Dell's gaming brand Alienware have a wide and varied lineup, but perhaps no more serious gaming offering than the mega Area-51. The AW517D3AU model we reviewed is a large, unique design with performance to meet your needs today and loads of space for expansion into the future.
After spending a few weeks with the Area-51 it's time to run through what's on offer here and let you know who if its a PC you should consider as your next gaming rig.
Detail and Physics
There's no hiding this case, it's big and proud of being a workhorse. The carbon black-powder-coated, stamped metal prevents corrosion while acting as an EMI cage to avoid damage to other devices or electronics.
The trianglular shape certainly delivers a unique difference over much of the competition and leaves Dell's old beige boxes in the decades gone by.
The great thing is its not just design for design's sake, Alienware’s 2nd generation Triad chassis is purposeful. Dell says the Area-51's three corners are built to support 5x the system's weight. This means you can pivot the machine to gain easy access to the rear ports when connecting or disconnecting cables and not fear you're going to break the thing. A button on the back of the chassis turns on the rear accessibility lighting – no flashlight required.
Lined with matte grey panels on either side, the front is adorned with a Alienware logo that does double-duty as the power button.
While there's a few easy to reach ports up front, the business is certainly in the back. The rear is connection city, particularly if you take advantage of the expansion options available. Even with the default setup, you'll have a medusa of cables coming from the back of it, which will test even the best cable managers.
If you're someone who likes to do the multi-coloured LED thing, then rest assured, you have loads of customisation. The side panels feature triple cut-outs that let the light shine through, along with the perimeter hugging lights that up the face of the case and disappear under the built-in handle.
Don't be fooled, that handle on top may look like its used for moving the case, but with its weight, you won't be moving it far. The scale of this case is something that takes you back a bit when you unbox it. It's not mid-sized, but large. Make sure if you have a place in your desk allocated for it, that that space can accommodate a width of 639mm, a depth of 272.7mm and height of 570mm. Starting at weight is a chunky 28kg which is getting close to a 2 person lift.
Overall the uniqueness of the case will be an attraction for some, but put others off, points to Alienware for being bold and being different, and being proud of what they are, an enthusiasts brand. Could you convince your boss to throw one of these on your bench at work? If you can, you're a master negotiator, either that or you work for bloody cool boss (likely both at a gaming company).
A list as long as your arm
Chassis Lighting Features
The case features 9 programmable lighting zones using AlienFX. You can configure your lights to be any defined colour, or create themes that animate a sequence of colours, as well as changing any of the 9 zones to particular colours when events like new emails arrive.
The case has so much room for storage upgrades that its kind of ridiculous. Our review unit came with 2 drives, the speedy boot drive, a 256GB SSD (Samsung NVMe) along with a larger storage drive, a 2TB HDD Seagate Barracuda. This combination works well, although I'd much prefer a larger primary drive, in 2018, 256GB feels a little anemic and to be honest, the cost of drives have come down so much this really should be a larger primary drive.
When I downloaded Steam, I got to installing my favourite games, Assetto Corsa, F1 2017, PUBG, Project Cars 2 and more. I also install Adobe Create Suite and some benchmarking software. Ideally you want all of these apps to be running from the fastest drive in your system. While I may use Adobe Premiere to create a video, and store the resulting video on the larger 2TB spinning drive, for performance reasons, I want more storage on the primary SSD.
Easily one of the best features of this rig, is its ability to grow as your needs grow, or simply to accommodate updates as new PC hardware is released. The slows available in the motherboard enable that expansion and Alienware have been incredibly generous in delivering a platform that offers maximum flexibility.
Internal Expansion Slots include:
- Slot 1: PCI-Express (mechanical x16, electrical up to x16)
- Slot 3: PCI-Express (mechanical x16, electrical up to x8)
- Slot 4: PCI-Express (mechanical x16, electrical up to x16)
- Slot 5: PCI-Express (mechanical x16, electrical up to x8)
- Slot 6: PCI-Express (mechanical x4, electrical x4)
- Slot 7: PCI-Express (mechanical x16, electrical up to x8)
Your interface to this hardware comes in the form of ports exposed through the case. These offer convenient access to throw in USB devices where needed, but importantly include enough USB 3.0 ports (the blue ones) that support VR. The Rift for example requires 1x HDMI along with 3x USB 3.0 ports for the headset and 2 sensors. With most computers, this requirement can consume almost all of their available ports, but with the Area-51 it laughs at you and says, here, have 5 more.
