Alienware's PCs have traditionally commanded high prices in exchange for top-tier components, ultrastylish hardware and bragging rights. With the new Bot, the company targets buyers with smaller budgets who still want that Alienware cachet. Prices start at just £700, though the configuration we tested cost more than double that with a few upgrades, a monitor and speakers.
The Bot comes with some good parts, including Intel's 915P Express chipset, a double-layer DVD burner and boisterous 5.1 speakers. It's also an above-average performer, besting Dell's similarly equipped Dimension 4700C on every test. Save for the Alienware name, however, the Bot is a fairly ordinary desktop with few standout features.
The Bot tower measures roughly 140mm across, giving it an appealingly slender look. But if you're expecting Alienware's coveted space-age chassis, you're sure to be disappointed. The case is plain-looking, though it does boast very clean lines, thanks to the three spring-loaded doors that hide its drives and ports. Behind the doors on the bottom panel, you'll find audio jacks, two USB 2.0 ports, and a single FireWire port (complemented by four USB 2.0 inputs and another FireWire connection around back). The look of the front of the tower is a pleasing, semi-industrial silver façade.
Inside, you get a cramped case with little room for tinkering. To access the RAM sockets (four total, two available), you'll have to remove the DVD drive -- a reasonably easy, tool-free process. However, we had a much harder time accessing the hard drive wedged behind the power supply, even after reading the step-by-step instructions in the manual. The tower's pair of open PCI slots and single PCI Express x1 slot are unobstructed, but there's no room for a second hard drive.
Alienware stocked our test system with a 3.0GHz Pentium 4 530, 512MB of 400MHz Corsair DDR SDRAM, a 160GB Serial ATA hard drive and NEC's speedy ND-3520 multiformat, double-layer DVD burner. But why the 3.5-inch floppy drive? We'd much rather have a media reader. A 128MB ATI Radeon X300 PCI Express card handles graphics and video chores and helped the Bot score a capable 90 frames per second (fps) on our 1024 x 768-resolution Unreal Tournament 2003 test. Still, we suspect that for high-end games such as Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, you'll have to dial down the detail settings. The Bot will be up to the task for application performance, however; its SysMark 2004 score of 181 bested Dell's similarly equipped mainstream Dimension 4700C by 5 percent.
Gamers on a budget, however, might have better gaming luck from the Velocity Micro Vector SX-V and its 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT card. The Vector SX-V is also a budget system from a boutique vendor, and it produced a whopping 221.6fps on the same Unreal test. The Vector SX-V we tested also cost less than the Bot and included a faster processor and a larger hard drive in addition to its superior graphics capabilities.
If you do have gaming in mind, you'll probably want to upgrade from the relatively small BenQ FP531 LCD monitor that Alienware bundled with our Bot. This 15-inch panel delivers pleasing colour but suffers from the same slightly fuzzy text we've noticed on other lower-end analogue LCDs. At the very least, you should opt for the 17-inch model. At least the small screen is surrounded by big sound, courtesy of Creative's Inspire T5400 speaker system. The 5.1-channel setup may be entry-level, but only serious audiophiles will find its powerful, rambunctious sound wanting. However, we don't like its wired remote, which adds to desktop clutter.
Except for the now-common Nero 6.0 OEM suite for disc burning, Alienware provides only one noteworthy piece of software: AlienGUIse, a specialised version of Stardock's Theme Manager. It supplies about a dozen different visual themes for Windows, though only two are unlocked -- the rest must be purchased. The lack of even a trial version of an antivirus software suite is disappointing.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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