Alienware is well known for its high-end gaming PCs, but previous machines we've seen have had seriosuly tacky cases. They look great from a distance, but the minute you lay a finger on them you can't help but feel they're going to fall apart in your hands. The new generation of 7500 gaming desktops continue the firm's penchant for brutally quick gaming systems but also introduces a more durable and stylish breed of cases known as the P2, or 'Predator 2' series. Let the games begin...
The Alienware Area-51 7500 looks outstanding. It takes its design cues from the previous generation of Alienware desktops but is even more menacing, more handsome and more desirable than ever. Though it's aimed at gamers, who typically love garish designs, we defy anyone not to like the glossy paint (it's available in four colours: black, blue, green and silver) and the silver rib-like protrusions that wrap around either side.
We're not huge fans of PCs with hinged flaps (particularly the flimsy ones we've seen from Alienware) but the door that hides this machine's drive bays greatly improves the overall aesthetic. It's pretty special -- it opens like a standard door then slides along the left of the case. At the front of the door is the instantly recognisable Alienware alien head, complete with LED eyes, which doubles as the power button.
Various other LED lights are strategically positioned around the case, such as the optical and floppy drive bays and below the row of USB, audio and FireWire ports at the front of the case. Alienware divides the case into five different zones, and you can choose the colour of the lights you want in each one, so you can make the system as garish or as sinister-looking as you want.
Our black review sample came with red LEDs, making the entire system look like it was inspired by LG's KG800 Chocolate phone.
The Alienware's internal components haven't taken a back seat to its swanky new exterior. The base specification will set you back £1,391, but that's the baby of the bunch. Our review sample cost a whopping £2,092 and it's easy to see why. It uses an Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 processor running at 2.66GHz and 1GB of PC 6400 memory, which may not sound like much, but it's a potent combination.
There's a version of the system with an Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor (for an extra £632), but if you're spending that kind of money you're better off going for the Core 2 Extreme QX6700 quad-core chip, which is £685 extra.
The basic Area-51 M7500 comes with a 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7950, which is pretty quick, but it may as well be powered by a hamster in a wheel for all we care. That's because the card in our review sample is a 640MB GeForce 8800 GTS (see note at the end of the review). Not only is this monstrously quick, but it's also compatible with DirectX 10 -- the new application programming interface (API) which, in conjunction with Windows Vista, is set to revamp the PC gaming world by providing up to six times as much gaming performance.
Aside from its compatibility with DirectX 10 and the ludicrous amount of memory, the card has some impressive specs. It has a whopping 681 million transistors (for comparison, the Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU has just 291 million), a graphics processing unit (GPU) clocked at 500MHz, and HDCP-enabled DVI output -- so it'll run copy-protected hi-def movies if you have an HDCP-compliant monitor.
Hardcore gamers may want to add an AGEIA PhysX physics-processing card for £174, but the number of games that take advantage of its features is small -- we wouldn't bother. What's more useful is the optional (£49) inclusion of a Logitech G15 keyboard, which has an integrated flip-up LCD panel that displays information such as the current time, CPU and memory utilisation, and which song you're listening to in iTunes or Windows Media Player. It's pointless, but we like it.
Storage is another of the 7500's strong points. Skinflints can buy the standard 250GB hard drive, but if you're a multimedia file hoarder you'll be better off spending an extra £100 to get the twin 250GB hard drives in our review sample. A RAID 0 configuration (for improving disc access times or providing automatic backups to the secondary disk) is also available. Sadly RAID was absent from our test model, so the second hard disk was essentially just a dumping ground for games.
A Blu-ray disc drive is available, but if you've no interest in watching Blu-ray flicks don't bother spending £510 and stick with the ordinary 18x dual-layer DVD-rewriter drive. This can write up to 8.5GB of data to compatible discs -- nowhere near as much as Blu-ray's 25GB single-layer capacity -- but it's fine for making the odd backup.
Getting files on and off the system is made all the easier thanks to a pair of front-facing USB ports and a single six-pin FireWire port, plus there are headphone and mic sockets so you don't have to deafen your neighbours with the sound of virtual gunfire. There are four additional USB ports at the rear, an external Serial ATA port, plus parallel and USB ports. Parallel ports are a surprising addition on modern PCs, but they're a welcome addition for anyone with legacy devices.
It's possible to add a wealth of other gaming goodies to the 7500 package -- joysticks, games and the like -- but there's little in the way of useful bundled software. You get Kaspersky Anti-Virus Professional Edition and Windows Vista Home Edition -- but that's it.
The 7500 is fast. It racked up 7,138 in PCMark 2005, which is among the highest scores we've seen. For reference, the last Alienware we reviewed, the similarly named Aurora 7500, which uses an Athlon FX-60 CPU, scored 6,486.
Graphics performance was, as you'd expect, marvellous. It raced its way to 114fps in F.E.A.R. and 8,553 in 3DMark 2006. The Aurora 7500 scored 8,460, but that was with two GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards running in tandem.
All that performance comes at a premium -- noise. It makes a real racket when it's just idling, and even more of a din when the graphics card and CPU fans are asked to prevent the system from going into nuclear meltdown. You won't want to sit the machine on your desk, which is a shame, because it looks great.
Editor's note: At the time of publication, Alienware is unable to supply the Area-51 7500 with the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS. Instead, buyers will get the superior 8800 GTX, the review for which can be found here.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide