Article, Thursday, May 22, 2003

Compares Alienware Area 51 to Dell Dimension XPS

Area 51
Maker: Alienware (
Processor: Intel 3.06 GHz with 800 MHz front-side bus
Graphics Card: ATI Radeon 9800 Pro or Nvidia GeForce FX 5800
Memory: 1 gigabyte
Price: $3,000 - $3,100 depending on configuration

Dimension XPS
Maker: Dell (
Processor: Intel 3.06 GHz with 800 MHz front-side bus
Graphics Card: ATI Radeon 9800 Pro
Memory: 1 gigabyte
Price: $3,200 with 20-inch monitor

Price Check, July 3, 2003:
(Now available: NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra w/ 256MB; Intel 3.2 GHz & 800 MHz FSB)
(Price Updates from Sept. 2003 in blue)
(Price Update from April 2004 in red)

Summary, April 2004 - Dell has clearly pulled away in offering a reasonably priced high performance machine.
I matched up the board, memory, feature set, etc. for the Dell 8200 and the Alienware Area-51(3.0 GHz based system), the 8300 based model comes from Dell for $1,110,while the AlienWare system costs $1,535. Get Dell when they're offering free shipping, and you save another $140 or so over Alienware (for a total of $545; do you really want to pay $545 more just for the AlienWare case?) The big advantage of the AlienWare system is that they give you a lot more slots and drive bays. But do you really need six 3.5" slots?

Area-51 Extreme
(Aurora Extreme)
P4*, 3.2GHz 800MHz FSB; 1GB DDR SDRAM; 120GB HD w/ 8MB cache; GeForce FX 5900 w/256MB; Audigy2
*or AMD Athlon™ XP Processor 3200: "Area-51" are Pentium-based, "Aurora" are AMD-based.
Dell XPS "Ultimate" $3,080 P4, 3.0GHz 800MHz FSB; 1GB DDR SDRAM; 200GB HD w/ 8MB cache; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro w/128MB; Audigy2; 4x DVD+RW/+R with CD-RW with monitor: $3,500
Area-51 Enthusiast
 July 2003  $2,250
Sept 2003 ($2,080)
April 2004 [$1,850]

P4, 3.0GHz 800MHz FSB; 1GB DDR SDRAM; 120GB HD w/ 8MB cache; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro w/128MB; Audigy2
Update, April 2004: the area 51 models are all back to the NVIDIA GeForce FX
(5950 Ultra 256MB, 5900 SE 128MB, or 5200 Ultra 128MB)

-Optical Drive 1: 16x DVD-ROM ; Optical Dive 2: None
-No monitor, No speakers

Price Update, video option: NVIDIA GeForce™ FX 5600 Ultra 128MB 8x AGP w/DVI & S-Video
Price Update, Nov. 2003, Dell : from Sept to Nov (2 months) price went UP to $2,580 (+$200)
Price Update, April 2004, Dell: now with 3.2GHz processor,
PRICE COMPARE SYSTEM: Alienware quote id:
Dell XPS
"Cutting Ege"
 July 2003  $2,527
Sept 2003 ($2,385)
April 2004 [$1,745]

Dell is $277 more, but you get a "free" CD-RW Drive
    price update April 2004:
Area 51 Enthusiast base model: $2,034; Options listed above: $1,850
(only $230 reduction since Sept., but $400 reduction since July of last year.)

Dell XPS Cutting Edge (options above): $1,750 ($100 less than Area-51), + free shipping
See Summary, above.
Area-51 Performance $1,600
P4, 2.8GHz 800MHz FSB 512KB Cache , 512MB DDR SDRAM; 80GB HD w/ 2MB cache; GeForce FX 5200 w/128MB; Audigy 1397

system update April 2002:
same price, system now has

P4, 3.0GHz 800MHz FSB 512KB Cache ; 512MB DDR PC-3200* SDRAM; 80GB Seagate Serial ATA 8MB Cache; GeForce FX 5200 Ultra 128MB; Audigy 2

*PC-3200 DDR SDRAM operates at an effective rate of 400MHz.
Dell XPS
"Base Model"
$1,900 P4, 2.8GHz 800MHz FSB, 512MB DDR SDRAM; 120GB HD w/ ??MB cache; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro w/128MB; CD-RW drive; Audigy2  

Ace's Hardware seems to prefer the Radeon 9800 Pro slightly over the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra
. "[APRIL 2003]: The Radeon 9800 Pro makes incremental performance improvements over the Radeon 9700 Pro thanks to its increase core and memory clockspeeds. With its $399 price tag, the Radeon 9800 Pro is unlikely to entice current Radeon 9700 or GeForce FX owners, though it should provide a significant upgrade for GeForce 4 and Radeon 8500 owners. "

"PCI Express is a new Intel bus architecture that doubles the bandwidth of the AGP 8X bus, delivering over 4 GB per second in both upstream and downstream data transfers. Supported in the GeForce PCX GPUs and some versions of the GeForce 6800 GPUs." But don't bother buying a PCI Express card now: you'll have REAL trouble finding any system board that supports them (Intel doesn't have them, so they probably don't exist yet). - April 2004.

Posted on Thu, May. 22, 2003
The San Jose Mercury News

Graphics chips now zap `jaggies'

Mercury News

Good riddance ``jaggies.'' Those annoying jagged lines and square pixels that destroy graphic realism in most computer games have been banished thanks to the newest visual technologies in the latest gaming PCs.

Jaggies used to be obvious, whenever a computer tried to display an image with straight or diagonal lines. The pixels were so visible that lines would turn into jagged staircases where they should have been smooth. Now machines that sport the latest ATI Technologies Radeon 9800 Pro and Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 chips are so fast that they can display ``full-scene anti-aliasing,'' the technique for smoothing out the jaggies. And they do it even at the highest performance speeds in lightning-fast games.

Once upon a time you could only play a game at the highest speed if you turned off the graphics features. But now the technology can handle both priorities at the same time, at least on the current games.

I compared the ATI and Nvidia chips side by side in the latest Area 51 machines from Alienware. I couldn't tell the difference between the two. But I liked what I saw. Alienware is one of several companies specializing in game machines and it shows. It offers the choice of either Nvidia or ATI graphics, depending on who is fastest any given month.

I also compared Alienware to Dell's first gaming computer, the Dimension XPS. The Dell model is the same as its high-end consumer PC model, the Dimension 8300. But Dell added a bigger 460-watt power supply, a sleek blue case, new software options, and a special technical support line staffed by a volunteer crew of gamers. Subtle differences between the two machines meant nothing to me as far as which was better.

One thing is for sure. This year, graphics on the PC will leave the consoles in the dust. At any given time, there are a couple hundred thousand pixels on an Xbox screen, which has the best visuals among the consoles. But on a new PC there might be a million pixels, making for much better resolution and a better overall visual experience.

Finding the fastest

Now I must admit that I'm not the keenest of heat seekers when it comes to judging how good a game looks on one computer compared with the next. I relied upon Futuremark's 3-D graphics benchmark ( to figure out which of the machines was fastest. Each machine I tested had 1 gigabyte of DRAM and a 3.07 GHz Intel microprocessor. (At the time of testing, Intel had topped AMD, which has since come out with an equivalent of a 3.2 GHz chip). And I ran the test at 1024 X 768 resolution.

The Dell machine with the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro scored 5,402 on the benchmark test (higher is faster).
[ The Alienware Area 51 machine with the same ATI graphics scored 5,540. ]
The Alienware machine with the Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 scored only 5,357.
The Dell machine had the advantage of an 800 MHz front-side bus,
but Alienware has already upgraded from its 533-MHz front-side bus to the 800.
As I said, I couldn't tell the difference. Alienware and Dell are trying to eke each other out on performance and price.

I ran a real-world test with Atari's ``Unreal II: The Awakening.'' Played at full speed, the game looked exactly the same on each machine. With the quality turned up, with full-scene anti-aliasing and full anisotropic filtering, the differences were more pronounced. ATI pretty much pulled away from the Nvidia machine, as confirmed by the benchmarks. Nvidia has conceded defeat with the 5800, but it just recently announced a faster 5900. You can expect that ATI will have something new to challenge Nvidia in the future.

