CMSS 3D headphone technology. However, for more than three grand, we expect an X-RAM card to be in here, and, frankly, some better RAM too.