Alienware’s latest Aurora gaming desktop (starts at $799.99; $3,604.99 as tested) uses the company’s mid-tower case, placing it between the console-size Alpha and the colossal Area-51, though it can still accommodate two full-size graphics cards. Unique-looking inside and out, the Aurora is ready for virtually any 3D AAA game you load onto it, even if you’re connected to one or more 4K displays or a VR headset.
Design and Features
The top and front panels of the Aurora are ribbed black plastic, while both sides are silver-colored plastic with three LED-backlit strips that evoke the truncated triangle of the Area-51. Through the handle built into the top, you can route cables to the top-mounted USB and audio ports. There’s space for an optional optical drive (not included on our test configuration), but the front fascia is otherwise bare except for the backlit alien head Power button (an Alienware hallmark). The case itself measures 18.6 by 8.4 by 14.1 inches (HWD), quite a bit smaller than that of our former Editors’ Choice for high-end gaming desktops, the Maingear Rush X99 Super Stock, and larger than you’ll see on small-form-factor desktops like the Origin Chronos VR. It will fit a traditional computer desk just fine, though a dorm desk may be a tight fit.
The three lighting zones are controlled, as usual, by Alienware’s AlienFX software utility. Another feature that recalls the Area-51 is that the airflow is directed from the front of the chassis into heat-producing components like the CPU’s liquid radiator and graphics cards, and then out the rear and top. Since heat rises, it makes sense to direct the thermal currents over the cooling elements (the radiators and heat sinks) and up through the case.
Connectivity is excellent, beginning with the six DisplayPort connectors, two HDMI jacks, and two DVI ports on the GTX 1080 graphics cards. There are a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a microphone jack, and a headphone jack on the top of the case, near the front. In the back, you’ll find a set of surround audio ports, nine USB 3.0 ports, one USB 3.1 (Type-A) port, one USB-C port, and an Ethernet port. For wireless connections, there are 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
The interior of the case is almost entirely tool-less, so you can replace the graphics cards, memory, and storage drives without having to search for a screwdriver. There’s only a single PCIe x1 slot free, so you’ll have to replace the existing graphics cards in the future. Thankfully, as seen below, you likely won’t need to do that for a few years. A lot of the parts will look familiar if you’ve worked on Dell tower PCs, since Dell is Alienware’s corporate owner. You can access the 2.5- and 3.5-inch drive bays easily, and they are prewired. Be careful, though—it’s a little cramped in the case, and it is possible to disconnect some of the wires quite easily while tinkering.
The power supply is mounted on an internal arm, so it can be moved out of the way when you’re accessing the interior for upgrades. The arm’s hinge is a little stiff when you first open the case, so be careful. The power supply sits in the middle of the case, where most other gaming PCs have empty space (which is also the reason why Alienware mounted the power supply on an arm in the first place).
Not that you’ll need to upgrade anytime soon: The Aurora has a 512GB M.2 SSD on the motherboard and a 2TB 7,200rpm SATA hard drive. There’s also 32GB of memory installed, which is plenty for multitasking, even while in the middle of a gaming session. The system comes with a one-year warranty, which includes on-site service after online diagnostics.
The Aurora is equipped with an Intel Core i7-6700K processor, overclocked lightly to 4.2GHz (from 4.0GHz base), along with a pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics cards. As a result, it can handle just about any current 3D game, even at higher-than-full-HD resolutions. It managed excellent frame rates on our Heaven and Valley gaming tests (200 frames per second, or fps, on the former, and 131fps on the latter) at full HD resolution with maximum graphics settings. That’s quite a bit better than the CybertronPC Titanium and MSI Vortex G65, both of which used the older Nvidia GTX 980 graphics processors. The Aurora also returned an excellent score of 15,618 points on the 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme test, again higher than the Titanium and Vortex, but a bit lower than higher-priced desktops with GTX 1080 cards like the Maingear Rush and Origin Genesis. It’s competitive with, but ultimately falls behind our Editors’ Choice for high-end gaming desktops, the Falcon Northwest Talon, which features two Nvidia Titan X graphics cards. When we pumped the resolution of the Heaven and Valley tests to 4K, we achieved smooth gameplay (61fps for Heaven and 77fps for Valley) on the Aurora, which bodes well for the future.
While you’re mainly buying this system for its gaming prowess, it also delivers formidable day-to-day performance, as shown by its scores on the PCMark Work Conventional (3,745 points) overall performance test, the HandBrake video encoding test (53 seconds), and the Photoshop image processing test (2:34). All three scores are average for this highly overcharged category. The takeaway is that the Aurora is perfectly capable of getting work done during the day, when you’re not supposed to be gaming anyway.
In baseball terms, the Alienware Aurora is a fine utility player: reliable enough to depend on every day, but not as exciting as the grand-slam-hitting star. Consequently, like that utility player, the Aurora is a lot less expensive than the Maingear Rush X99 Super Stock and Falcon Northwest Talon. The Talon is our Editors’ Choice for its future-proofing, build quality, scintillating performance numbers, and intangibles like desirability and wow factor. The Talon is much pricier, to be sure, due to status-symbol factors like a hand-applied automotive paint job, personalized overclocking, a 4TB SSD, 64GB of memory, and higher-tier graphics cards. If, on the other hand, all you want is a competently high-powered gaming system for 4K gaming and insurance for future games, then the Alienware Aurora is a proficient choice.