Review: Alienware Area 51 ALX
- Did I mention it was fast
- Blazing Fast
- Graphics speed (Fast)
- Expandability (6 hard drive bays)
- Handy Lights for accessability (internal and external)
- I seriously cannot say a bad thing about this unit it fulfils or exceeds all my expectations.
Some of you may be wondering why this review took so long to complete. Partially it was my fault (trying to combine studying, renovating, gaming and Christmas), and partially it was Mr Dell’s as you will see later in this review.
Dell’s ordering and delivery system is 2nd to none. From the time you order the product you can track it all the way to your house. They call and book a ½ day slot for delivery, and they generally hit the mark.
Unpacking the beast
The courier pulled up at the top of the driveway and I practically ran out the front door to greet her. She had a package for me, a very large package, a very heavy package, a very black package.
I managed to get it in the front door; I could taste and smell the anticipation! But I realised that I needed to document the process for the review (damn it), so I couldn’t just rip into it and start playing.
I unpacked the box and realised that this unit was extremely well packed, and protected. I was impressed by the attention to detail; even the plastic protective packaging has the Alienware logo stamped on it.
The first item out was the accessory box on the top (the box with the two holes to ease removal). Again it was a slick looking box, nicely presented with a logo. I opened it up to see the goodies inside. An Alienware TactX mouse (Logitech), a cheap Alienware keyboard (left in box, still use my trusty Zboard), the usual disks, manuals (nice leather cover), power cords, and a cleaning cloth with Alienware logos. A nice touch if you ask me.
Looking Inside the Beast
OK, now for the main event, the machine itself! Out slid this black glossy box, with a large scaly Alien on the side. I opened the box and revealed the machine in all its glory!!!
OMG, is it a big piece of hardware. Bigger than I had imagined it would be. When you read on a website that the size is 56cm high x 28cm wide x 66cm deep, you cannot appreciate how big that is until you see the unit in front of you. Before I plugged it all in I took some photos of the innards, because I hadn’t want to move it around too much once it was in place and set up.
The machine’s main side showed what I would call a typical PC layout. Card slots on left, CPU at top, RAM next to CPU, optical drives on right, power supply on bottom. See the tubes coming out from the CPU? My first foray into water cooling, it was relatively neat and tidy (not perfect, but better than I would have done). One really cool feature were the 4 LED lights which can be turned on, allowing techo’s to better see when working on the inside of the machine.
Also in a prominent place was the Nvidia GX295 card. This was the first graphics card that I have purchased that cost more than $100, so I was impressed with the way it looked and was packaged.
I opened up the other side of the case, not really knowing what to expect. Here I found 6 SATA hard disk bays (1 populated with my 1 TB drive), waiting for me to extend my storage over the next few years; with very easy access and tool-less implementation.
The back of the machine showed an absolute plethora of connection options, 6 USB ports, firewire, eSATA, dual network ports, HDMI, dual DVI, Soundblaster X-Fi Titanium 5.1 sound card, and a TV tuner card. There is also a light button to show the back panel for when you are rummaging around in the dark trying to connect that USB drive. You can’t see the front ports, but there are an additional 3 USB ports, esata, firewire, mic and headphone jacks.
Turning on the Beast
When I first turned on the machine, I thought a jet engine was about to drive through my windows. But it was just the initial “flare” of the vents on top of the machine. These vents will adjust the amount of airflow (and noise) depending on the temperature and CPU usage of the machine. The more grunt you are using, the greater the airflow (thus keeping things cooler). The picture shows the different positions of the vents (they all move in unison).
The Alienware head is a button that drives a motorised front panel to show the optical drives underneath. It works even if there is no power.
If you don’t want to read thru some rage posts and complaints about Dell, please skip to the section called How Does It Go?
The machine booted through the bios screen (with funky Alien picture), and then I was presented with this. Not something you want to see on a brand new PC, but I clicked to boot normally and then I was met by another issue. Hmmm an inconsistent disk ok; go through and repair to discover all these orphan files that it needed recovered.
Finally it booted into windows (complete with a snazzy looking red alien splash screen), I now had a desktop that I could use. A quick look around at the machine, ensured drivers were all loaded in Windows (check), do a Windows update (only 2 updates missing), remove various items of bloat-ware, and I began transferring data from my old machine to the new. This is my bird helping with the transfer.
During the transfer, I played around with the funky lighting options on the case. There are 5 zones that can be configured independently, with colour transitions using pulsing or solid colours. You could even change the colours on the Alienware mouse. “Events” can also be created, so when a new email arrives (or similar), something happens to the lights.
Data was still transferring, so I decided to check out the media centre and TV tuner card that I had included in the machine. I went into Media Centre, through the setup process and BANG!!! The system suffered a Blue Screen of Death, and forced a reboot.
“OK,” I thought to myself, “This is odd.” After restarting and going through the boot, I received the same screen as the first attempt, a pattern perhaps? I tried to restart the media centre. It asked all the setup information again, but seemed to hang on the downloading TV setup data. I left it for an hour, and there was still no joy; even overnight there still no movement.
I called Dell support (they have dedicated Alienware Techo’s), and explained the problem. They started looking into it, using Gotoassist tools to remotely connect to my machine. There seemed to be a missing driver in the device manager. They tried everything they could remotely, without any luck. Their suggestion, a system rebuild using the included disks. I did not want to do that, especially as I had just spent the last few hours getting the machine to a state that it was usable (i.e. my games have copied across); but I did what they said. I rebuild the machine and now the “pretty lights” on the case are not working (more on the pretty lights later). Dell Support had to escalate to level 3, they promised to call me back the next day at 11am. I used the machine for gaming that afternoon through night to get a feel for it, and it was wonderful (especially in the un-tweaked game that I was playing).
Come the next day, I was looking through the doco’s and the like, and found instructions for a media centre remote and sensor that I don’t seem to have. When 12pm rolled around and Dell hadn’t called yet, I phoned them to ask about the status. The level 3 techs didn’t have any idea what the problem was, the hardware is new and there is little to no history for them to draw on. Can they get back to me later? Sure I said, and then I also asked about the missing remote and sensor. That was a sales question they said, and they will get a sales person to get back to me on it.
Feeling pretty frustrated at this stage, although at least the machine was working. But when you’ve paid about $6000 for a machine, you expect it to be working! I work in the IT industry, so I know these things happen, and I can self support in a lot of cases.
Sales rang me back.
Dell: “Sir, you didn’t order a remote for your tv tuner.”
Hoppy: “But the Hauppauge webpage says that it comes with a remote.”
Dell: “But this isn’t the retail version?”
Hoppy: “But I wasn’t given any option to get a remote during the order?”
Dell: “Correct, but you can purchase one from our website if you like?”
Hoppy (increasing anger): “Where on the website it that? Please show me.”
Dell (delay whilst looking): “Sir, it seems there is an issue and there is no remote available.”
Hoppy: “So the Icon for the TV tuner on the Dell order page is a remote control, wouldn’t you assume that it would be included?”
Dell: “No, it is just an icon”
Hoppy: “I am sorry, that is not acceptable, you have a picture representing what you are selling and now you are saying that it’s not included?”
Dell: “Yes Sir.”
Hoppy: “Well I have just spend $6000 on this machine and I want a remote control for free.”
Dell: “That isn’t going to happen Sir.”
Hoppy: “Oh yes it will!”
Dell: “No Sir, there is no way you will get a free remote from Dell”
Hoppy: “Have you heard of Rio Tinto, do you know that we are one of your top 50 customers in the world?”
Dell: “We cannot give you a remote control sir.”
Hoppy: “OK, can I speak with your manager.”
Dell: “They will not give you a free remote either Sir.”
Hoppy: “So you aren’t going to put your manager on?”
Dell: “No, I will get someone to call you back.”
Hoppy: “OK, fine, goodbye.”
I am mega upset by that stage, I have a machine that isn’t working correctly, a sales person that doesn’t appreciate that a $30 remote on a $6000 sale to keep a good customer happy is worthwhile, and tech support that don’t have a clue what my issue is. This was Friday afternoon.
Over the weekend not a lot happened, the Dell techs have no fixes available. And I have a minor dummy spit to them. They offered to replace my machine with a new one, which seemed pretty reasonable considering the issues.
Someone will get back to me about the new machine.
Wednesday rolled around, no action and no contact, I cracked!! I sent a scathing email to the sales team in Malaysia (and copied in the Rio Tinto account manager), explaining how extremely unhappy I was, and listed all the issues that I had encountered since the machine arrived.
The Rio Tinto account rep jumped all over it, they assigned me an Aussie tech to start investigating the problem (because I said that if it could be fixed, no need for a new machine); and even arranged a remote for me. The Aussie tech spent the better part of two days trying to fix the problem, but without any luck either.
Ultimately a Dell sales guy sent me an order for a new machine, and the specifications weren’t the same. Some too-ing and fro-ing to get them aligned, and towards the end of the week the new machine was re-ordered.
When it arrived (including the remote), it had the same odd issues at boot, and problems with the TV card. I end up using the Hauppauge utility to remove all software and drivers, and then re-installed them. Afterwards I rang Dell and gave them the solution, so they can fix it in the future for other people.
|CPU:||i7 975 processor Extreme Edition Quad Core, overclocked to 3.86Ghz|
|OS:||Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit|
|Memory:||6Gb (3 x 2gb) DDR3 SDRAM 1333Mhz|
|Hard Disk:||1Tb Sata (kicking myself for not getting Solid State)|
|Optical Drive:||6x Dual Layer Blu Ray Disc Burner|
|Video:||1792Mb Nvidia GeForce GTX 295|
|Sound:||Soundblaster X-fi Titanium 5.1|
|TV Tuner:||Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1200|
How does it go?
It goes like the clappers, nothing that I have thrown at it yet seems to have made a dent.
Modern Warfare 2 - 1900x1200 with 4x AA - not a problem.
Left for Dead 2 – Phfft, what else have you got.
Team Fortress 2 – eats it for breakfast
Call Of Duty 2 – OMG, I actually hit 1000 fps at some points!
NBA2K10 – The closest I have come to a sports game looking like real TV yet, with no lag or jumpiness, just smooth great looking graphics.
DVD Ripping – around the 8 min mark (scared me because I thought that it didn’t work)
Blu-Ray Ripping – Have only done a couple so timings are not yet known (but works)
I did a desktop audit of what I was buying and did a search for similar components on the net. The price differential was around $1000. But I also get 3 years onsite maintenance, comfort in the support of a large organisation, and a machine that should last the distance.
Whilst I had some hiccups and problems along the way, I would have no hesitation in recommending this machine to other gamers who want the latest, greatest, fastest beast of a box that I have ever had the pleasure of playing on.
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