We find it mildly disappointing that Alienware offers no media card reader option for this system, although you can always add one yourself. The front drive bays are relatively free, with only one slot occupied by a Blu-ray burner and two left open. There's also one free hard-drive bay inside, as well as a single 1x PCI Express card slot. Given the number of hard drives and cards included in the system, it's not exactly surprising that internal expansion is limited.
External ports include a pair of FireWire 400 ports, a single eSATA port, optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital audio outs, as well as the standard collection of analog audio and USB 2.0 jacks. We're surprised that Alienware sent no HDMI adaptor for the graphics cards. HDMI may not exactly be crucial for a full-tower PC such as this one, but many vendors at least include an adaptor to make the option available.
Finally, when Alienware included its AlienFX case lighting control software in all of its PCs, but apparently it's changed that strategy. Like overclocking, the lighting control option is now only available in Alienware's ALX desktops. We understand that Alienware might want to differentiate its very highest-end desktop, but it makes us wonder why it needs two high-end tiers at all, especially when the price of the vanilla Area-51 can become just as stratospheric as the ALX model.
Tested system configurations:
Alienware Area-51 X58
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.2GHz Intel Core i7-965; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 128GB Samsung MLC solid state hard drives; (2) 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drives
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 3.8GHz Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770; 2GB 1,600MHz (overclocked) DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition)
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card: 1TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive; 80GB Intel X-25 solid state hard drive
Windows Vista Ultimate; 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; 2GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drives; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive
Additional editing by Cristina Psomadakis