Another day, another Alienware review. It seems that for the sake of variety I’m going to have to start contacting some other companies to get other machines in for review. But anyway, Alienware have sent over their fifth revision of the Aurora, one of their high-end machines. Having spent a couple of weeks with it, how do I feel about the black beast?
In the spec department the Aurora is no slouch. For starters there’s Intel’s i7 6700K providing all the processing power, which is more than enough for modern games and then some. Paired with that is Nvidia’s GTX 1080, currently the most powerful card on the market and therefore quite likely to cause a black-hole in your room should you accidentally drop it or sneeze near it. 16GB of RAM is double what you typically need, too, so if you like to abuse Chrome tabs like I abuse the sweet isle in ASDA then you’re in luck.
As for ports the motherboard’s I/O panel has six USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, S/PDIF audio out (coax and optical), six 3.5mm audio ports in case you need to hook up every speaker ever, a Killer E2400-powered gigabit Ethernet port and an onboard DisplayPort. That’s a pretty kickass I/O. The GTX 1080 has a DisplayPort 14, HDMI 2.0 and a DL-DVI.
Let’s talk configurations, then. The cheapest Aurora offering comes in at £749.00 which gets you an i3 6100 CPU, a GTX 950 with 2GB of VRAM, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD. Go up to £899.00 and you get an i5 6400 CPU, a Radeon RX480 with 8GB of VRAM, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD. Jump up another price point to £999.00 and you get yourself a swanky i7 6700, a GTX 950 and….wait. You still just get a GTX 950 at this price? Are you kidding? Okay. Right. And 8GB of RAM with the standard 1TB HDD. Finally at £1729.00 you get the machine I have in for review, although the Dell website doesn’t list a 256GB SSD in its options, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. Of course these options are also customizable, so you could ask Alienware to casually throw in a second GTX 1080 if you happen to have another £700 lying around.
Everything is squeezed into a compact case. At 18.5″ high, 13.75″ long and 7.25″ wide the size doesn’t exactly make easy to fit into an entertainment centre, but it’s also not so big that it isn’t worth considering having it as a living room games machine hooked up to the TV.
Opening up the side panel using the latch system it becomes clear how Alienware managed to get the whole thing so compact; the PSU is right in the middle of the whole case and swings out on a hinge which also provides quick, tool-less access to both the graphics card and the hard drive. It also reveals a rat’s nest of cabling for the power-supply which in a machine with this sort of pricetag I would expect to be much better hidden, but having said this considering there’s no a clear panel for viewing the interior it doesn’t matter too much. What this system means is that the Aurora’s insides are rather cramped , providing about as much space to work as your average office cubicle. Somehow, though, there’s enough room to slot a second GPU into the motherboard for some dual-card goodness, such as a second GTX 1080 for some 4K gaming. Surprisingly given the packed nature of the case cooling isn’t a problem, although of course the single-fan liquid-cooling system running on the inside does help a lot. It’s supported by a second intake fan on the front, while the GTX 1080 is the Founder’s Edition and therefore uses a blower to force hot air straight out of the back of the case. It does get a touch noisy under load, but nothing too bad, and my test model had a grating screech when the system ramped up that I was never able to locate. I assume it was a fan bearing, but it could have also been the pump.
Under load the GPU tended to sit around 75-80c, while the CPU would sit between 55-60c. It’s not exactly the coolest system around, then, but considering its compact nature it’s quite reasonable. There’s a bit of headroom for overclocking the system with those temperatures, although I personally wouldn’t go too far with it. The whole system is reasonably quiet, but to keep tempratures in check with overclocked components the fans will have to ramp up a good bit. Keep that in mind.
Visually I can’t say I’m a fan of the Aurora. As vain and lame as it sounds I do love my machines to look nice, but the Aurora sort of looks like it waddles along the ground thanks to those strange feet. Customisable LED lighting gives some extra oomph for people who enjoy a light show, and you can even see the green glow of Nvidia logo on the GTX 1080 through the side slits. It’s not ugly by any means, but personally it just doesn’t click with me.
