Long before the days of the modern gaming PC, a guy named Plato argued that necessity was the mother of invention. Eons later, Dell's new stepchild Alienware is attempting to reverse that maxim: You never knew you needed this much gaming power. That thinking appears to be the driving force behind the latest vision of high-tech PC gaming, the Alienware Area-51 7500.
Performance first: The 7500 will absolutely devour anything and everything you throw at it. I could even play Counter-Strike: Source while scanning the auction house in WoW. I couldn't push anything I had hard enough to slow the machine down. Check out the impressive benchmarks...
Doom 3 Benchmark
• 194.7 fps
3DMark 2005 Benchmark
• 3DMark Score: 14,490 3DMarks
• Game 1: 57.84fps
• Game 2: 44.58fps
• Game 3: 75.51fps
• CPU Score: 9,116 CPUMarks
• Test 1: 5.05fps
• Test 2: 7.31fps
I know, just a bunch of meaningless numbers. But trust me, this machine is fast.
Then, there's the outside. The 7500 sports a newly designed P2 chassis that looks like it would be right at home in a Halo 3 game (if it only had some turrets and afterburners). As evidence of the new outlook Alienware has adopted, it also comes equipped with software that lets you customize, on the fly, the colors of five different "zones" of cathode lights located around the case. With 24 color options per light zone, your options are endless—and pointless. While it may be a fun gimmick to impress the neighbor kid with, after the initial laughs you'll probably find yourself ignoring them.
But that bright idea isn't the only new addition to the P2 chassis. The front panel is on a solid pivoting arm that hides the drive bays and feels solid when you swing it open or shut. Audio and data ports have a new home on the front panel as well, though the angled approach to USB/Firewire connections takes some getting used to. The "AlienIce 3.0" video cooling system consists of fans positioned around a large open intake zone stretching from the front of the case around each side designed to balance airflow and maximize cooling efficiency.
Inside, this case in another story. Cable management is taken to a new level in the 7500; if you can find a wire that isn't tucked away, tied down or otherwise contained, chances are you put it there yourself. Not only does this attention to detail improve airflow, it makes the case a pleasure to work in (should you have the desire to upgrade or add anything, Alienware doesn't use proprietary parts like their parent company). The most noticeable addition to the interior of the box is the new liquid CPU cooling system, a self-contained, maintenance-free loop that keeps the processor cool under pressure. Unfortunately, this system is limited to CPU cooling only. I would have liked to see liquid cooling expanded to the GPU as well, which seems like an obvious 'next step' in a super cooled gaming system. Without the liquid GPU cooling, a plethora of fans still leave the 7500 a far cry from "silent," though it isn't the jet-engine-cooled PC of 2001, either.
My experience using the 7500 was an extremely pleasant one, though not as problem-free as my previous review of the m7700 laptop. My initial boot yielded a 'gaming PC' with no audio, a problem that persisted for a few reboots until I discovered onboard audio (there is no soundcard included) had been disabled in the BIOS. I can't imagine why Alienware would knowingly ship a system with its only audio system disabled by default, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a deal breaker for me. Additionally, the motherboard audio port resulted in distant, muffled output from my speakers, so I was forced to use the front panel's audio jack instead.
Ultimately, the 7500 is a case of "two steps forward, one step back." Alienware continues their tradition of solid, reliable performance coupled with high style, but their attempts to break into new territory leave something to be desired. Water-cooling is more efficient in other pre-made systems, or even in your own home-brewed version. In any high-end system I would expect to find something other than (finicky) onboard audio, and an AGEIA PhysX processor wouldn't have surprised me (though limited support for that product may justify its absence). If you have a four grand PC budget and want a no-hassle machine guaranteed to perform, Alienware can find a way to cash your check. My suggestion: give the men in white coats a season or two to perfect (and, hopefully, advance) their liquid cooling system and then get your mitts on an unstoppable gaming experience.
Product Page [Alienware]