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Alienware Area-51 R5 review

The otherwordly Area-51 R5 descended from the sky and annihilated our benchmarks

Alienware Area-51 R5 Review |
Alienware Area-51 R5
“Alienware’s Area-51 R5 annihilated our benchmarks without breaking a sweat.”
  • Robust configuration options
  • Exceptional gaming performance
  • Sleek design
  • Tool-free maintenance
  • Very quiet
  • Pricey at most configurations

The Alienware Area-51 has always been a striking machine. With its angled edges, pyramidal design, and gently glowing LED lighting, there’s just nothing else like it. The unusual case design is typically paired with extravagantly powerful hardware and the Area-51 R5 is no exception.

Our review unit featured a liquid-cooled overclocked 18-core Intel Core i9-7980XE processor, two liquid-cooled Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics cards running in SLI, 64GB of RAM, and a 1TB M.2 SSD with a 2TB mechanical hard drive backup.

Basically, the Area-51 R5 has everything pushed to its logical extreme — even its price. All this hardware and expert engineering will run you about $6,709. The Area-51 is billed as a gaming desktop. But with price like that, and such unfettered power humming away inside this thing, it is wasted to be used on gaming alone. Let’s show you what all this thing can do.

A real eye-catcher

Just look at this thing. Like we mentioned, it’s entirely unlike anything else on the market. The Area 51’s iconic “triad” design has served Alienware well over the years, and the Area-51 R5 features the second-generation version with a few internal tweaks and refinements.

Despite its unusual shape, we actually didn’t have any trouble fitting it under desks, on top of desks, or anywhere really.

Externally, the Area-51 pretty much looks the same as it always had — and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just kind of polarizing. This is a very large computer, and its design doesn’t lend itself to being tucked away under a desk, toiling in obscurity. This is a desktop computer that begs to be seen, to be displayed, and its size makes it a little hard to find space for it.

The angles on the case make it a bit longer than a typical PC. Despite its unusual shape, we actually didn’t’ have any trouble fitting it under desks, on top of desks, behind monitors. It’s big and heavy, but it’s not as big as it seems. Still, that extra weight means you’ll definitely need a sturdy desk.

For the Alienware Area-51 to truly be a desktop computer, you’re going to need a pretty substantial desk. Its overall footprint isn’t that much bigger than a traditional gaming desktop, but it is a bit different. It’s taller, for one, and a little thicker.

All the ports, and then some

Due to its unusual shape, you might be wondering about the ports. Rest assured, they’re all where you’d expect them to be — with a few convenient changes. First, replacing the top-side ports on many desktops, the Alienware Area-51 R5 features four USB ports on the front of the chassis. It’s angular design actually makes them more easily accessible than typical front-facing ports when it’s under a desk.

Otherwise, the external connectivity around back is about what you’d expect, nine USB ports, not one but two ethernet ports, a USB-C port, and there’s even a convenient little button that turns on a small external light, so you can see the ports more easily.

Spacious interior

With such an unusual exterior design, you might expect the interior of the Alienware Area-51 to be cramped or awkward, and you’d be wrong. Once you unscrew the exterior lock on the Area 51’s case, all you need to do open it is pull a pair of switches along the top-side of the case. The panels pop open like car doors.

Without moving a single internal component, you have access to the RAM, the graphics cards, the power supply, and the fan assemblies.

Once you remove the panels, you’ll see what we meant about the interior. It’s luxurious. There’s plenty of open space, but it’s not wasted! The inside of the front panel is where you’ll find an intake fan, and two of the fans connected to the liquid cooling units on the graphics cards. The rear panel is hooked up to the liquid cooling block on the CPU.

Cables are neatly zip-tied together according to their purpose, power cables are labeled and elegantly strung through the case without unnecessary slack. Try as you might, you won’t find a single tangled cable in here — not even on the back-side of the motherboard, where cables typically go to braid themselves into dense brambly nests. Nothing. Just simple, straightforward cable management with an eye toward accessibility and future upgrades.

Without moving a single internal component, you have access to the RAM, the graphics cards, the power supply, and the fan assemblies. Because of the superb cable management here, performing routine maintenance is a breeze. Removing hardware components is almost entirely tool-free, thanks to the clip that holds the graphics cards in place. There’s even a battery-powered work light that turns on when you open the case, so you can see every port, cable, and plug.

These little details are an important part of what you get when you invest in a system like the Area 51. Sure, you could just pick up all of its internal components and put it together yourself, or buy an identically-outfitted PC from any other manufacturer. But what you get by going with the Area-51 is an unparalleled level of engineering and intuitive internal design.

A souped-up daily driver

For everyday workloads, running Word, Excel, even egregiously, insanely intensive web-browsing, the Area-51 R5 is a champ. Between its Core i9 processor and 64GB of RAM, an average office workload isn’t going to anywhere near the limit of this machine’s capabilities.

One thing is abundantly clear; our standard test suite may not be able to keep up with this machine.

To give you some context, we threw absolutely everything we could think of at the Area-51 R5. We opened up four browser windows, with 25 live tabs running a 4K video in each one, ran Geekbench 4, and a Deus Ex: Mankind Divided benchmark, all simultaneously while we wrote this review. We didn’t notice even a single moment of slowdown in Word, not a hitch, stutter or hiccup.

Even the Area-51 R5’s hard drives are impressive. Well, one of them is. Our review unit featured a 1TB M.2 SSD — about the size of a stick of gum — and a regular-sized mechanical drive packing an extra 2TB of storage space.

Clearly the Area-51 R5’s SSD isn’t the quickest we’ve ever seen, but it’s very quick for its size. Coming in with a read speed of 1,734 megabytes-per-second it’s about a third slower than the 2TB M.2 drive in the Falcon Northwest Tiki, and the 512GB M.2 drive in the Origin Millennium.

The mechanical drive performed well for a mechanical drive, topping out at a 195 MB/S read speed and a 193 MB/s write speed. Still, moving massive files around on the M.2 drive was just as quick as you’d expect. The same M.2 drive is available in 256GB and 512GB configurations, with the 2TB mechanical drive as backup.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

So, if a standard office workload on steroids won’t trip up the Area 51, that begs the question: What will?

Keeping up with an i9

The Alienware Area-51 R5 is available in configurations with Intel Core i7-7800X, i7-7820X, and i9-7980XE processors. Our review unit is the monstrous 18-core i9-7980XE variant. To get an idea for just how powerful the hardware inside the Alienware Area-51 R5 really is, we gave it a run through Geekbench 4 — and the results are definitely instructive. Looking at single core performance, it’s clear this overclocked Core i9 is an above average performer.

It is outperformed by 8th-generation Core i7-8700K processors here, but that’s to be expected, these are six-core processors, so each core is a little quicker than each core in the Core i9-7980XE, which is an 18-core processor. Multi-core performance is where the Core i9 really shines. The 18-core processor easily outruns the stock Core i7-7700K and even the 8th-generation Core i7-8700K in multi-core performance.

One thing is abundantly clear, our standard test suite may not be able to keep up with this machine. Looking at how quickly the Area-51 R5 crunched our 4K video encode, you can see what we mean.

The Area-51 R5 just obliterated our test here. It crunched the 4K encode so fast we had to run it a couple times to make sure we set it up right. It finished the encode in just 123 seconds, or just two minutes, three seconds. That’s the quickest we’ve ever seen — by a significant margin.

GPU Performance

Our Alienware Area-51 R5 review unit is, as we mentioned, basically maxed out. It has one of the most powerful processors on the market, 64GB of RAM, and two high-end graphics cards. It should be no surprise to say that it handles most games with aplomb.

Looking at its performance in 3DMark you can get a good sense for how well it performs running actual games. With its dual GTX 1080 graphics cards, its overall score in both Fire Strike and Time Spy easily eclipses the scores we saw out of single-card machines like the Falcon Northwest Tiki and Velocity Micro M60. Compared to the Origin Millennium, with its dual GTX 1080 TI graphics cards though, the Alienware Area-51 R5 slips behind a bit.

That’s not too much of a problem, considering you can spec the Area-51 R5 with dual GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards for similar performance.

It’s a trend we see here in our 1080p performance, with the Area-51 R5 taking a close second to the Origin Millennium and its quicker SLI setup. Still, it’s important to point out that the performance gap is small in most cases, and even a single 1080 Ti like the one in the Falcon Northwest Tiki, is more than capable of running your games maxed out at 1080p.

In fact, SLI setups are more than a little overkill for 1080p, as you can see from these figures. But, if you have a high refresh rate monitor, an SLI setup is an easy way to hit a framerate high enough to take advantage of a 144Hz refresh rate.

Moving on to 1440p, we can see performance dip appropriately across the board. Looking specifically at the results for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided at Ultra settings, we see something interesting. There’s no denying that running two graphics cards in SLI or Crossfire mode will give you a performance boost. And if you’re looking for top-tier performance it’s a great way to achieve it. But looking at these results there’s only a small margin between the best-in-class performance you see on the Origin Millennium, with its two GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards, and the performance you see in a single-card machine like the Tiki or Velocity Micro M60.

The difference between 70 and 88 FPS is big on paper but when you’re actually playing a game it’s not as noticeable as you might think. Still, it’s appropriate to point out here that all of these machines performed exactly as we’d expect given the strength of their hardware.

Our 4K figures here make one thing abundantly clear: 4K is still very hard on gaming hardware. A well-optimized game like Battlefield 1 will give you the best results, with framerates in excess of 100 FPS if you’re running an SLI setup. But highly-detailed, environment-dense games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will give you a bit more trouble. You’re still going to hit good framerates like 45 FPS with all the settings maxed out, but barely. For most games 60 FPS is ideal, 30 is playable, and anything less is well, anything but.

