Dell Outlet – Alienware Aurora R7 bargain find

While I was benchmarking the ASUS ROG, I was on Dell.com outlet and looking at their deals for Memorial Day. Lo and behold I found one! The system I found was the following:

Alienware Aurora R7
i7-8700 (6c/12t)
16 GB RAM (2×8 Hynix 2666Mhz)
256 GB (PC401 Hynix NVMe 1.2)
2 TB (Toshiba 7200 RPM)
Dell Nvidia 1080Ti 11 GB DDR6 (says it’s an MSI)
DVD-+RW (HL-DT-ST GU90N)
Intel Z370 chipset
850W 80plus PS

And I got all this for the paltry sum of …. $985. Add tax etc. and I was still under $1100 or less than the ROG. Yes, I am aware that it is not a valid comparison since it is a laptop vs desktop. However, I did decide to benchmark it as well and compare the two. To be fair, the ASUS was very snappy and impressed me in a lot of ways. From the 120Hz screen to just general responsiveness. It was very crisp and I loved it. The lure of a 1080Ti for under a grand was too tempting though and so the ROG will be going back to Best Buy and the Alienware will be taking its place as the main gaming machine. The XPS 13 9380 maintains its spot without needing to fight for remote work machine. The XPS 13 is awesome, but that’s a different post.

To begin with we have the unboxing. The machine was packaged well with lots of padding to keep the machine secure during shipping. It came with an Alienware branded keyboard and mouse. Both were decent but nothing special. The keyboard did look like it was lighted but turned out that it was not. It did have a good feel to the key actions allowing for very fast typing and satisfying soft click action.

The machine itself has plenty of ports, with both USB-C and A and enough ports for 7.1 sound and all the other usual ports expected from an enthusiast machine. Inside is pretty cramped with the power supply actually needing to swing out in order to get to the motherboard and components below. There is room for one NVMe drive and 4 hard drives, although two of them will need to be 2.5″ or smaller. All the other components inside are dwarfed by the 1080 Ti card. Once the machine was turned on, I couldn’t help but notice I heard nothing. This machine’s processor is liquid cooled, the fans are quiet, and add in the sound deadening of the case and I have to almost put my head right next to it to hear it operating normally. This may change when I start gaming on it, but it is nice to have a quiet machine in my home office – since I have 7 rack mount servers on the other side.

As for the components, most of them are more generic sourced components versus something you would pick up yourself to put a system together obviously but during my benchmarking they did really well. The 1080 Ti is a generation old now as the 2080 Ti are out but still a very capable card as my benchmarks show. I’ll still go into them as much as I can of course.

Hardware

Processor: Not much new here. Most people are well aware of Intel’s i7-8700 8th Gen Coffee Lake processor. This one is running 6 cores with Hyperthreading for 12 Logical. It is running at a base frequency of 3.2 Ghz and turbo boosts to 4.6 Ghz. TDP is 65W and a total of 12 MB of Cache. It also has onboard graphics in the manner of UHD 630.

RAM: My system came with 2×8 GB RAM sticks running at 2666 Mhz. The motherboard used allows for up to 64GB at up to 2933Mhz. The newer Aurora R8 allows for faster RAM to be used.

NVME Hynix SSD: This is one of the parts that Dell has been using in a lot of their systems. It came originally in my XPS 13 as well (before I swapped it for a Samsung 970 Pro) Some of the other one I’ve had haven’t fared that great but I was actually surprised at the numbers on this one. You can buy this one from Amazon in bulk packaging for about $50. Add to it that most manufacturers don’t have great numbers for their smaller drives and this pleasantly surprised me.

Video Card: There is a lot of info out there on the 1080 Ti card as well so I won’t go too far into it here other than to say its fast. 3584 Cores, 11Gbps bandwidth and the need for about 250 Watts just by itself. It’s a serious card.

Chipset: Intel Z370 wasn’t the top end chipset but it offered overclocking features and solid support for things like RAID, Optane and 1×16, or 2×8 PCI-e slots, depending on the design. This motherboard in the Alienware can support two large graphics cards and even has the power connectors dangling to tempt you every time you open the case. Unfortunately, since I don’t have the i7-8700K processor the overclocking features remain locked to me.

Software: The normal complement of software is installed. General Windows 10 Home install, with all the extra trimmings that nobody ever wants. There is also the install of McAffee on there as well. Otherwise its not too heavy with junk software on the system just some Alienware and Dell utilities to keep the machine’s drivers and firmware up to date along with the control software for case lighting. A few uninstalls and I’m ready to start with my own installs of both the benchmark software and also latest drivers (and Microsoft Windows updates).

