Alienware Aurora R3 System Autopsy

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Part of what separates an Alienware machine from other boutique systems is the unique chassis, though according to Alienware, it's not just about aesthetics. This year's Aurora model sports an enclosure purportedly "designed for easy upgrades and optimal thermal control."



Weighing in at around 45 pounds and over two feet long, this isn't a mid-tower chassis designed for traveling LAN party goers. Once this thing lands in your home office/dorm room/bedroom or wherever you end up putting it, that's where it will likely stay. There aren't any wheels, straps, or handles that would indicate Alienware expects you to lug the Aurora R3 around.

The case itself is compromised of mostly plastic. We prefer aluminum, both for its weight and thermal characteristics, but we suppose the plastic design is one way Dell manages to keep costs from spiraling out of control. The plastic actually feels sturdy, and the Aurora R3 manages a menacing look without being overly obnoxious about it.

     

Hidden behind the front door are the optical drive(s) and media card reader. You access these by pressing the Alien head, which we initially thought would power up the system, and so will most people who don't RTFM. Instead, the power button sits somewhat stealthily on top behind the head.

The rear I/O panel is home to two USB 3.0 ports, six USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port, GbE LAN port, 7.1 HD audio ports with THX TruStudio Sound, digital optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs, and an eSATA 3Gbps port. There's also a lock switch on top to keep the side panel secure, and a diagnostic button on the power supply.

 

Dell provides two more USB 2.0 ports on the front panel, along with a single USB 3.0 port and both microphone and headphone ports. These are hidden behind a top panel door that you access by pressing down, and while we appreciate the option of keeping them out of sight, the angle is a bit awkward from a usability standpoint.



Dell hit a homerun in designing the side panel for the Aurora R3. To perform an autopsy, whether out of sheer curiosity or to upgrade your components, you remove the side panel by pulling on a latch on the top-rear of the case. This releases the Aurora R3's grip on the side panel, which you can then pull back and toss to the side. Putting it back on is just a matter of lining up the bottom and pushing the panel back into place. So how does the Aurora R3's ribcage light up if there aren't any wires running from the system to the side panel? Dell equipped it with a remote module that makes contact with the lighting system when the side panel is put back in place.

Both Radeon HD 6950 cards are hidden behind a plastic shroud that swings open, should you need to access them for any reason. Everything is a tight fit inside the Aurora R3, but upgrading couldn't be any easier. Want to add another hard drive? Simply slide out the tool-less drive tray, plop in your HDD, shove it back in and plug in the power and SATA cables Dell thoughtfully left hanging by the drive bay. Each of the drive bays have the necessary cables in place so you won't have to fumble around looking for the right wires.

That's the good. And the bad? Well, our system arrived with the main 24-pin ATX connector swinging in the wind. This is one of the first things you should check if your system doesn't fire up when hitting the power button, but can still prove vexing for less experienced PC users. Much more troubling was the discovery of a loose screw floating around. It was rattling around when we picked up the system, but had we not noticed it, could have shorted the system, or even worse, fried the hardware. Not cool.

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I have always liked the style of the Alienware cases as they are the best looking of all the boutique system builders. The little touches like the custom lighting is very cool.

I wonder what motherboard they use in these systems? My guess is it's a OEM Intel board, could this hold it back some?

At any rate great review Paul and Marco.

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@Thunderbird: It is an OEM board, model # 046MHW.

@OptimusPrimeTime: The videocards have 2GB of GDDR5 each.

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In all honesty, I believe Alienware are complete rip offs, as you can build a way faster system, for about a 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of their systems. I agree they are nice looking but would go for total performance over looks any day and I have cathode lights and LED fans that look pretty nice! I just think they need to drop their prices, especially since they have been owned by Dell now! 

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"Nice honest review Paul. MY personal opinion is that AlienWare is not what it used to be. I dont like the Chassis anymore and its weight, and I certainly dont care  paying a premium for their stupid lighting. This system is overpriced and underpowered for the money, and for what they are charging, it isnt even overclocked. "

"Over the last couple of years, its been about value and not so much about "Light" eye candy, Alienware has lost some serious sales to companies like CyberPower , Maingear, Digital Storm ect. They cant compete in terms of value for the money  and diversity in terms of options of components and chassis. And I think the only thing that has kept them alive is that Dell owns them."

"I would like to see the 2010-2011 sales figure from Alienware compared to the competition. Anyhow,great review, odd gaming resolutions? One question though, were these 1GB 6950s or 2GB?

-Optimus    

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You are exactly right.  Why pay a premium price when you can do it yourself!

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A friggin loose screw in the case is not a good thing,....Yow!!

As usual, AlienWare/Dell has a unique look about it. People either love it or hate it. They usually have some nice design innovations inside too.

That said, I have to admit that there are a few other boutique builders that I would buy from first. Our fabulous prize sponsors who have given us fantastic high-end PC's for free, and also build excellent retail computers too. They surely deserve our business when we can't find the time to build for ourselves. Their prices are usually a good deal as well.

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"Build quality feels rushed (unplugged 24-pin ATX power cord, loose screw)" Its dell, they mass product things unlike those smaller companies that take pride and love in your orders. lol :P

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I would have to agree. Looking at the cable management alone (or lack thereof), this system doesn't seem up to typical Alienware standards actually.

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yeah the Alienware/Dell thing is definitely a matter of personal preference ya either just love tha appearance brand name or some thing or you do NOT.Aside from the loose 24 pin power cable the loose screw is just totally lame.

Thanks for the review and testing the cpu with prime 95 and Furmark to heat that puppy up and Dell putting in that bigger PSU is a good move.

Anyhow one needs to be able to get into the custom config pages to decide what the best performance and value.Took a bit of time to see what;s available and yep look like they are making a genuine effort to reach a more mainstream market with the Aurora series.Honestly I would recommend some of the other boutique builders that have sponsored rigs for HH.I think they give you a better price and performance value.The guys in New Jersey seem to take a lot of pride in the quality of there work and reputation.

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Great review Paul. I admit, I haven't been interested in anything Alienware for a while but it's nice to see them in stores, even though the build quality is Dellified (ie cheapened.); anyway, this seems like a good build for people who want a midrange system they can buy in the store instantly; I mean if they want more power then they can overclock it later right?

For the rest of us, there seems to be more desirable options. I don't like or hate Alienware, I just feel mostly indifferent to it.

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