Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Alienware Experience - Part 4

Well, it's been two weeks now, and I am still using my Alienware Aurora R3 PC, and I still love it. I've had the chance to really give it a workout in some new, high end graphical games, and it really shines. It also works great for the day to day computing that I do.

Let me start out by saying that if you are like me and research the crap out of major purchases before you commit, then you will have read all of the internet horror stories about Alienware. They ship broken, or they don't work right, or you have to spend two months working with support to get the right stuff, etc. Of course we all realize that the Internet is 90% bitchfest, and only 10% praise. People don't come online to tell you how great a purchase they just made, but they sure do come on to complain when something goes wrong. So you may be a tad bit anxious about purchasing a computer that even has it's own site. I say "don't be."

My Alienware shipped on-time - actually, a couple of days early. It was working flawlessly when I set it up. (Yes, I had to install all of my software and update some drivers, but hey, that's life with a PC. If you don't like that, you shouldn't be using a PC.) It has performed with excellence in all tasks that I have shoved at it, and I have yet to have occasion to complain.

As far as performance goes, let's talk briefly about two modern games: Brink and Rift. I ran Fraps during both of these games for extended periods to make sure that I was getting decent performance for my money. I chose these games because they are both newer releases, and because they both push the graphics card to work hard. In fact, these two games are the only games that I played recently that actually caused the graphics card fan to spin up to a faster level.

During multiplayer, 16 person Brink sessions, the fps (Frames per Second) never dipped below 38. They averaged out at 44. This is with all of the graphics options turned up as high as they will go and at a resolution of 1920x1200. The game looks nice, and it played smoothly, with no detectable hitching. I will note, however, that Brink is a really new release, and that it still has its share of graphical bugs. I expect that as the game is further optimized, I will see an increase in fps.

Rift is a newer MMORPG game that really has spectacular graphics. Of course, in order to enjoy those graphics, you need a PC capable of showing them to you in an acceptable framerate. I ran Rift at a resolution of 1920x1200, on the Ultra setting at first, and I was getting an average of 62 fps. But then I noticed that the "ultra" setting left quite a few graphics sliders turned down. How ultra is ultra if it isn't actually ULTRA? So, I went ahead and turned all of the sliders up to the max. Go big or go home, right? When walking around solo and questing, I averaged around 45 fps. In groups doing dungeon runs, my fps dropped just a tiny bit to average around 42. And the real test, giant raid sized outdoor events where rifts are opening and spilling out hordes of monsters and 100+ players are all on the screen at once battling those monsters. During these chaotic events, the Aurora R3 still averaged 28 fps, with a low of 24fps. Even with that many things happening onscreen at the same time, the gameplay was smooth and I never noticed any detectable graphical hitching. My old system hitched during World of Warcraft raids with as few as 20 players present, and it wasn't out of date or under-powered. it just wasn't as top notch as the new Alienware.

So, I am going to end my series of articles on the new Alienware Aurora R3 with a positive rating for the system and a few notes. The only thing even slightly bad I can say about it is that when playing Rift and Brink the GeForce 590 GTX card's fan kicks up the speed quite a bit, and the exhaust sound is quite loud. It actually makes me turn up my speakers a bit. Of course, my system sits level with my desk and about a foot away from my monitor, so moving it might make the noise a non-issue. (Or liquid cooling it, like the CPU.) The only time the system ever crashed was the first day that Brink was released. The open GL interface between the game and the graphics card locked it up tight. Other than that, it has run flawlessly. The lighting system looks great, and is fun to set up with different color schemes for each game or flashing lights when you receive an email. So far, my Alienware experience has been very positive, and I would definitely recommend them to others who want a custom gaming PC, but don't have the time to build and support it themselves.