Benchmarks:

Compared to the ASUS ROG, this numbers averaged about 2x as good. I started off with 3DMark’s Time Spy and finished with a score of 8846 compared with 4471 of the ROG

Just because I wanted another comparison I ran Sky Diver as well, even though the test isn’t specifically meant for higher-end gaming machines. I ended up roughly about 2x the performance again with 45,482 vs the ASUS’s 22,004.

The next test, got to stretch the legs, so to speak of the 1080 card. The test was Fire Strike and was meant for gaming machines. I ended up with a score of 20,811 on it.

The final 3DMark test I ran was the Time Spy 4k resolution test.

I then moved on to the PC Mark 10 benchmark where once again, the desktop made its presence known with a score of 6004 to the 4288 from the ASUS.

I also ran Cinebench R20 on it and it scored pretty well although being a bit lower clocked than say the i7-7700. I have no doubt that if it was just a bit higher clocked I wouldn’t have any issue with kicking the i7-7700 to the curb.

The Multi-Core and Single Core was much higher than the ASUS at 1745 and 361 for the ASUS. Finally I also wanted to run a benchmark on the PC401 Hynix NVMe drive.

Not bad for an OEM part but obviously is still quite a bit behind the Samsung 970 Pro.

Overall, I believe this system to be pretty awesome and should last me for a while. It came with a year onsite warranty, so that gives me plenty of time to put together the new Ryzen build that I want to put together over the space of the next 6 months or so. A little different purpose in mind for the Ryzen so the Alienware definitely will be hanging around my desktop for a while, looking pretty.

New Gaming Rig – ASUS ROG Zephyrus G GA502

I am forever in search of deals when it comes to computer hardware. This is possibly one of the reasons why I have 7 Dell servers sitting in a half-rack in my house (leading to disapproving stares from the wife). When I saw this laptop in a sale on Bestbuy.com ($1050), I thought, “What a really good deal!” I had just bought an XPS 13 and an XPS 15 and had no real reason I could justify buying it. Fortunately, I was never one to worry about reasons and good sense when it came to good deals on fast computer hardware. This is definitely a weakness.

Normally when making a purchase of this magnitude I try to do a bit more research on it. But I couldn’t find any regular benchmarks done by the normal places I check. Indeed, the only place I could find anything was from a person who had purchased one on another forum and made his own benchmarks. Based on these and the personal need to know more, I decided to buy the laptop. I further told myself that If I did thorough benchmarks and posted them, I might allow myself to keep the machine, provided it performed well enough. (Dangling that carrot)

Going into this purchase I was a bit unsure for two reasons. Intel is currently at their 9th gen i series processors and their i9 are currently sitting at 8-cores / 16-threads. This machine was sporting a newer AMD Ryzen 7 3750H which is a 4-core / 8-thread processor based on 12nm Zen+. I wouldn’t most likely ever purchase an i9 due to the price (no matter how much I would love such a machine). It wouldn’t really be fair, in my own opinion, to compare it to one. It would be much fairer to compare to say, an I7. That being said, the i7’s are still sitting at 6-core /12 threads and for that, would seem to be quite a bit faster. The second reason is we are on the cusp of the new Ryzen 3rd Gen Zen 2 chips coming out and I am really excited what they will be able to do with the 7nm chips. I decided to buy it anyway.

Be aware, there is no bias in this review as I do not work for any computer vendor and I bought this computer with my own money. That being said, I would not be averse to accepting computers for testing purposes (hint, hint Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc..). So enough of background. Let’s get into it.

Unboxing

The machine is packaged well enough. The box is relatively spartan inside. You have a few sheets of paper consisting of the warranty information and other pieces of info. You have the laptop and the power brick. The machine itself is beautifully simple. There are no weird lines, no extravagant lights. Just a small logo on the back that lights red. Overall, I am a big fan of the aesthetics. If I was nit-picking, the material picks up a lot of finger grease though, and there is no webcam. The ports are distributed on both sides, with the back being reserved for getting rid of hot air. The right side has 2 USB-A 3.0 ports and a Kensington lock (and another vent). The left side has a headphone jack, a USB-A and C port, HDMI 2.0, ethernet, and power plug. The USB-C is not Thunderbolt and can’t provide power to the laptop (which isn’t a surprise considering the brick included is a 180w power supply) That said, I think there are plenty of ports for this price point and while I wouldn’t mind another USB-C with Thunderbolt, I don’t really need it considering the laptop should have enough video oomph to do what I want it to do.

The system is relatively lightweight coming in at just over 4.5 lbs. The bezels on the screen have been shaved down, though not to the same extent as the XPS 15. I took a few pictures side by side to compare.