For testing Alienware sent along a Dell 27-inch monitor that runs at 1440p. It’s a good choice because while the GTX 1080 might be a powerhouse even it struggles with 4K without a second card sitting alongside it. AT 1440P, though, the Aurora excels, as you can see with the benchmarks.For testing I ran every game at 1440p with the highest settings possible. In-built benchmarking tools were used for Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Division and F1 2016, but the others were tested purely in game. For Far Cry 4 I assaulted an outpost, making sure to toss plenty of grenades and molotov cocktails as I wanted to get the game engine running harder. Reinforcements were called in and a couple of tigers even turned up to play. With my face. For DOOM it was the Necropolis level in Arcade mode, a near constant barrage of enemies that never once fazed the framerate. Metal Gear Solid V was an airport assault where I called in an attack chopper for support and then proceeded to gun everything down. The 60FPS lock the game has by default is annoying and therefore not ideal for testing, but it was nice to see that it kept that 60FPS with barely a fluctuation. As for Hitman its inbuilt benchmark tool was refusing to display the final results, so I opted to instead fire up the Marrakesh level and take a tour of the town, stopping by the protest to admire the many, many A.I. characters and colored flares before heading inside and making life miserable for a few people. You’ll note that there’s no DX12 test results for Hitman unlike Rise of the Tomb Raider where I benchmarked both APIs. This was simply due to FRAPS refusing to work with DX12, and while normally I’d go ahead and simply use a different piece of software I’ve been seeing very little performance difference on high-end hardware with DX12.
The graphs don’t reveal anything too shocking. As expected that pairing of a 6700 CPU and a GTX 1080 rips through most titles at 1440p, with only Rise of the Tomb Raider giving it a bit of a fight. I didn’t bother testing 1080p because the results should be quite obvious; the Aurora would decimate any game you could throw at it. As for 4K I sadly don’t have a monitor lying around that can support that resolution. There’s plenty of 4K benchmarks on the web that will provide a very close estimation of what it could do, though. Suffice to say that even a GTX 1080 struggles with 4K and 60FPS, though, so my two cents is that a 1440p monitor with a 144hz refresh rate is the sweet spot.
It’s not just quick in the games either, as the 256GB SSD that my test model came with makes the controversial Windows 10 feel like someone shoved a rocket up its butt. The computer boots wonderfully fast and navigating Windows is responsive. The 256GB size doesn’t give you heaps of space to play with, but there’s enough to fit your most used programs and maybe even a few games, too. The model I have in ships with a 1TB HDD for everything which will fill up worryingly fast if you’re a gamer.
Putting both the drives through their paces using CrystalDisk 5 the results backed up what I felt. On the sequential read and write test the SSD scored 1511 and 1159 respectively, and on the 4K test it nailed 34.57 and 125.5. The HDD obviously doesn’t do as well, with 195.9 and 188.5 on the sequential read and writer, with 0.615 and 1.159 on the 4K tests. Not too shabby, I reckon.
Given the results from the benchmarks you’ve probably already assumed that the Aurora is more than capable of handling VR, but just to be sure I fired up the two primary tests. It passed the Oculus Rift compatibility tool which simply scans your system to ensure the specs meet the devices demands. As for the SteamVR Performance Test it blitzed through, ending up as far along the “ready” bracket as it could go with a quality average of 11. To put that in context entry-level machines, such as those with a GTX 970, tend to score around 6.
As is the case with most prebuilt machines if you actually sit down and source all the parts it becomes obvious that you’re paying quite a premium for the Alienware name and the fact that someone else put it all together. However, in the context of the market it does seem to be fairly priced, putting it on even footing with other machines of similar spec. When you’re browsing computers that Alienware branding might just be enough to sway you.
But do I recommend it? At this point I’ve tested and reviewed two Alienware machines and recommended both, so I almost feel stupidly obligated to dislike at least one of their products. But with that said there’s nothing to actually complain about with the Aurora, aside from a couple of minor things. It offers some seriously beefy specs that are competitively priced and is built with the typical Alienware quality. Would I buy one personally? Probably not, but then I derive a deep sense of satisfaction from building my own machines, so I’m not the target audience. If you happen to have the money and don’t particularly like the idea of trying to create a list of parts, buying them all and then putting it together then this is a great option. Couple it with a good monitor and you’re going to have a blast, plus the specs mean you should be able to run modern games very, very well for at least a couple of years before having to seriously turn any settings down. Now just watch as the industry sets out to prove me wrong.