To call the Alienware Aurora ALX overkill would be an exercise in subtlety. But then, that's the Alienware brand — to deliver ridiculous performance and bling, in exchange for your bank account, car or small luxury island.
Its all matte black and monolithic look is certainly imposing, and the silver alien emblem and cut away Perspex sides are almost an effort in understatement. Until you turn it on.
Fans briefly blast to maximum torque, making you think it's going to take off. LEDs traced all over the case light up. Venting fins, lined across the top, bristle open and then settle down, from that point on opening and closing based on how much heat the thing needs to expel. It's like a living, breathing, oddly luminescent beast.
We like it. Those who prefer the understatement though have the ability to turn all of this off.
Case and accessories
Customisation is key with Alienware. Sadly, the Stormtrooper white version isn't available, but there are plenty of other things to keep the tweak freak happy.
At the back, for instance, is a button that lights up the slots and ports so you can see what you're doing. A brilliant touch, though the button is sadly difficult to locate and the light fades off a little too quickly. Ports here are fairly standard: six-channel sound offered in 3.5mm jacks, plus optical and coax, along with six USB ports, one eSATA, gigabit Ethernet and 1394.
The rest of the case is fancy mechanics — the first vent on the top slides away to reveal two USB ports, a 1394 port, headphone and microphone jacks. Press the alien head on the front and a panel at the front silently whooshes down to reveal the optical drive and card reader, cleverly lit by white LEDs.
Then we come to the most audacious feature of the Aurora — the lights. Broken into eight zones, each can be programmed with 20 different colours that either stay solid, cycle through a range or "pulse" (which is more of a gradated flash than a smooth transaction). According to Alienware, all of this adds up to 25 billion combinations — we've long forgotten how to do permutation maths, so we'll have to take the company's word for it.
Everything lights up. Everything. (Credit: Dell)
It's not just the case though — the included TactX keyboard and mouse also feature colour-changing LEDs, but don't support transitions. Unlike usual keyboard and mouse bundles, Alienware's are of high quality, and as far as we can tell they're custom jobs too. The keyboard comes with two USB cables (presumably for extra power for the LEDs), and has a big and obvious mute button — a nice touch. Response itself feels slightly cushioned and a little slack, resulting in the user having to hit harder than what they are perhaps used to to register all key presses.
Media control buttons sit on either side of the silver alien head at the top, and require a fair bit of force to actuate. To the left are six "C" buttons, all of which can perform a customised task including macros. There are also three shift states (activated by the "S" keys in the top left), giving a total of 18 customised buttons.
The macro editor itself is decent, allowing you to insert and modify delays after recording, and even emulates mouse clicks. If you're familiar with LUA scripting, it's supported as well. Quick macro recording is done by pressing the R key at the top left, hitting one of the C keys, typing what you want to record, then hitting the R key again to store the macro in the selected C key.
Finally, there's a hardware switch with a joystick icon on it — this disables the Windows and shortcut keys on the keyboard to prevent being dumped out of your game if you accidentally hit them.
The mouse has received no less attention. It's quite comfortable, although the middle mouse button doesn't have any form of significant feedback, leading you to wonder if you've pressed it at all. There's up to five levels of DPI offered, customisable on both horizontal and vertical axes, along with adjustable speed, acceleration and polling rate. Buttons, of course, are customisable, and as is all the rage these days mouse profiles are stored on the mouse itself, so you can carry your settings from machine to machine. The profile switcher is found under the left mouse button; however, this is quite awkward and you have to be rather precise to avoid hitting anything else. LEDs on the mouse indicate what profile is active and macros are also supported here.
Other accessories include a gorgeously bound manual, an oversized mouse mat, a cleaning cloth and the requisite install discs.
Open the case up, and you have typical Alienware attention to detail — LEDs light the entire inside the moment you take the case side off, whether the power supply is plugged in or not. Everything is segmented with quick release, ready for any drop-in upgrades you may want to perform.
If Batman, H.R. Giger and a Cylon had a kid... (Credit: Dell)
Our particular model came with a Core i7 Extreme 975 @ 3.33GHz, with 12GB DDR3 1333MHz RAM, dual 1TB Samsung HD103UJ HDDs, a DVD±RW drive, and dual Radeon HD 5870s. The whole thing runs on Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, and will run you back an amazing AU$5744.20. For a machine without an SSD, that's a little heart stopping. There is the option to upgrade to a 128GB "high performance" SSD, but Dell doesn't mention the brand on the site. The capacity alone crosses out Intel- and SandForce-based drives, leaving us with most likely Indilinx or Samsung — both of which have had their technology eclipsed.
Other upgrade options include up to 2TB hard drives (including a 300GB Velociraptor), 1600MHz RAM, a Blu-ray burner, Creative X-Fi and Killer Xeno Pro network card, and pretty much everything in between. As is typical with Alienware, the only limit is essentially your wallet.
Complementing this is the usual Alienware fare — customised boot screens, wallpapers, and applications that let you tweak the lighting, thermal controls and power management. Overclocking is available in the BIOS in preset form, offering three levels (so long as you own an Extreme edition processor).
This machine was built to eat benchmarking tools for breakfast. 3DMark06 spat out a ridiculous 23,424, PCMark05 a not-as-high-but-still-crazy 12,960. Crysis was silky smooth running at 1920x1080 with everything on. If there's one thing that's certain: money may not buy you happiness, but it sure does buy you performance.
It's always the same with Alienware — those who like to build their own machines will scoff at the price. It's true: you can build an adequately performing machine for substantially less, and plenty will be happy to give up the nifty case innovations and ease of use in order to save money.
For those who don't want to build their own desktop, and just want bling and instant gaming satisfaction, the Aurora ALX will fill that gap and then some.