Today, I had the chance to check out what Dell’s perception of a “high-end gaming experience” is when they shipped out both the Alienware PC and a high-end monitor to me that totals near the $5,000 SGD mark.
Now, I personally haven’t had a prebuilt PC for many years, but do they still hold up or is DIY the way to go these days? Let’s see what Dell brings to the table; hang on tight for my first double review!
P.S: Yes, to the dismay of my enemies, i’m still alive!
Once again, being my first type of product review (desktops in this case), I’d like to list out the kind of testing methodology I’ll be using for it.
Similar to how Sal has done up the review for the ROG Strix GA15 desktop, I’m going about this review (and future desktop reviews) by focusing on the vanilla experience – no significant tweaking on my side or overclocks, just what you get as an out-of-box experience.
The reasoning is simple: People buying these products probably don’t want to meddle so much with that anyway. I can see the value in a good out-of-the-box experience and I can be sure that playing with custom PCs is not everyone’s cup of tea.
That said, you’ll still get the usual flurry of benchmarks, opinions and comments that is typical of my laptop reviews so that part stays the same regardless; nothing’s missing here!
Alienware Aurora R9 Legend
As with other big brand pre-configured gaming PCs, the specs will vary wildly and there are a ton of customization options available for you to choose.
Our PC configuration comes with a typical mid-range spec; not a super high-end config by any means but you can go up to a i9-9900k (or 10th gen if you buy the R10) and SLI RTX 2080Gb if your wallet can take the hit.
Below are our configured specs:
- CPU: Intel i7-9700
- GPU: RTX 2060 8Gb
- RAM: 32Gb
- SSD: Kioxia/Toshiba 256Gb
- HDD: Seagate 1Tb
- Wifi: Qualcomm 802.11ac
Its internal configuration is also worth mentioning here; instead of your typical ATX configuration with the power supply at the bottom, it is now centred right in the middle of the PC. According to the brochure, this allows for better airflow to the GPU and compacts the size of the case; we’ll put this statement to the test when we get into the nitty gritty.
Storage-wise, I had expected a little more capacity for the price point; a 256Gb SSD boot drive and a 1Tb HDD storage is just about the bare minimum these days and prospective users should at least get another SSD for their game library, it’s 2020 after all.
In terms of speed, there isn’t anything outstanding performance being provided but likewise, this SSD will suffice for reducing boot times and the 1Tb Hard disk storage is still the most cost-effective drive you could have.
Doing our usual steam download test on a 5Ghz connection, the qualcomm chip performs admirably. We find an average speed of 21.8MB/s in our downloads with speeds peaking at around 24.2MB/s
Take this with a pinch of salt though, as they are not directly comparable to my previous laptop reviews; having shifted to a more spacious table due to size constraints. Still, this is a great showing which should be enough for most people.
The aesthetics of the Alienware Aurora is certainly interesting. Unlike the more mundane PC cases you see out there in the market that is typically box-shaped, this unit has a rather oblong shape going by the curvature of the case, ending with a rectangular backside.
That said, its front input ports are also worth mentioning; stacking vertically on the case instead of horizontally beside each other on top. Lacing the sides are the things you come to expect from an Alienware product: RGB lighting strips. As usual, you can control its output with AlienFX or turn it off completely if you wish.
For the cooling, there is one intake and exhaust port running by the left side of the case and another exhaust located at the top of the case though perforated openings. In the front surrounding the input ports, there is yet another intake port for air which is a pretty unique design.
Preferences of taste aside, it’s certainly going to look unique as a centerpiece of your room and that couldn’t be a bad thing at all.
Although the motherboard is in a mATX form factor, connections are still aplenty. You’ll get the following rear ports:
- 2x SPDIF/Coaxial input
- 1x Gigabit LAN port
- 5x USB 2.0 port
- 3x USB 3.1 Gen 1 port
- 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 port
- 1x Display Port
- 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-C port
- 6x Multi channel audio outputs
In the front port, we have:
- 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 port
- 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 with PowerShare
- 1xUSB 3.1 Gen1 type-C
- 1x mic input
- 1x headset output
Nothing much to say here, pretty much par for course as far as the ports are concerned.
Synthetic Benchmarks and Cooling
The synthetic benchmarks were a disappointment for me here as the performance of the i7-9700 chip is limited by the cooling in this setup. In our Cinebench R20 stress test, this can clearly be shown as we see temperatures rapidly climbing to 100 degrees Celsius at a boost clock of 4.5Ghz before rapidly throttling itself to a more stable 3.7Ghz at about 80 degrees Celsius.
The fan curve is also on the more aggressive side as it ramps up quickly when fed with highly intensive tasks such as these benchmarks; ramping even further when the CPU reaches a temperature of high 70s to low 80s.
I’d like to note that these temperatures are also commonplace in games as well, frequently reaching above 80 degrees Celsius in a CPU demanding title (more in our gaming benchmarks below). As a result, some games often find themselves hitting that low 80s fan curve ramp as the temperatures spike in the ~7 degrees Celsius range below or above the ramp. Inconsistent fan speeds like these are pretty annoying and I hope that future revisions can at least improve on the cooling and smooth out the fan curve.
In games we can see that the RTX 2060 and i7-9700 make a good pairing in terms of utilization. Unfortunately, fully driving the screen at 120Hz ultrawide QHD resolution is just a tough ordeal for our pairing and you’ll definitely want to drop some settings to get to at least a 40+ average frame rate.
Going with our usual tough benchmarks such as Total War 3 Kingdoms and Metro Exodus, this configuration gets hammered at the native resolution that sees it delivering less than 60 fps on high settings – even in gameplay, though Gsync does help alleviate some of that issue.
Going onto less CPU demanding titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider sees performance average out to a very playable framerate, indicating that there is indeed a CPU (cooling, in this case) bottleneck on our performance results.
For MMOs/RPGs, you can expect playable framerates at high settings in general playing FFXV going by our benchmark configs (2560×1440, high) which had gotten us a score of 5378. It’s recommended to further tone done some settings to medium to keep your framerates above 50 at all times, though.
For older titles such as GTA V, maintaining above 60fps at all times is very doable though it still couldn’t hit the maximum refresh rate of this panel. We saw a minimum refresh of 76fps in the waterfall scene but general free roaming gameplay will net you somewhere in the low 80s on average.
AW3420DW – Going Wide
While the AW3420DW isn’t my first foray into high refresh rate gaming, it is the first time I’d be using an ultrawide 21:9 monitor.
A quick gander at the box will tell you all that you need to know about this thing: It’s large and in charge. Spanning almost a metre in length, the large 34” panel is no joke to set up but well worth it.
Moving to the monitor itself, the look is suitably rugged with its angular design and striking black and white contrast running around the entire base of the monitor. The monitor incorporates the modern “thin bezel” design aesthetic found in their S or U series monitors although not getting quite as small in the “black bar length” where the display actually starts.
Sitting beside the Aurora R9, they basically go together as you would expect in terms of design.
Even though Alienware designs can sometime be a hit or miss (depending on who you’re asking), I quite like the bolder design of this monitor. It’s something that doesn’t go overboard even though it may not be too fitting in an office environment.
Mounting and Adjustments
As with all Dell monitors, the Alienware is no exception when it comes to mounting and VESA compatibility.
Mounting wise, the stand is solid with a more game-y angular looking feet that does its job decently; shifting the monitor will be tough unless done deliberately, owing to both the weight and anti-slip rubber at the bottom. The mounting point on the back of the monitor is also VESA compatible, allowing you to use your own monitor arm or stand if you wish.
More importantly, just like other high-end Dell monitors, installing the monitor arm is a tool-less setup that doesn’t compromise on accessibility or stability.
Tilt, swivel and height adjustments are all available on the provided stand though with obvious concessions to the swivel side of things. Understandably, the monitor has limited swivel but I’m glad to report that other adjustments are just fine.
Connectivity and Features
Connectivity wise, the AW3420DW features your typical connection display standards. Here is the list of connections you’ll find on this display:
- 3 x USB 3.0 (downstream)
- 1 x USB 3.0 (downstream; BC 1.2)
- 1 x USB 3.0 (Type-B; upstream)
- 1 x HDMI 1.4
- 1 x DisplayPort 1.2
- 1 x 3.5 mm Audio Out (line-out)
- 1 x 3.5 mm Audio Out (headphone)
Nothing too much out of the ordinary, although oddly it doesn’t support more recent display standards such as HDMI 2.0 or Displayport 1.4 despite it being a 2019 monitor.
The curious omission of a higher standard HDMI also means that you’ll only be able to drive the monitor at 50Hz through that particular output, making it essentially pointless for a gaming-focused monitor. Perhaps it was only present for legacy support on older GPUs but I’d rather they give consumers more options for practical connectivity, rather than less.
Surprisingly, colors are good out of the box and didn’t require any tweaking on my side with regards to the white balance. Without a colorimeter at hand, anecdotal evidence suggests pretty good gamut and contrast when used to consume HD content and media.
Thanks to its great DCI-P3 coverage of 98%, you’d have no trouble using it as a video editing display even if it lacks certain specs like 10-bit output that a professional grade monitor would have.
The unfortunate lack of any HDR certification is a bummer here as you won’t be able to utilize the option when playing supported games such as Destiny 2, Borderlands 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda. I would’ve liked to see some HDR200/400 color display spec support for this monitor to be able to have the contrast to take advantage of the great color gamut but alas, it was not to be.
The OSD settings for this monitor are pretty standard fanfare. Besides your usual color, brightness and contrast, a neat information panel is also built in to the OSD that shows general information such as the refresh rate or the firmware. It’s a great handy tool and a definite QOL improvement for those who wants quick access to such information without going into their OS.
I’m also going to props to the controls when it’s due: panel navigation can be done solely by using the nub and it’s intuitive to use without any of the finicky hassle attached to it. The controls are responsive and not having to use multiple buttons, especially at the back side of the monitor where you can’t see, is a big plus in the ergonomics department to me.
For me, I tend to not touch the more frivolous options such as the gaming modes with faster response times but I decided to give it a go anyway. I personally couldn’t see a difference between any of the gaming modes that should provide a boost in response times but, as usual, YMMV.
At 2ms gray to gray with a refresh of 120Hz, I couldn’t see anyone complain about the responsiveness of the monitor; though it may not hit the even higher refresh rates we see on more traditional gaming monitors these days that can go above 200Hz. I certainly didn’t experience any ghosting or mouse lag from my time using it so all is well for me.
Gaming on this monitor has been a pleasure and it’s something that is hard to describe: When the content fits, it delivers. Everything looks super clean and appreciably bigger as they should, with the impending ‘wow’ moment just like trying on 3D glasses for the first time.
When it doesn’t, it gets kinda iffy.
As the years have gone by, many modern games have stepped up their support for high resolution games and aspect ratio with regards to the gameplay and UI scaling so most games will look fine. On the flip side, those that are keener on playing indie games and the likes, its developers probably don’t have the resources to fix the UI and/or display issues for such a niche userbase.
When a game has reason to use more horizontal real-estate and have the UI to back it up, the result is glorious and makes you wonder why you haven’t jumped on the ultrawide bandwagon a little sooner…
…but when it doesn’t, it’s a waste of screen space with cut-out sides and makes the experience less than stellar.
That said, I really enjoyed my time playing some games on it, better yet with Gsync enabled. Though once again, I’d have picked up a more powerful GPU to truly utilize the screen to its full potential.
At a retail price of $1,718, the price is getting expensive I’ll admit (a mid spec PC would cost around this). But hey, it’s a large, curved IPS gaming monitor that offers a high refresh rate to boot – there’s not many of them out there so the premium is understandable.
As for the competition, there isn’t too many to speak of simply because 21:9 monitors themselves aren’t exactly the most popular display resolution out there; you’ll get a few comparisons from Acer, AOC and BenQ, but in terms of direct specs, only the Asus ROG Swift PG349Q will fit the bill in recent memory.
With both manufacturers offering similar prices and specs that are price-competitive within $50 SGD of each other, it’s not a clear-cut choice from either brand so users will have to pick their preferences based on the small auxiliary differences of the two.
While not the latest iteration of their Aurora series, you’ll still get great performance at this price range. Though do note that if you prefer the AMD side of things, you can check out their R10 series which do offer those as well.
Our configuration, at $3,199, is a tad expensive when compared to other big brands like Asus such as the Strix GA15 with a similar config. Of course, do note that it’s not a pure apples to apples comparison but the overall value winner still goes to ASUS in this particular instance.
|Specs||Alienware Aurora R9||ASUS ROG desktop G15|
|GPU||RTX 2060||RTX 2060 Super|
|SSD||256Gb NVME||512Gb NVME|
|Wifi||Qualcomm QCA9377 802.11AC||N/A|
|Price||$3,199 SGD||$2,698 SGD|
The overall experience is above average, with the downs in the obvious places I’ve mentioned in this review. The RTX 2060 pairing with a QHD monitor isn’t going to cut it if you want to take full advantage of the refresh rate with all the bells and whistles turned up; though I wouldn’t hold this point against them in the conclusion, it’s a customizable config after all.
Users will be better served selecting a higher end GPU configuration to go with this particular monitor. Particularly, something in the level of the 1080Ti/2070 super will make it an above 60fps experience for the most demanding titles which will greatly improve the gaming experience.
Still, thanks to Gsync, the frame time in games remains smooth and consistent – it works without a hitch and the screen doesn’t present anomalies such as flicker or erratic refreshes in the games I’ve tested.
With just about $5,000 SGD in sunken cost, the gaming experience should be good and it delivers… with a few caveats. Cooling on the Aurora R9 was a let down as it failed to keep the CPU in check at a reasonable, below 80 degree temperature for gaming workloads.
Cost wise, is not too far out of the line with the competition though it’s cost competitiveness should be improved to keep up with the likes of ASUS.
In the end, I found the monitor to be the more bang for your buck deal in this combo – being the better relatively priced product and a much better long-term investment. I’d say give the monitor a check out but hang tight on that computer purchase at least till they fix some of the cooling issues.
|The Good||The Bad|
|+ Unique case design||– Legacy HDMI limited to 50Hz at native resolution|
|++ Superb gaming experience with Gsync/120Hz||– No HDR support|
|+ Good color accuracy||– Underperforming cooling|