Alienware Area 51 Threadripper Review: Kick Ass for the Price

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Threadripper. Come on, say it with me. Threadripper. Again. It’s just a fun word to say, but the only thing more fun than screaming Threadripper to the heavens is using one to play your games at crazy-high frame rates and multitask with tons of other programs in the background.

AMD teamed with Alienware to create the Alienware Area-51 Threadripper Edition ($2,999 starting, $4,399 as tested). It’s the only desktop in which you’ll find the powerful Ryzen processor, at least until the end of 2017. Unless you plan on building your own system.

The Threadripper is imposing yet alluring all at once and exactly what I picture an alien terminal on a spaceship would look like.

So what exactly are you getting for your hard-earned dollars? Aside from bragging rights (which are always fun), you get the easy-to-customize, UFO-chic chassis of the Area-51. There’s also a blistering-fast PCIe SSD and Nvidia’s crazy-powerful GTX 1080 Ti GPU, which can tear through any game you throw at it. And last, but most certainly not least, there’s Threadripper itself, which might not be the most powerful CPU in the land, but it’s pretty damned close.

Design

Not much has changed about the Area-51’s Triad chassis. You still get that funky triangular shape that’s adorned with Alienware’s strategically placed, customizable LED lights that flash seductively. The trademark alien head is front and center, pulling double-duty as a mascot and a power button.

Overall, it’s imposing, yet alluring all at once and exactly what I picture an alien terminal on a spaceship would look like. The otherworldly design is also functional, allowing air to reach the ports and vents in the rear, which would normally be parallel with a wall.

The front and rear of the desktop are made of glossy black plastic with prominent striations along the front for airflow. The steel-reinforced side panels are made from Epic Silver plastic, similar to what you’d find on the company’s laptops like the Alienware 17 and 15. Each panel can be removed via the pair of release latches hidden at the top of the device.

Alienware wisely kept the top-mounted built-in handle, which you’ll definitely need to even attempt to lift this intergalactic beast. Weighing a whopping 62 pounds, you’ll definitely have to use your legs to lift the 22.4 x 25.1 x 10.7-inch full tower. It’s a tad lighter than the Origin PC Genesis (64 pounds, 25.2 x 25.8 x 9.8 inches), but makes the ultraportable Falcon Northwest FragBox (22 pounds, 10.5 x 15.8 x 10 inches) seem like a toy in comparison.

Alien Command Center

To give your Area-51 its own special glow, Alienware has preloaded its Command Center software on the desktop. Once launched, you’ll have the ability to tweak the colors on the nine zones with one of the 20 colors available in AlienFX, as well as add an effect. You’ll also have the ability to create lighting themes for system events (for example, when you receive an email or when the tower is in sleep mode).

But Command Center does more than create mesmerizing light shows. You can also access AlienFusion to change power settings and Thermal Controls to adjust fan speed and venting behaviors. OC Controls is there to let you squeeze every bit of performance out of the processor and DRAM.

The Area-51 is crazy-customizable. And I was pleased that Alienware added a small white light at the top of the system, so I could see everything.

And if you’re feeling really fancy, there’s AlienAdrenaline, which lets you make custom shortcuts for designated games. This time around, I created a custom theme to launch with Witcher 3. I programmed the shortcut to launch Xsplit Gamecaster after I installed it.

Ports and Upgradability

The Area-51 has an abundance of ports. There are so many, that I’m willing to wager you could plug in just about every PC peripheral you have, and you’d still have room for more. Alienware employed a light touch in the front of the system, only adding a slot-loading Blu-ray reader/DVD writer, two USB 3.1 ports, a media card reader and a pair of jacks for a microphone and set of headphones.

But like any good mullet, the party starts in the back of the Area-51. It’s here you’ll find seven USB 3.1 ports, 1 USB Type-C port and a pair of USB 2.0 ports. There are also jacks for S/PDIF, front and center channels, and rear and side surround audio inputs.

The Area-51 is crazy-customizable. Upon removing one of the side panels, I discovered there was room for two more graphics cards, another couple of sticks of RAM and a hard driver or two.

I had to swap out the processor during this review, so I was pleased that Alienware added a small white light at the top of the system, so I could see everything. I definitely appreciate that the bulb shines whether or not the system is plugged in.

Gaming, Graphics and VR

Equipped with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU with 11GB of VRAM, it’s safe to say that this configuration of the Area-51 is a badass. Whether its VR or traditional gaming, the Area-51 rose to every challenge I threw at it.

I started with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I went galavanting through Novigrad, looking for some monsters to slay. Geralt’s bone-white hair was cascading down his back, thanks to Nvidia’s Hairworks software. After locating a pack of alghouls, I lept off my horse and got down to the grisly work of sending limbs flying — all at 73 frames per second (fps).

