Introduction, Design, Features
This year has been a busy one on the processor front—to put it mildly. After years on the margins, AMD finally delivered a chip line that could compete with Intel’s mainstream desktop parts with the AMD Ryzen 7, Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5 offerings. The latter chips found their way into reasonably affordable gaming rigs like the Asus G11DFDell Inspiron Gaming Desktop (Model 5675)a trio of Ryzen Threadripper chips designed to compete with Intel’s high-end desktop processors like the 18-core Intel Core i9-7980XE Extreme EditionThreadripper 1950XNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti cards jammed into the system’s triangular frame.
With a fast 1TB solid-state drive (SSD), a 2TB hard drive, and an abundant 64GB of DDR4 memory included as well, this configuration of Alienware’s monster desktop is a do-it-all beast with a price tag to match: It’s $5,799, direct from Dell, as tested. If you’re a high-end content creator, an extreme gamer, or (ideally for this configuration) both, the Area-51 might be a good fit.
Just know that if gaming is all you’re interested in, the massive collection of cores here won’t really help your frame rates. In fact, as we’ll see later on, it actually makes at least a couple of games more difficult to run. You can opt for a machine with a mainstream processor (like Intel’s recent sub-$200 six-core Intel Core i5-8400) and the same pair of graphics cards and wind up with similar frame rates and save yourself several hundred dollars.
And given that not every game will take full advantage of the two graphics cards here, those who truly care about value may want to step down to a single-card option as well. While the configuration Alienware sent us for review is unquestionably powerful, unless you’re doing some serious media creation and gaming on a 4K monitor, this tricked-out tower is all kinds of overkill.
Also worth taking into account is the Threadripper Edition’s appetite for desk space. At over two feet deep and nearly as tall, the tower itself eats up a serious amount of elbow room. If you factor in the 34-inch ultra-wide gaming monitor that the company shipped along with the Area-51 for testing, your desk may need a serious upgrade as well. Unboxed and set up on our test bench, the display and tower took up as much space as three of our desktop test beds. And when we added the mechanical keyboard and gaming mouse that Alienware also sent with the machine, the total price tag for this collection was just over $7,500. Those with space or wallet considerations need not apply.
Alienware Area-51 R2 that we looked at back in 2014. So for a full rundown, feel free to peruse that review.
Here, we’ll just point out that the tower is a unique triangle-shaped collection of solid-feeling metal, rigid plastic, and user-controllable LEDs. There are light strips on the front, as well as on the left side of the machine, and you can choose your favorite color and a selection of lighting effects via the included Alienware Command Center software.
The first thing to keep in mind about the Area-51 is that it’s big and heavy. Alienware says the system starts at almost 62 pounds. Loaded up with two high-end graphics cards and a slew of other high-end components, our test system was a fair bit heavier than that. So be prepared (and probably bring a buddy or two) if you plan on putting the system on your desk. As noted up top, you’ll also want to clear plenty of space for that ahead of time—or just buy a bigger desk—because the chassis is more than 25 inches front to back, and nearly 11 inches wide.
Storage Expansion Options
You probably won’t be wanting to add extra components right away (we certainly hope not, given this system’s $5,799 asking price). But if you decide to beef up storage down the line once the 1TB SSD and 2TB hard drive start to feel cramped, there are plenty of options for installing more drives behind the right door. Remove a screw at the top rear of the system, and then lift the latch corresponding to that side and the panel pops open, letting you remove it with ease. (Or you could strap it to your arm as a shield; the side panels feel like they could take a bullet or two.) Inside you’ll find a few empty drive bays.
Our review unit had its 2TB Toshiba hard drive mounted in the bottom bay. But there were two other 3.5-inch bays free, as well as a 2.5-inch bay with holes for mounting two additional drives.
The system’s slot-loading DVD drive is mounted at the top right here, facing the front edge. There doesn’t seem to be an option for a Blu-Ray drive on the site’s configuration page. But most people have probably moved to streaming media at this point, anyway. At least Alienware does a good job of pre-routing cables to the spare drive areas where you might install future storage.
Of course, most of the component action happens on the other side of the system, which is also where you’ll find the 1TB PCIe SSD boot drive, mounted in the M.2 slot on the motherboard.
Samsung SSD 960 EVOAlienware Aurora (2016)AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950XNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti cards that we mentioned earlier. Oh, and for those doing high-end media tasks, the RAM is maxed out here at 64GB of DDR4, running at 2933MHz. The whole shebang is powered by a monstrous 1,500-watt power supply. Given that the CPU and graphics cards should be pulling about half that, the power supply in this machine should easily be able to handle just about anything else you could conceivably connect to the various expansion ports and slots.
Alienware sells two fundamentally different versions of the Area-51 at the moment. One is based around Intel’s new Core X platform, which maxes out with the 18-core Core i9-7980XE Extreme EditionGigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti G1 Gaming 4G). Given that that card can be found in sub-$1,000 mainstream desktops, the idea of putting it in an Alienware Area-51, which starts at $1,899, just seems silly.