The Machine
The Lightspeed chassis we received isn't as fancy as the more popular Area-51, but it's definitely nice looking and sturdy as rock, with a "Star Wars" look that seems very appropriate, considering the name of this PC series. Anyhow, Alienware replaced the chassis of the Lightspeed PC before we published this article; the new chassis looks definitely good (pic), it's much smaller than ours, and remains loyal to the more sober style of the Ligthspeed series when compared to other PC series manufactured by Alienware.

Opening the chassis is easy, and the inside of the machine looks as good as the outside, with optimized cable management that assures the wires do not obstruct the powerful airflow - one 120mm air intake vent is on the front of the system, one 120mm exhaust vent is on the back - and makes removal or installation of devices extremely easy (we played with the system for some time, removing the HDD, the fans, the DVD drive, and then reinstalling everything).

The only thing we didn't like in the Lightspeed was the noise produced by the two huge fans, in particular by the back one. The quality of the fans is excellent, but we believed that the high rotation speed of the back fan was unnecessary, so we replaced it with a slower one we had in our office (cost: 10$; installation: 5 minutes); instead of replacing the fan, we could have installed a small internal fan controller (cost: $6-7). We monitored the system for a full working day, and since we didn't record a noticeable increase of internal temperatures, we left our slower vent into the system. Noise shouldn't be a problem with the smaller and more silent new Ligthspeed chassis, but there are also models designed specifically to be ultra-silent, like the Area-51 5300 mentioned above.

One of the things that many computer manufactures don't do before selling their machines is to update all drivers and then check the performance of the computer to guarantee there are no conflicts. The Lightspeed came with Windows XP SP2 and all the latest drivers and patches already installed in the system, and then system performance was checked using 3D Mark 2003, DOOM 3, and UT 2004. When the system arrived, we just had to open the box, connect everything, and we were ready to enjoy DOOM 3 at its best.

Performance
We have been using the Lightspeed system for more than one month, installing all the most common applications we need for our everyday work in the office (Microsoft Office XP, Photoshop, Paintshop, Norton Antivirus 2004, Ad Aware SE), so game tests were run on a true real-world machine used heavily for more than gaming.

DOOM 3, after some months from its release, is still arguably the most intensive 3D game on the market together with Half-Life 2. The Lightspeed performed wonderfully; the test (timedemo demo1 - a demo included in the game that calculates the time needed to render 2148 frames) was run at 1024x768 and at 1280x1024, at Medium, High and Ultra Settings. The score on the right is with 4X anti-aliasing enabled. Some DOOM 3 players prefer to run the game in higher resolutions instead of turning anti-aliasing on, as graphics look equally gorgeous and the game runs at a higher frame rate than with anti-aliasing enabled. Personally, I prefer to run the game at 1024x768, with 4X anti-aliasing enabled.

  Ultra Settings High Settings Medium Settings
1024x768 70.7 / 62.7 71.9 / 65.1 71.9 / 67
1280x1024 67.6 / 50.0 69.0 / 52.0 70.1 / 54.3

It's important to remember that DOOM 3's gameplay framerate is capped at 60 FPS, so the timedemo serves just as an indication of the machine's power. The Ultra Settings mode is in the game mostly for future next-generation graphics cards; this said, we played and enjoyed DOOM 3 in Ultra Settings mode, and didn't notice any problems, with the exception of screen freezing for less than one second when the system needed to cache the biggest rooms' textures (in Ultra Settings, textures can take up to 400 MB of memory; Ultra Settings mode is in the game for future graphics cards with 512 MB of VRAM).

To measure the performance with Unreal Tournament 2004 we used the new UMARK 2 utility, and tested the system with the Bridge Of Fate and the more intensive AS Convoy maps. with 12 bots.

UT 2004 - Bridge Of Fate Map with 12 Bots
  High Performance High Image Quality
1024x768 141 fps 108 fps
1280x1024 141 fps 108 fps
1680x1280 141 fps 108 fps


AS Convoy (12 Bots)
  High Performance High Image Quality
1024x768 67 51
1280x1024 67 50
1680x1280 67 50

In addition to DOOM 3 and Unreal Tournament 2004 we played other games on the system, and the Lightspeed delivered great performances with all of them:

- Star Wars Galaxies, a game well known for its less than steady framerate, runs more than smoothly even with all settings at highest values, with an average of 27-29 FPS (in-game fps counter; the game is capped at around 30 FPS).

- Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, at 1280x768, high settings, runs at 40-45 FPS; at 1024x768, high settings, the game runs at a solid 55-60 FPS (average values calculated using FRAPS over a 10 minute period in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow demo level).

Unreal Tournament 2004 Unreal Tournament 2004
Star Wars Galaxies
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

Conclusions
The Lightspeed PC proved to be an excellent machine, delivering exceptional performances with the latest games. The NVIDIA 6800 GT is a true monster, but all the components in the machine work to create a well balanced, well supported, and easy to configure system.

Alienware has created the "Computer Boutique" market about 10 years ago, and their customer service is good enough to say that purchasing a PC from them is more secure than purchasing it from a store next to your home. You can test this by yourself, contacting the company sales team or browsing the rich knowledge base.

The advertised philosophy behind Alienware is delivering quality to their customers, and that's exactly what they do. Some year ago, the company seemed mainly targeted to hardcore gamers, but now, with the enormous choice of system configurations and prices, Alienware has become a helpful resource for all those willing to have a PC that can really let you experience games the way they should be played. It's easy to be disappointed when you know nothing about hardware and you purchase an anonymous but Alienware is a whole different thing. The friendly sales team, the talented tech team, everyone seem focused in providing the customer all the information a gamer may need to get the right machine for his/her needs and, after the sale, to optimize the performance of his/her new baby.


- Carlito (3 Dec, 2004)

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