In VRMark, the Area-51 R5’s powerful hardware pushed it to the top of the pile. You should have no trouble at all running the most demanding VR games on this machine, but these benchmark scores illustrate that while the R5 is powerful, VR is still very graphically intensive and doesn’t always make the best use of SLI setups.

It’s as striking as it is functional, and it would serve you well no matter what hardware you pack inside. 

The Area-51 hit a score of 9,534 in the entry-level Orange Room benchmark, which is a little lower than what we saw out of the Falcon Northwest Tiki — it hit 13,276 on the same benchmark. There’s a reason for that. While the Alienware Area-51 R5 is a much more powerful computer overall, VR and these VR benchmarks don’t always use a dual graphics card rig as well as they could. That means you might see better performance out of a system running a single 1080 Ti than you would out of a system with two regular 1080 graphics cards.

Of course you could always spec up to a dual 1080 Ti version of the Alienware Area-51 R5 to solve that problem. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on if you plan on buying one of these PCs to run VR demos. Spring for the 1080 Ti instead.

Revamped, refreshed command center

Proprietary software isn’t usually all that noteworthy, but the new Alienware Command Center is definitely an exception. The software unifies the Area 51’s lighting, fan control, and even its overclock settings. Putting everything under one roof makes it easy to manage the Area 51’s various features, and the interface lays everything out in a way that makes sense.

Even if you’ve never used Alienware’s proprietary software before, you should be able to find anything you need just opening the new command center. Change the lighting on the case, turn the factory overlock on or off, or even adjust your power saver settings, all in one place.

Our Take

Judging a desktop like the Alienware Area-51 R5 is tough, but there are a few main points to consider. First, the design and internal layout. These elements are going to be the same no matter what hardware you pick for it. Whether you down-spec the Area-51 to a more affordable $1,900, or crank it all the way up past $8,000, the case, the layout these are the constants you should look at — and in the Area-51 R5’s case, these two elements are world-class.

While the design may be atypical, it’s incredibly thoughtful and intuitive and absolutely stands the test of time. When it comes to hardware, our review unit is kitted out with the best of the best and it shows. Let’s break it down.

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re in the market for a gaming desktop with a design that’s going to weather the ravages of time, the Alienware Area-51 R5 is hard to beat. It’s built like a tank but features a unique and uniquely intuitive design. Taking out the graphics cards can be done without a single tool, same with the RAM. Everything is laid out exactly where it should be, and no single component obscures another. Compared to a standard boxy desktop case, performing standard maintenance or removing components from the Area-51 R5 is an absolute breeze — no matter how much you spent on it.

That’s an important point because it’s a big part of what makes the Alienware Area-51 R5 stand out in a crowded field. Still, you could pack this hardware into just about any other major manufacturer’s gaming desktop — the Origin Neuron comes close, so does the Falcon Northwest Tiki.

The powerful processor, maxed out RAM, and dual graphics cards make for a very powerful machine, but it’s performance you can get elsewhere for about the same price. If you invest about $6,700 at other manufacturers you’re going to end up with very similar hardware.

The special sauce here is the the expertly engineered case and internal layout. In that regard, there really isn’t a better alternative if you don’t mind the Area 51’s size.

How long will it last?

The construction of the Alienware Area-51 R5 is incredibly robust. You’ll notice that when you first pull it out of its shipping box. Its size and weight inspire confidence that this desktop will take whatever you can throw at it. Because of its internal design and the ease with which you can perform routine maintenance, you might find yourself doing it more often which could absolutely lengthen the lifespan of the hardware inside.

If you went all-in and picked up an Area-51 R5 with specs similar to our review unit, it’s safe to say you’re going to be in good hands for at least four to five years — probably longer. Our review unit’s hardware was incredibly powerful and absolutely has the performance headroom to stand up to increasingly demanding software — and games.

The Area-51 R5 features a standard one-year warranty, but you can buy additional support from Dell, up to five years if you don’t mind spending another $813. The standard warranty isn’t bad, it’s what we’d expect from most manufacturers. But it’s a far cry from what you get from Falcon Northwest with its above-and-beyond overnight service and three-year warranty.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re in the market for a desktop PC, and you need something with incredibly powerful hardware and a unique interior and exterior design, then you should absolutely buy the Alienware Area-51 R5.

Even if you scale down the hardware to a configuration a little more reasonable for some mid-range gaming, the Area-51 R5 is a great choice. The design is definitely a little out there, but it grows on you, and it never feels like Alienware sacrificed function for form. The case is as striking as it is functional, and it would serve you well no matter what hardware you pack inside.

If you’re looking for a discount, you might find one by taking a look at the best gaming PC deals and the best desktop computer deals today.

Editors' Recommendations

Jayce Wagner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
A staff writer for the Computing section, Jayce covers a little bit of everything -- hardware, gaming, and occasionally VR.
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