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Alienware Aurora review: Proving not all prebuilt gaming PCs are awful
Specs at a glance: Alienware Aurora Lowest Best As reviewed OS Windows 10 Home 64-bit CPU 6th Generation Intel Core i3-6100 (Dual-core, 3.7GHz, 3MB cache) 6th Generation Intel Core i7-6700K (Quad-core, 4.0GHz, 8MB cache) 6th Generation Intel Core i7-6700K (Quad-core, 4.0GHz, 8MB cache) RAM 8GB DDR4 2,133MHz (4GBx2) 16GB 2,133MHz DDR4 (2x8GB) 16GB 2,133MHz DDR4 (2x8GB) GPU Nvidia GTX 950 2GB Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB Founders Edition Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB Founders Edition HDD 1TB (64MB Cache) 7,200 RPM SATA 6Gb/s 1TB (64MB Cache) 7,200 RPM SATA 6Gb/s 256GB Toshiba M.2 NVMe SSD, 1TB (64MB Cache) 7,200 RPM SATA 6Gb/s PSU/Cooling 460W PSU and air cooler 850W modular PSU and liquid cooler 850W modular PSU and liquid cooler NETWORKING RJ-45 Killer Networks e2400 Ethernet, Intel 3165 1x1 802.11ac Wi-Fi Wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.2 PORTS 7 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x USB-3.1 Type-C, 6 x USB 2.0, 4 x DisplayPort, HDMI, optical out, headphone jack, microphone jack, 7.1 surround sound out SIZE Height: 472.52mm (18.6 inches), depth: 360.5mm (14.19 inches), width: 212mm (8.35 inches) WEIGHT Average weight 14kg (30lbs) WARRANTY One year premium support with Onsite NOTE Dell's prices can vary wildly thanks to its "instant savings." The prices below include VAT. PRICE £699 ($799) £1,679 ($1,949) £1,789 ($2,179) You've got to hand it to Alienware. Despite bearing the brunt of l33t gamer criticism since the Dell buyout in 2006—after all, Alienware machines have tended to resemble something from 12-year-old's high school sketch book—the company has ploughed on, creating increasingly sleeklaptops and desktops.
Its latest, the squat, mid-size tower dubbed Aurora, is the most desirable Alienware machine yet. Taking cues from the company's gargantuan Area 51, the Aurora sports a surprisingly compact form factor, restrained (for Alienware at least) aesthetics, and a price that's not far off a self-build. It even has decent cooling performance.
For the first time in a long time, if a tech-shy relative or PC gaming newbie asks whether or not an Alienware desktop is worth it, you can finally say yes.
Standing 472.52mm (18.6 inches) tall, a mere 360.5mm (14.19 inches) deep, and 212mm (8.35 inches) wide, the Alienware Aurora is smaller and wider than your average gaming desktop. Which, given the move towards smaller systems that are just at home in the living room as they are in an office or bedroom, is no bad thing. Indeed, this is probably the first Alienware you could place in a living room, in full view, and not receive cold, hard shame from a loved one.
That's partly thanks to the Aurora's flat front panel, which is finished in a sturdy matte black plastic up top, with a non-threatening piano black grille underneath. Older models were somehow both curvier and more angular all at once, which led to some questionable aesthetics. That said, there's still a light-up, RGB LED alien-head power switch, but you can turn it off if you prefer a more subdued look.
The sleeker styling continues with the side panels, which feature a soft grey finish, and the same tri-LED light bars that appear across the Alienware range. The panels aren't flat, and actually arch out from the front panel somewhere, but they look good, neatly avoiding the bulging effect that many PC cases with a similar design suffer from. The left panel also features air intake vents for the graphics card(s) inside.
- The Aurora has a unique look that quickly grows on you. [That's the Ars UK office, incidentally -Ed.]
- The Alienware head power switch is illuminated, but the lighting can be turned off.
- On the front panel are four USB sockets, and headphone and microphone jacks.
- The Aurora's feet.
- The other side of the Aurora has vents for the graphics card.
- The Aurora's rear IO, including a lot of USB sockets.
The top of the Aurora features the same glossy grille as the front, as well as a 120mm exhaust fan. If you opt for the all-in-one liquid cooling solution, the radiator mounts here alongside the fan. The asymmetrical top panel also houses a useful carry handle, which makes lugging the Aurora around to LAN parties (they're still a thing, right?) much easier. And at an average weight of 14kg (32lbs), depending on the configuration, it's just about possible to lift it with one hand too.
Unfortunately, the reasonable weight comes at the expense of build materials: the entirety of the Aurora's external case is made of plastic. It's a good, solid, quality plastic, but when so many other high-end desktops are being built with premium materials like aluminium and glass, the plastic is a letdown. Indeed, when removed, the side panels make that horrible hollow, rattling sound so reminiscent of pre-built PCs from the '90s.
Yes, it's upgradable
At least the side panels are easy to remove. While the Aurora might be an off-the-shelf gaming PC, Alienware has made it easy to get inside. On the rear of the case is a plastic handle that, when pulled, ejects the vented side panel revealing a tightly packed interior and a unique layout. Where most PCs have a top- or bottom-mounted power supply, the Aurora saves space by situating the power supply above the motherboard. Just next to the side-panel lever are two sliding switches that unlock the PSU, allowing it to swing up and out from the case, cables still attached.
This gives you unfettered access to the CPU-cooler and socket, memory slots (there are four, with two populated by default), and PCIe slots. There's room for two full-length graphics cards, although using two means giving up access to one of the smaller 4X slots. There's an M.2 slot for PCIe-based NVMe storage like aSamsung 960 Pro, two 2.5-inch tool-free sleds for standard SSDs, and a single 3.5-inch hard drive slot, which sits just under the PSU. These should provide enough storage options for most users, though it isn't a great setup for anyone looking to store vast amounts of data.
The one thing you can't do is replace the motherboard. It's standard proprietary Dell fare—although it does appear close to mATX size—with little in the way of easy access. Cable management is good though, with cables neatly tied into position along the sides of the bare steel case. This particular configuration comes with a modular 850W power supply, but Alienware pre-wires any extra cables you might need into their relevant positions. There are spare SATA power connectors near the 2.5-inch bays, for example, and there's an extra PCIe power connector, should you wish to add another graphics card.
- Pull this lever and the side panel pops off.
- The power supply is uniquely mounted above the motherboard.
- It sits on a hinge that flips out, giving you access to all the internals.
- With the graphics card out you can access the M.2 slot and SATA sockets.
- The RAM, GPU, and M.2 SSD removed.
- The flip-out PSU in all its glory.
- Another look inside.
- This particular system came with an all-in-one liquid cooling system.
- The SSD and RAM that the Aurora uses.
With such a unique configuration, you might be wondering how the Aurora handles airflow. The good news is that despite the location of the PSU, I didn't experience any throttling problems. The 120mm fan at the front pulls in cool air, with the top-mounted radiator and fan exhausting air out of the case. Meanwhile, the (blower-style) graphics card sucks in cool air from the grilles on the side panel. There isn't a removable fan filter on the grille, which means you've got to lug the whole side panel around in order to clear out any dust. I also wonder how well the Aurora would do with an air cooler (as is featured in certain configs) instead of the all-in-one. I suspect overclocking would be out of the question.
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