2x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A with PowerShare technology
2x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
1x Headphone 1/8" Port
1x Microphone 1/8" Port
2x RJ-45 Killer Networks E2500 Gigabit Ethernet Port
2x Hi-Speed USB 2.0
6x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
1x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A
1x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C w/ 15W PowerShare technology
1x SPDIF Digital Output (TOSLINK)
1x Line-In (blue port)
1x Front L/R / Headphone (green port)
1x Center Channel / Subwoofer (orange port)
1x L/R Rear Surround (black port)
1x L/R Side Surround (white port)
Liquid cooled performance for all of the frames
Inside that crazy case lies a massive power supply that feeds the massive motherboard, packed with a 14nm Intel Core i7 7820x CPU (Skylake) running at 3.6GHz. To help that along, there's no less than 32GB of DDR4 RAM. When it comes to graphics horsepower, the Area 51 comes with a Nvidia GTX 1080 and that combination of hardware adds up to a seriously impressive combination that means you'll be setting your graphics level to Ultra in every game available today. The performance available here meant I was able to power game experiences like my racing simulator which runs a 3840 x 1080 resolution on the stunning Samsung CHG490 ultrawide display, as well as desktop applications like TweetDeck and Foxtel Now running in Chrome on 2 monitors running 1920 x 1200.
This is a brilliant experience, it's the kind of performance that allows you to really do whatever you can imagine with a PC. What's on offer is here is the ability for owners of the Area-51 to play games, stream games, record games and run other stuff all at the same time. It's also great if you're into VR and as someone with an Oculus Rift, I found the experiences in virtual reality loaded faster than almost any other gaming rig I've tried. The limitation of the pixels in VR headsets means its actually a fairly easy task for them to render the visuals to each eye now, but the extra RAM, fast CPU and SSD, all help to speed up one of VR's biggest issues, the loading experience.
The case features a massive 1500W power supply that offers modular power connectors, enabling you to connect just the devices you have and nothing more, for a clean interior. The chassis features high-quality cold copper plates and a 120x120 mm radiator to guarantee your system stays cool under pressure.
3DMark's PCMark 10, shows the system was able to achieve a score of 5799. This really only gains relevance when you understand the number in context to other users. This computer is better than 87% of all results on the platform. It substantially beats the requirements of a 4K Gaming PC, and that's before you start expanding with additional GPUs. The Alienware Area-51 clearly has some seriously impressive performance, a gaming rig that'll easily consume any task you'll throw at it. Remember where not just talking playing game here, if you're a creative type and need to fire up 3D Studio Max and Unity to develop games of your own, this is more than capable.
Room for improvement
Windows 10 Home
Regardless of which variant you choose of the Alienware Area-51, you'll get Windows 10 Home by default. This is a really strange decision given the enthusiasts / workers that are buying this rig, will absolutely need to take advantage of the features only available in Windows 10 Pro. For the money you're spending to get this, it really should include Windows 10 Pro, but for that luxury, Alienware will sting you another A$111.00.
For a machine this targeted to an audience, they should be well aware of how annoyed we are by excess rubbish included on the drive. This makes your first task after buying the machine, to uninstall all the junkware that comes with. I long for the days where Signature PCs return in a meaningful way. When the price is this high, there's no room to be profiting from installations of 3rd party software. Unfortunately the software doesn't show the same refinement and focus of the hardware.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The Alienware Area 51 Gaming PC comes in multiple configurations which start at A$2,849.00 (currently on special) and range up to an eye watering A$10,041.01 depending on your requirements and budget. The top end of the the product lineup has the best of everything, you can opt up to an 18-core Core i9 7980XE processor running at 4.4GHz, Dual GTX1080 Ti's w/11GB GDDR5, 64 GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB SSD.
The full configuration of the reviewed Area 51 AW517D3AU model can be viewed here and the RRP is A$4,499.00.
At the end of the day, this PC won't suit all gamers, but for those looking for a PC that performs incredibly well, has loads of room for expansion and a case design that'll stand out from the crowd, then you should definitely be considering the Area 51 from Alienware.
Most PCs are trending towards performance in a small, portable package, but the Area-51 bucks that trend, instead is one of the largest cases we've seen. This means you're really not going to want to move this PC one you have it installed in your home office, which does limit some potential use cases, like moving it into the rumpus for the occasional VR session in space.
What Alienware have created here is a high-performance, expandable, gaming rig that has more performance than you can think of tasks to use it. This offers the best potential for 'future-proofing' you can have. Even if the specs of the hardware inside don't last you for the next 3-4 years, the expand ability of the case means you have options, so many options.
The case is outlandish, attention grabbing and I love that they don't appologise for that. I just wish the software was afforded that same level of vision for a premium product. There's no doubt this thing should ship with Windows 10 Pro and any software should add to the experience, not detract from it.
All things considered, this is a brilliant gaming PC, if you can find the way to afford it, then I'd definitely recommend it. Just makes sure you budget for extra space because this case is massive.