If I didn't notice much difference in graphics, I noticed even less difference in monitors. CRT monitors are supposed to be much better than flat-panel displays at responsiveness in games. But again, I saw no difference playing on flat panels or the CRTs. I played the machines on a 20-inch CRT monitor from NEC, as well as Envision's 19-inch EN9110 flat-panel monitor and a Dell flat-panel monitor. Again, I couldn't tell much of a difference.

Dell or Alienware?

It occurs to me that if I can't tell the difference, then other gamers out there may feel the same way. So it comes down to whether you think future games will run better on your Dell or Alienware box, or whether they will run better on ATI or Nvidia chips. And it comes down to price. The systems I've described here run about $3,000, monitor included. Alienware actually beat Dell on price on an equivalent system, but Dell is likely to close the gap.

Unfortunately, the best demo for these machines isn't available yet. ``Doom III'' and ``Half-Life 2'' are scheduled to ship later this year. But then again, by that time there will be new graphics cards available from Nvidia, which in June will ship its new GeForce FX 5900 chip. Nvidia contends this chip will take the speed crown back from ATI. And ATI is sure to ship a new high-end chip as well by the fall.

So what's the best machine to buy? If you're like me, it doesn't really matter. But pay close attention to the shipping date of the newest graphics chips and CPUs if you want to get the best bargain and the best performance.

Contact Dean Takahashi at dtakahashi@mercurynews .com or (408) 920-5739.

See also article "Games pushing hardware limits"

Mentions the following games:
Total War: Shogun
Total War: Medival
Rome: Total War (release date TBD) [Creative Assembly]
Doom III (the game, previewed at E3, looked far better than "Halo 2" on the Xbox)
Half-Life 2 (Sept. 2003)
Halo: Combat Evolved {PC version from MS
Medal of Honor: Rising Sun
The World of Warcraft (Vivendi)
Middle Earth Online (Vivendi)
Everquest II (Sony)
Uru (Ubisoft)
The Matrix Online (Ubisoft)
Mythica (Microsoft)

See also the free game "America's Army" (

my quote: $ 3,200.00 Your quote id is 606468 . Please write it down for future reference.
Similar Dell: $2,800

Price for FarCry contest:
Case: Alienware ATX Case (420-Watt PS)
Processor: AMD Athlon™ 64 FX-51 Processor
.. (FX-51 no longer available: choices are Athlon 64 3200+, Athlon 64 3400+, or Athlon 64 FX-53)
.. (FX-53 is 2.4GHz, 1600MHz system bus; The 3400 is 2.2 GHz; the 3200 is 2.0 GHz)
.. the A 64 3200+ shows generally better performance than the P4 3.2 GHz
Motherboard: ASUS SK8N - NVIDIA® nForce3™ Pro 150 Motherboard
Memory: 1GB Registered ECC DDR SDRAM PC-3200
Hard Drive: 80GB 7200RPM Ultra ATA100 Hard Drive
Video Card: Alienware Extreme Edition NVIDIA GeForce™ FX 5950 Ultra 256MB DDR [6800 Ultra 256MB +$543]
Optical Drive One: 16x/48x DVD-ROM - Black
Optical Drive Two: 52x/32x/52x CD-RW - Black
Video Cooling: AlienIce™ Video Cooling System
Operating System: Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition

performance model has ASUS K8V Deluxe - VIA K8T800 Motherboard

"the new Pentium 4 with 2 MB L3 cache an Emergency Edition chip"

Athlon 64 FX boards allow you to use up four 2 GB DIMMS (very expensive) for a total of 8 GB of RAM.
So the Athlon 64 FX is a true 64 bit workstation CPU: ECC, 64-bit addressing, and a platform that can break the 4 GB memory limit.
[FX-53 based systems currently used DDR SDRAM PC-3200]

The 754-pin Athlon 64 3200+, a 2 GHz CPU, is much less demanding: it works with "normal" unbuffered DDR400.

dream system