The Alienware Aurora R9 is dignified. That's the most fitting description I can come up with. There's a confidence to its reserved yet eye-catching shell, and it's a welcome departure from the RGB love-ins that dominate many of the best gaming PCs. It doesn't feel too excessively priced, either; there's a model to suit most budgets, be it a fun, entry-to-mid-level machine or a ray tracing monster capable of ultra settings. It's all very grown up, in other words - this is a solid foundation for the next generation of games waiting around the corner.
Processor: Intel Core i7-9700K 3.6Ghz
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super
Memory: 16GB DDR4 RAM
Storage: 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD (Boot) + 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s
Ports: 5x Type-A USB 2.0, 1x Type-A USB 3.1 Gen 2, 6x Type-A USB 3.1 Gen 1, 2x Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 1, headphone/line out, microphone/line in, SPDIF Digital Output Coax
Connectivity: RJ-45 Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet
Weight: around 39 pounds (17.5kg)
The Alienware Aurora R9 is a sensible piece of kit. Whether it's easy-to-reach ports at the front and plenty more at the back (including the usual DP, HDMI, ethernet, and SuperSpeed USB suspects) or sliding locks to make opening it more straightforward, this PC opts for practicality over showiness.
The most pragmatic of its features would be that scooped-out front, though. Besides giving the R9 a distinctive look, this is also where (some of) the system's vents are located - you'll hear the fans behind them whirr into life if you activate the overclocking mode.
There's no shortage of choice when it comes to the insides of an Alienware Aurora R9, either. You can go as powerful as you like or opt for something kinder on your wallet instead. That includes a budget option with an i5 processor and 1660 graphics card or a world-beating goliath that costs thousands.
Ours was toward the upper end of the scale. It featured a 9th-gen Intel i7-9700K CPU, Nvidia Geforce RTX 2070 Super GPU, 16GB Dual Channel HyperX Fury DDR4 RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD and 2TB SATA HDD. This was more than enough to play current games on ultra settings. Though without taking the machine apart, one eyebrow-raiser here is not knowing quite what the mobo and power supply are up to and of what heritage they come from. However, this never gave cause for concern, just something to note for those who like to know as much as possible about the innards of their gaming machine.
That isn't to say it's dull to look at, however. The lack of sharp edges, glass, and multi-colored pomp give the R9 a more mature, premium feel. This rig opts for something softer, leaning on rounded curves and a simple matte plastic shell instead (this is a new era of Alienware deign that's labeled 'Legend').
Until you get to the front, anyway. There, the chassis falls inward to meet a strip of shiny black that houses the power button (the Alienware logo, in this case) and a handful of ports. This elevates what could otherwise have been a plain approach. It's an eye-catching statement piece that stands out amongst the towers of today. And although you're paying extra for premium building materials, labor, and the Alienware name, at least you know you've got a quality piece of kit with all the hard work taken care of.
Taste in design is far from static, though. And I can't help but wonder how well this distinctive look will age; it strikes me as something that may seem clunky and ugly a few years down the line, despite the subtle and attractive accentuation the limited RGB lighting does offer.
How does the Alienware Aurora R9 fare on some industry tests? We've included these below to give you a feel of how it performs.
Cinebench CPU: 3230 cb
3DMark Fire Strike: 17,508 points
3DMark Fire Strike Extreme: 9,939 points
3DMark Fire Strik Ultra: 5,546 points
3DMark Time Spy: 9,422 points
CrystalDiskMark Q32: 3285.85 MB/s read; 2960.51 MB/s write
Tom Clancy's The Division 2: Ultra at 1080p: 93 fps; Ultra at 1440p: 66 fps; High at 1080p: 120 fps; High at 1440p: 88 fps
Metro Exodus: RTX at 1080p (ray-tracing on Ultra): 48.18 fps; Ultra at 1080p: 48.12 fps; High at 1080p: 54.25 fps; RTX at 1440p (ray-tracing on Ultra): 37.81 fps; Ultra at 1440p: 38.35 fps; High at 1440p: 44.04 fps; Extreme at 1080p: 29.88 fps; Extreme at 1440p: 24.04 fps
Total War: Warhammer II: Ultra at 1080p: 82.3 fps; Ultra at 1440p: 62 fps; High at 1080p: 108 fps; High at 1440p: 81 fps
Generally speaking, the Alienware R9 breezed through each of the demanding benchmarks we set and made light work of the games we put through its grinder. A particular highlight was how easily it deals with hefty firefights in The Division 2, for example. There was no drop in framerate - a steady rate of 93fps at 1080p resolution on Ultra is excellent - and everything was rendered beautifully from start to finish, even with multiple enemies popping off shots in the games's complex and gorgeously-lit environment. Meanwhile, Total War: Warhammer 2 managed enormous, processor-heavy battles on ultra settings without batting an eyelid. The R9's benchmarks in Metro Exodus were equally impressive, suggesting that you'll be in good stead for ray tracing games if you pick up a system with our review copy's specs. It's PC gaming at its best.
Well, nearly; our 2070 R9 didn't do so well in Metro on Extreme settings, dipping well below 30fps at both 1080p and 1440p. That's where more expensive builds will come in handy.
The in-game performance you'll get from this machine will, naturally, be closely tied to the component and makeup choices you go for in your machine, but one thing you can rely on is Alienware's dedicated software. It features dedicated overclocking and thermal checks to help you get the most out of your machine, not to mention adjustments that can be made to every part of Alienware's mice and keyboards.
Those fans aren't offensively loud even when engaged, either - I was pleasantly surprised. Not that I needed them much. The R9 handled everything exceptionally well as-is.
With all this in mind, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the R9, and our particular build that we tested. It future-proofs you to a certain extent - at least for the next couple of years - and provides a first step into ray tracing. You can always swap out components further down the line if you want to add the best graphics cards or the best RAM for gaming, too.
As for the R9 range in general? Although there's always a premium thrown in for Alienware products, I was impressed by the variety of possible setups on offer. Better still, a distinctive design helps it stand out from the crowd. It's a bold new start, in other words.