The system as a whole looks great and we can't find a weak spot.
There are few readers that wouldn't want Alienware's luxury PC if price wasn't an option. But even when you take account of the enormous $4500 price discrepancy, Trinity International's system was hot on its heals at the finish line. Most surprising of all was that in several areas TI's computer was actually a bit better.
However, TI's AMD X2 4200+ dual-core processor was never going to beat Alienware's 4800+. Both machines sport 1GB of high-performance memory, though the twin Geil sticks in the TI machine don't have blinky LEDs on them like Alienware's Corsair. However, TI's combination of two 250GB WD hard disks (in a RAID0 configuration) is superior in capacity to Alienware's two 160GB drives. This all combined to achieve a very respectable score of 1.10 in our 2D benchmarks - just 12 percent slower than the Aurora.
These were all plugged into an ASUS A8N-SLI Premium motherboard - a variant of our A-Listed A8N-SLI Deluxe. However, as we were going to press TI informed us that it will actually include the even newer A8N32-SLI Deluxe variant to end users and we didn't complain.
But the TI also held its own in the 3D tests as well. By including a Leadtek 7800 GT this system will play all but the very latest games (like FEAR) at their full resolutions at 1280 x 1024. Scores of 60fps in Far Cry and 73.6fps in Half-Life 2 show this will be able to handle games for some time to come. This is especially sensible as the 19in LCD monitor which is included immediately limits resolutions to 1280 x 1024 - too much more power would just be overkill. Alienware gets away with its SLI system because it includes a 20in LCD monitor, which steps up to a far more taxing 1600 x1200 resolution.
The monitor itself is the very competent FP91G. While its colour reproduction won't quite cut it for top-end graphic artists, few will complain with the bright and crisp display. We also saw minimal lag with the 12ms response time. While it can't compete with its deluxe 20in sibling seen on the Aurora, we once again remind you of the price difference.
We were also most impressed with TIs other peripherals. The Logitech MX3000 keyboard and laser mouse set were by far the best on show. The keyboard is very well featured, with its multimedia and shortcut buttons, while not being oversized. Yet it remains comfortable and responsive to type on and is wireless. The mouse is ergonomic (though built for right-handers), feels comfortable and is very accurate thanks to its laser technology, despite also being wireless. Frankly, they put Alienware's mid-range Microsoft offerings to shame.
TI also thought to add speakers. While Creative's 2500 2.1 offerings won't set the world alight, they're the best on show and are a nice inclusion for people wanting a fully-featured system to work out of the box. The sub supplies a decent bass response, treble is fine and the whole system gets reassuringly loud before distorting.
TI also thinks to include a second optical drive in the form of a DVD-ROM. This is great for disc to disc copying and also lets you watch other region-coded DVDs on the same system. The burner itself is excellent and offers some of the highest speeds available as well as including support for DVD-RAM, dual-layer DVD+R9 discs as well as DVD-R9. Only LightScribe is missing (as seen on Compaq's competitor).
Should you wish to upgrade there's still plenty of room in the case. Two internal 3.5in drive bays are available as are an external one and a 5.25in bay at the front. While the internal picture doesn't show it the Antec case provides a large plastic duct for channelling hot air from the CPU and graphics card directly out of the back through the 120mm fan. However, after removing several screws with our fingers, the innards proved easily accessible. Here you'll find a spare PCI Express 16x slot to add a second graphics card should the current one feel limiting down the line.
We should point out, though that it's not the quietest system around, the fan noise is nonetheless low and certainly not distracting.
Connectivity options are good. At the front the silvered-plastic flap moves up to reveal two USB 2 ports, two audio jacks and a FireWire port. Above this the (lockable) front door hides the optical and floppy drives. At the back is everything most people need, with six USB 2 ports, FireWire, optical and coaxial S/PDIF outs as well as legacy Parallel, Serial and Game ports.
The system as a whole looks great and we can't really find a weak spot. The two year RTB warranty could be better but even this is twice that of Alienware. The system itself looks sleek and black and would grace any home. The best news of all is that there's barely a premium to be paid for all the extras (when compared to Compaq and Acer). We're very happy to recommend it.
This Review appeared in the March, 2006 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine