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Alienware Aurora R9 Part 2: The Pre-Built Desktop For Modders, Overclockers, and ESports Players

Stay at home kids. No matter what the Covid protesters say, all you’ll do by leaving early is miss a golden opportunity to make the best of your home life. A home life that can be everything you dreamed of. One with nearly silent high-grade gaming thanks to some brilliant engineering by Asetek and Alienware. It’s a desktop quiet enough to run Doom Eternal with an average framerate of 67fps at 4K, all without making a peep.

Oh, and that’s with a 120mm fan. Playing at full spec.

For the past month we’ve played with the Alienware Aurora R9. Shawn loved the Ryzen Edition, but I’m not jealous. This Intel-based rig is made to be adored: a slim mid-size chassis built for upgradeability; top-tier hardware components, no matter how you customize it; pre-installed software for smart overclocking; and a unique design to eliminate heat, mod the hell out of, and show off.

So sit back, relax, and find a place on your desk to set a new Aurora on. Because this is a desktop you’ll want to look at every day.

The Rig

Like all customizable gaming desktops, the Alienware Aurora R9 has options up the wazoo, ranging from under $1000 to, well, the sky’s the limit. Here are the specs for the model we tested for this review (full specs on Alienware’s site):

  • Intel i9-9900K Overclocked to 4.7GHz
  • 32GB HyperX DDR4 RAM at 2933MHz
  • 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD + 1TB 7200RPM
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB
  • Asetek AIO Closed-Loop Liquid Cooling
  • Dark side of the moon chassis
  • 850W PSU

Hardware & Customization

Most pre-built gaming desktops are exactly that: made to be left untouched. That’s changed seriously over the past few years, though often companies that often sell on the promise of customization and upgradeability fall short, whether it be from poor cable management to crowded towers to just not enough space. Not so with the Aurora: customization was a primary focus for the Alienware design team with the Aurora R9.

We focus on the components that people tend to customize or upgrade the most- Hard Drives, RAM, CPU and GPU’s and try to make them as easy to access as possible.  Tool-less access to open the door and swing out the PSU gives quick access to upgradeable components.

Jason Minehart – Alienware Experience Design Group

And it shows. The R9 is easy to open and customize. Components swap in and out with surprising ease. I’ve bounced the desktop between my office and living room, along with a few car rides, and the thing is solid. Nothing was ever dislodged. My own full-tower couldn’t handle a single ride from my old apartment to the current one without the motherboard shifting, GPU disconnecting, and my heart wrenching. eSports players will love the peace-of-mind that comes with.

Even if you have no plans to lug a desktop out of the house, the R9 is a looker. The two chassis models, dark and light, offer very different visual expressions. The Dark side of the moon, my tested model, is muted and doesn’t stand out except for the AlienFX lighting. It’s perfect for office use, or if you want to keep your rig on your desk without serious contrast. Lunar Light is brighter and louder, and it’s brilliant, in the most British sense.

We find many gamers are proud of their rigs and like to show them off on top of their desk, rather than relegate them to live under the desk. The compact footprint of the Aurora system allows for more freedom in where the system is placed. This is true, not only in home setups, but also University gaming labs and E-sports training facilities.

Jason Minehart – Alienware Experience Design Group

I couldn’t agree more. And it’s not just the aesthetic of the Aurora R9; the entire frame and even available connection ports express functionality without impacting visual appeal.

The front panel houses three USB 3.1 and a USB-C port, plus audio out and mic in. With most of our phones these days running on USB-C, along with high-performance external drives, the flippable USB option is a huge convenience.
The Aurora R9 has enough ports to cover all your needs, including Ethernet (plus Wi-Fi), 4 SuperSpeed USB 3.1 + 5 USB 3.0, HDMI, USB-C, Coaxial, Optical, and the standard slew of audio ports.

We asked Alienware how, when moving from the larger R8 chassis to the smaller R9, it was possible to still get better airflow:

A few key features that enables a small chassis is 1) keeping all of the PSU heat external to the chassis (The PSU pulls air in from the side of the chassis and then pushes the air out of the back) and 2) enabling a bump out on the top of the system for when CPU liquid cooling is used.

As we moved from R8 to R9, we knew that R8 had great airflow through the chassis and needed to ensure R9 was as good or better. After closely working with our industrial design team we were able to not only achieve better airflow through the R9 chassis but also meet the ID intent.

Chris Helberg – Alienware Thermal System Architect
After removing a dual-screw metal slab, the PSU swings out on a hinge to reveal the Aurora’s internals. Yes, that’s the 850W PSU you’re looking at.
Inside is very clean. Cable management is clear, components are accessible, and the AIO liquid cooling system’s rubber tubes are completely out of the way. Very crisp.

With the PSU on it’s side and pumping heat out the side vent, maintaining a reasonable temperature is painless. The liquid cooling system, designed by Asetek specifically for Alienware, vents heat out the top. Part of the redesign of the Aurora, from the previous generation R8, was to improve heat dissipation. That’s done tremendously well; the Aurora R9 vents air out in nearly every direction.

The large-high-performing-fans that we use enable high airflow while operating at low RPMs. To note, our systems are designed to not throttle with dual high-powered graphics cards while running the worst-case gaming or VR application at 35C (95F) external ambient temperature.

Additionally, we optimize our thermal control to enable an acoustically acceptable system when not doing high-stress scenarios but also architect and enable the fan speeds to respond when additional airflow is required to ensure max performance.

Chris Helberg – Alienware Thermal System Architect
Below the PSU swing-arm, the GPU, along with room for 2nd, are held in place by a plastic arm connected to the chassis.

Three additional expansion slots include room for PCIe X8 and PCIe X4. The very bottom of the case also has two metal housings for two additional SATA SSDs. That’s perfect for anyone bringing their own, especially without additional space for more NVMe drives.

This hardware is superb. It’s a pleasure to handle and to use. If you plan on upgrading minor components, throwing in an extra SSD, or swapping out the GPU for something more recent, the Aurora R9 is built for it.

Overclocking & Software

Alienware’s big push with the Aurora is flexibility and ease-of-use, and that’s not limited to the hardware. Alienware Command Center is simplicity in motion, providing a single utility to manage overclocking specifically for the system in a no-hassle, plenty-of-frills fashion.

Command Center has three major functions: set performance defaults, adjust the “FX” color scheme for lighting, and overclocking.

The first two are straightforward. Users can set thermals for “Performance” or “Balanced”, which regulates how hot the CPU and GPU will get based on a maximum (adjustable) temperature. Power settings range from high performance to power saver, just like a typical laptop’s battery settings. There are even audio equalizer settings.

FX settings is for creating and customizing color schemes to the lighting, which controls two sections of the desktop: the Alienware head, and the ring of light, both on the front of the desktop.

Overclocking, on the other hand, is what Command Center is really designed for. The CPU, GPU, and RAM can all be tinkered with. Users can create overclocking themes to save their preferences, either standalone or per game/application. The main screen provides quick access to adjusting overclocking on each in a way that’ll make anyone who’s destroyed more than their fair share of components cry a tear of joy.

CPU adjustments are dangerously easy and convenient. Don’t worry, it’s completely safe, even if you go hog-wild with your settings. Alienware overclocks the Aurora to 4.7GHz out of the factory, and users can adjust that. Even voltage and voltage offsets are adjustable. With each adjustment, Command Center sets the changes and tests prior to finalizing the change. This method saves so much time and provides quick results very effectively.

The GPU is just as accessible. All changes are tested prior to confirmation, so playing around with how far your rig is both fun and safe.

Alienware provides two RAM settings (this is also dependent on which RAM your machine has); with our test rig the two options were the default overclocking to 2793MHz and a boost to 2926MHz.
Fan speed for both the CPU and GPU are also completely customizable through the software. Create profiles, set limits, and view a full history.

More serious overclockers may opt for 3rd party software like MSI Afterburner, or even direct hardware tinkering. The beauty of the Aurora is that extra work isn’t necessary. It’s done for you, to keep things easy and keep you gaming. While I can’t complain about back problems from fretting over my system, this level of simplicity and control is impressive.

And Of Course, Gaming

Alienware’s Aurora R9 is a beast. The NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super is one of the most powerful GPUs on the market, only outflanked by the RTX 2080 Ti. The combination of that GPU with the Intel i9-9900K, both overclocked out of the factory, immediately makes this desktop powerful enough for solid 4K gaming, and even better performance at sub-4K resolutions.

Doom Eternal runs flawlessly, even at 4K. Fans never sped up beyond 2K RPM, power consumption remained relatively low, and performance was still perfect at full spec.

In Doom Eternal, there’s no slowdown whatsoever. At max spec the R9 chugs along without even using full power from the RTX 2080 Super. We can see in the graphs above that not only does the Super handle Doom flawlessly, it never pops the fan over 40%. The only thing really stressing this GPU is handling 4K, though the 8GB of VRAM maintained a consistent 95% utilization.

At full spec running at 4K, the CPU hovers at a comfortable 50-60C while the GPU never hits beyond 60% power usage. Even at it’s worst, the Aurora R9 never sped up it’s fans during gameplay.

Call of Duty: Warzone fared even better. With huge levels and tons of players per game, it wasn’t until five enemies were on the screen that the Super’s fan jumped over 2,000 RPM. Thanks to the excellent airflow, fan speeds can remain relatively low even under heavy load. Of course the Super is a crazy powerful GPU, so there was never a performance drop.

In fact, the only time the Aurora ever was noticeably loud was during a stress test of the CPU, running it at 100% for an hour using Prime95. The fan would spin up every 10-15 minutes for a few seconds before getting quiet again. So unless you plan on keeping the Aurora in your sauna, thermal performance is exceptional. You can game without waking up your significant other or kids. Just don’t celebrate too loudly!

Conclusion:

With the Aurora R9 Alienware has made a juxtaposition of a gaming desktop. It’s lightweight yet rugged; powerful yet quiet; small yet noticeable. And all of that comes at no cost to the gamer who wants to upgrade a few years down the road.

This left us with one final question for the Alienware team: some gamers – and modders like ourselves – love seeing inside the case too. You know, get to see the light up comonents, maybe the sweet Asetek-powered AIO cooler. Any chance for a glass-panel model in the future?

For the R9 and from AW, I would guess unlikely. The top part of the m/b is blocked by PSU therefore can’t see all of the insides. For future AW Aurora systems,… 😊

Chris Helberg – Alienware Thermal System Architect

 

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