When I ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark (1920 x 1080 at Very High), the Area-51 notched 96 fps, owning the 58-fps desktop average. The FragBox’s GTX 1080 GPU was only slightly behind with 91 fps, while Genesis and its GTX Titan GPU pulled down 99 fps. I kicked the settings up to 4K and the Area-51’s frame rate fell to 45 fps, putting it on a par with the Genesis’ 48 fps and the FragBox’s 38 fps.

On the Hitman test, the Area-51 hit 102 fps, surpassing the 84-fps category average and the FragBox’s 95 fps. However, nothing was a match for the Genesis’ 157 fps. And when I switched over to the Grand Theft Auto V test, the Area-51 delivered 111 fps, toppling the 79-fps average, but not the Genesis and its 169 fps. At 4K resolution, the Area-51 fell to a still-playable 38 fps, placing it between the Genesis (37 fps) and the FragBox (39 fps).

Seeing is believing with AMD’s Threadripper CPU. I played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in one window with 30 tabs open in Google Chrome and I never saw so much as a stutter.

The Area-51 also shone during my virtual-reality tests, delivering silky-smooth graphics as I punched my way through opponents in Feral Rites with the Oculus Rift. And when I ran the SteamVR Performance Test, the tower matched its peers, topping the test at 11 and beating the 10.4 average.

Performance: Behold the Power of Threadripper

The buzz around AMD’s latest Ryzen processor, brazenly dubbed Threadripper 1950X, has been palpable. There’s good reason for all the excitement. According to AMD, this 4-GHz monster CPU is the world’s fast multithreaded processor, and with up to 16 cores supporting 32 threads, I’m inclined to believe them.

But seeing is believing. So I started a game of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in one window, while opening 30 tabs in Google Chrome (some of which were running Tweetdeck, Slack and Twitch) in another. The Area-51 played along with my shenanigans and I never saw so much as a stutter during my game.

Next, I began putting the CPU and its 32GB of RAM through our battery of synthetic tests, starting with Geekbench 4. The system notched 26,238, easily topping the 16,685 category average, as well as the FragBox’s 4.2-GHz Intel Core i7-7700K processor, which obtained 19,240.

When I ran the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Area-51 took 3 minutes and 16 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses. That’s was just enough to beat the 3:17 average, but not the Genesis’ time of 3:01.

The Area-51’s 1TB m.2 PCIe SSD took 9 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia files, which translates to a rate of 565.5 megabytes per second, tying the Genesis (512GB M.2 PCIe SSD) and beating the 297.4MBps average. However, the FragBox’s dual 1TB SSDs were a force to be reckoned with, scoring a ridiculous 1,272 MBps.

Software and Warranty

Bloat? Where? Alienware doesn’t drown the Area-51 with unnecessary software (that’s Windows’ job). The company only offers two branded apps: Alien Command Center software and Alienware Audio, which is designed to tweak speaker settings.

Other useful gaming software include Killer Control Center, which lets you get granular with setting bandwidth priorities, and Killer Diagnostics, which monitors network speed. You also get Nvidia GeForce Experience and its suite of gamer-centric software designed to deliver optimal gaming performance.

There are a few instances of bloat, however, such as Twitter, Drawboard PDF, Keeper, Asphalt 8, Fallout Shelter and Candy Crush Soda Saga.

The Alienware Area-51 Threadripper Edition comes with a one-year hardware warranty with on-site and in-home service.

Configurations

I had an absolute blast with the $4,399 iteration of the Area-51. Equipped with a 4GHz AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X processor with 32GB of RAM, a 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD with a 2TB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU with 11GB of VRAM, the system smashed through just about everything I threw at it.

That’s not to say the $2,999 base model is a slouch by any means. That configuration has a4GHz AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X processor, 8GB of RAM, a 2TB 7,200-rpm hard drive and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM.

But if you’re looking to punch logic and austerity in the face, you’ll want to check out the $5,399 model of the Area 51, which throws in another GTX 1080 Ti GPU with SLI for fun.

Bottom Line

If badass and awesome could have a baby, I’m pretty sure it’d look like the Alienware Area-51 Threadripper Edition — or something pretty freaking close. AMD’s powerful Ryzen Threadripper processor is right at home delivering excellent CPU speed, which only helps with your gaming performance. Although it’s not the most powerful CPU in the land, paired with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU, 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD and Alienware’s undeniably otherworldly swag, the Threadripper is undeniably powerful.

If you’re looking for even more oomph than the Area-51 can provide, you might want to check out the Origin PC Genesis. But with its laughably obscene price tag, it’s beyond the reach of many a gamer. Overall, the Alienware Area-51 Threadripper Edition is a top choice for gamers who want the best that money can buy without totally emptying their bank accounts.

(tomsguide.com, https://goo.gl/PG73Wx)

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