The Hardware

First the processor. The processor is an AMD Ryzen 3750H. The ‘H’ denotes the higher power chips vs the ‘U’ chip line being the lower power, longer lasting chip. The rest of the information (and below graphic) I will pull directly from AMD’s website here.

As you can tell there is built-in Vega graphics. Total of 10 GPU cores, and the processor is a 35W chip, hopefully providing decent battery life.

Next the memory is Samsung DDR4 RAM running at 2666Mhz. In my laptop it was running this on a single slot.

The graphics is a combination of the Vega 10 on-chip graphics and the Nvidia 1660 Ti with Max-Q for better battery life, with 6GB of DDR6 Micron RAM. Its interesting to note that when I was digging into the HW info, I noticed that the Nvidia card was running at only a x8 bus instead of a PCI-E x16. I guess we will see how this plays out later on. There is a way to boost the speed of the Nvidia to a higher clock speed so that may take up some of the slack.

For Hard Drive duties, Asus decided to go with the Intel 660p NVMe M.2 512GB drive. This is the first one I have seen come from a OEM PC maker, though I’ve seen them advertised for a while. This drive is using Quad-Level NAND flash instead of the previously common TLC or V-NAND (2-bit MLC) chips found on the much faster Samsung Pro NVMe cards. Generally speaking, a QLC drive will provide good performance at a much lower price point than the other two options, seeing 2TB drives for under $200 already. Where the drive slows down is mostly in the longer (larger) transfers and long-term reliability. That being said, the drive is still much faster than the normal 5400 or even 7200 RPM rust drives commonly found in laptops.

The system comes with Realtek everything. The Wi-Fi card is a Realtek 8821CE card supporting AC in a 1×1 antennae. The Bluetooth 5.0 card is also Realtek (presumably same card) as is the RJ45 port on the side.

The keyboard is backlit as expected with N key rollover. This means that each key is scanned and picked up independently when pressed – allowing you to press a lot of keys at the same time, (useful for key combos in games for example) and it will flawlessly pick up each stroke. The backlight keyboard color is white and non-RGB. It doesn’t have lighted zones or any of the other higher end capabilities. That being said, I like the white and the key press is solid and feels good when typing on it, with a decent key depth when depressed. Again, to be nitpicky, the keys seem a little offset and that makes it a little harder to get comfortable typing on it and the touchpad, while capable enough, is a bit on the small side compared to other laptops. Again, it is a grease magnet…

The final piece of hardware that I was excited for on this laptop was the 120Hz 1080p non-touch LED panel. This is a vIPS, non-glare (no shiny glass yayyyy!) panel capable of either 60Hz or 120Hz refresh rate. The video card should have no trouble using the better refresh rates on games as long as you aren’t trying to run some crazy settings on it. The increased refresh rate should be a lot easier on the eyes for office tasks as well. So far, the LED panel is pretty smooth in regular Windows 10 transitions and I’m enjoying it immensely. There isn’t a whole lot of info (none actually) for this LED panel I have been able to find. The actual model is Sharp LM156LF-GL and it is a 6-bit IPS panel. I can’t find a driver for it or any other info. The viewing angles are good on it and I don’t see any light bleed on the edges which is nice.

As far as the battery, I can’t find anything in the listed specs other than possible battery life, which we all know is bogus. There will be testing on that. HWinfo lists the manufacturer as being ASUSTek with a listed capacity of 75,887 mWH or approximately a 76WH battery. So not bad, but not quite as hefty as say the 97Wh that is an option with my XPS 15.

The Software

Nothing out of place here. The system comes with Windows 10 (1809) and has minimal bloat – that doesn’t already come with Windows. Asus kept all of their own software relatively minimum, even eschewing McAfee (yayyy) on the system. There are some handy programs that are loaded on there. MyASUS which is a program to connect your machine to ASUS’ website to keep it up to date with drivers and firmware. SonicStudio which is a sound and recording program. Realtek audio console, Game Visual which allows you to change screen settings for different profiles, and finally Armoury Crate. This program allows you to change settings on your computer (speed / fan acoustics / key combos / and more) for different game profiles. You can also connect to it using a mobile app on your phone so you can change it via that while you are doing other things with your computer. Overall, I like the fact that the ROG like my XPS seems to stay pretty clean. I just wish Microsoft would stop trying to force their extra apps on us.

Benchmarks

To start with, let me go over the setup. I have installed nothing but driver and BIOS updates and Windows 10 updates. Everything should be the latest as of this posting. No tweaks were made, everything is as it came out of the box. The profiles and overclocking of the GPU mentioned above, was not done. Depending on the results, I may go back to try to tweak some of the settings for the NVMe drive, but I want a baseline first. I want to see how good this $1k machine can actually perform from the factory. The benchmark programs I bought off of Steam (3DMark and PCMark) myself and Cinemark will be thrown in for good measure. I can do benchmarks for anything else if anyone has any requests as I am rather new to this more detailed benchmarking thing. The card, according to ASUS’s website is said to be about as fast as the old 1070 card. So that is what I am looking for as far as numbers. If those ARE the numbers I get back, I will be extremely impressed with this system for a grand.

The first score was on Time Spy. Once again, no tweaks were made on the system yet. I compared it in the graphic to some i7-7700HQ and 1070 Max-Q cards with 8GB of RAM. And my tests came out pretty favorable. The 5197 score was the highest in the DB for that setup.

I then tested it on the Sky Diver 1.0 test and once again got pretty decent results considering the cost and such of this machine. Again, the 29209 score was the highest in the database.

For the PCMARK 10 test I added the i7-8750H just for comparison sake. Once again it showed well considering. It is notable as well that the 2nd result had a Samsung Pro NVMe drive in it as well as 32GB of RAM. (One thing to note, I went back after loading Nvidia’s newest driver and re-ran the PCMARK 10 and got a score of 4345.)

It is harder to compare these to other notebooks in this section because I don’t have a better control over what they have inside them. I am trying to maintain relative hardware though as much as its within my control. Next, I moved on to Cinebench R20. Both Single and Multi-Core tests were ran.

Lags a bit behind the 7th Gen i7 but not bad, considering the clock speed difference. I then tried to tweak the drivers a bit to see if I can get any more performance out of the benchmarks. To do this I selected the ‘Turbo’ profile from ASUS’s Armoury Crate program and re-ran the same tests. Before I even share the results, I could see a marked difference in the smoothness of the video being rendered. The fans were spinning their little hearts out but even still it just sounded like a loud breeze going by, not a turbine spinning up. That being said I’m sure that for some this would be a bit loud and would need to use headphones for gaming. As far as heat on the bottom, it got warm on the bottom but never uncomfortable.

For the third test I loaded Nvidia’s newest driver on the machine. As soon as I did, the machine had trouble switching to the Nvidia card instead of using the Vega. I tried to remedy this by making the Nvidia card the default card and re-ran the tests. That seemed to work. I guess loading the Nvidia driver by itself broke the switching but would need to test this further.

Left column in 3rd Place is no profile and original driver. 1st Place in the middle is Turbo profile and older driver. 2nd place is the new Driver and Turbo Profile. I’m a little confused by the result there. But overall not a tremendous difference a few Mhz overclock gives it.

I ran the Time Spy again to see how that would stack up. I’m seeing the same results repeat themselves – exactly. In third place, the original drivers and no profile. 1st place, original drivers and Turbo profile, and in 2nd, the new drivers and Turbo profile. You can notice though the speed of the 1660 is the same speed as the original. Leading me to believe that perhaps ASUS’s program is not able to overclock it with Nvidia’s driver, yet it still performs better than the original pointing to a better driver itself.

The results bothered me a bit so I went back and reinstalled and rebooted. After I did that, I ran the Sky Diver again. This time I got the results I expected. The new driver with Turbo profile came in first.

I ran some CrystalDisk numbers as well on the Intel 660p Card just to see where we were sitting. The results look pretty close to the stated specs for the drive. This is quite a bit lower than say a Samsung Pro drive would be. For comparison’s sake, I have run the same test on my own Samsung 970 Pro NVMe drive in my XPS 9380 13″ laptop on the second.


There is more to speed than just benchmarks but you can see the difference in the numbers shown.

One more “benchmark”. I downloaded Fortnite on it since that is one of the games I will be playing (it’s for my son…) on it. I ran on EPIC settings and set framerate to be 120 fps. During the whole game I don’t believe I fell below 65 or so, with the majority of the time running about 80s. Which is better than I could play it on my desktop with a GTX 1060 3GB card with an i7-2600.

Battery Life

Final test was battery life. I ran a movie on loop at 50% brightness and didn’t do anything else but wait. The movie was an MP4 file streamed from the NVMe drive. Even 50% brightness was more than adequate to watch the movie and at 120Hz the movie looked great. All said and done, the laptop was able to get 4:20 on a full battery. Not too shabby for a larger gaming machine. Of course this would drop quite a bit if gaming.

Conclusion

All said and done, so far it is a pretty sweet laptop and for the price a good deal. I find it interesting they included space for another NVMe drive but not a second RAM slot. That, to me, is just weird. I will be running more games on it to fully determine if I will keep it or not, and will update if anyone is interested. If I do decide to keep it I will definitely be swapping the drives. One other thing, it was a bit difficult getting into the case. ASUS did not design this for easy access, in my opinion.