The Alienware Aurora R11 is a component revamp of the Aurora R10 that we reviewed last year, a customizable gaming desktop built on the same chassis. The $4,369.99 unit we received for review is a deliberately go-for-broke configuration with an Intel Core i9 processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 GPU, 64GB of memory, and 4TB of storage. You can get a far more affordable configuration, however, given the desktop's $872.19 starting price. Our loaded test unit predictably tore up the gaming charts, and you can't argue with its over-100fps 4K gaming numbers. The case remains unique and head-turning, though the plastic build and hidden, unattractive bare-metal interior are a harder sell at this price point. Attractive boutique desktops like the Origin PC Neuron may be more appealing at this price, but if you like the exterior design and the idea of a plug-and-play purchase, the Aurora R11 delivers.
The Ghost of Gaming PCs Future?
The look of the Alienware's case is striking, though it is not new to us—the AMD Ryzen-based Aurora R10 I reviewed in 2019 used the same chassis. The style is sci-fi inspired, a definitively bold look with its turbine-like front, glowing portions, and unique shape. This is the white "Lunar Light" chassis color scheme; a dark gray "Dark Side of the Moon" design is optional.
It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I appreciate the design. It signals that it's a gaming desktop, but it has a cohesive aesthetic in mind rather than slapping aggressive geometry and gaudy lights onto a box. The Aurora wouldn't look out of place in a sci-fi TV show or movie—or next to the recently revealed PlayStation 5. Clearly, Alienware and Sony both think this is the look of the future.
The case looks a bit bigger than it actually is at first glance, but you see that it's pretty compact when you take a step back. It's an MicroATX build that tapers toward the front, both in width and height. Technically a mid-tower, it's not too far off from a full-size case, on the taller side at 18.9 by 8.8 by 17 inches (HWD). The Origin PC Neuron is a shorter mid-tower at 15.6 by 7.1 by 6.3 inches, while the super-slim MSI MEG Trident X measures 15.6 by 5.1 by 15.1 inches.
The case is also bursting with ports. The front panel, in the center of the LED ring, holds three USB 3.1 Type-A ports, a USB-C port, and headphone and microphone jacks. At the rear, the motherboard offers six USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.1 ports, another USB-C port, an Ethernet jack, and audio jacks. The video-out ports come courtesy of the graphics card, which comes with three DisplayPort connections and one HDMI port.
Component Check: A Small Interior With Big Power
It becomes much clearer that this is a MicroATX build when you open the case. Accessing the interior is very easy, though not toolless. There are two sliding lock switches on the rear, and one screw to remove, located on a black handle. Doing so, and then pulling on the handle, releases the left-side panel so you can pull it away. The actual open space for components is much smaller than it would appear from the outside; about three inches on the front and bottom, and as much as six inches on the top, are just part of the plastic exterior.
That leaves a relatively small compartment for the components. The power supply is located on a swinging door, a space-saving method we've seen before that's mostly clever and only a little obtrusive for working inside the case. Pulling it away reveals the rest of the parts, which in our $4,369.99 configuration include an Intel Core i9-10900K processor, 64GB of DDR4, the GeForce RTX 3090 graphics card, a 2TB M.2 solid-state drive, and a 2TB hard drive. There are scores of other possible combinations since Dell allows you to customize almost every aspect when ordering.
If you're up to date on your PC-component knowledge, you'll know that these parts represent the latest and greatest from Intel and Nvidia. This is an extremely high-end configuration, if that wasn't obvious from the price, and it is one of our first opportunities to test the mighty RTX 3090. It's also overkill even for hardcore gamers. (Core i9 chips have diminishing returns for gaming, and early feedback shows the RTX 3090 isn't all that much faster than the RTX 3080 on frame rates.) So I'd recommend this pricey setup only for those who will also be doing professional media and 3D work that makes use of the RTX 3090's huge serving of graphics memory.
Given the price of our test unit, it must be emphasized that visually, the interior of this system is far more utilitarian and less attractive than the outside. This is a mass-produced desktop that's meant to be plug-and-play, so many owners may rarely if ever crack open the tower at all. There are other options if you'd prefer a system with an interior made to be seen, but this PC is all about ease of use, performance, and the exterior design. The massive, 12.3-inch GeForce RTX 3090 also barely fits across the back-to-front depth of this tower, running nearly from end to end—but it does fit!
Testing the Aurora R11: The RTX 3090 Brings Unparalleled Power
To gauge the performance of the Aurora R11's high-powered parts, I collected a batch of competing high-end gaming desktops from our benchmark database. Before we get to the results, you can see the contenders' names and base specs in the table below.
Productivity & Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system's boot drive. Both tests generate a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
Not for the first time with a high-end desktop, especially with newer or rarer parts, I couldn't get PCMark 10 to run on this system. It happens occasionally and isn't a sign that anything is wrong with the the machine, it's just a conflict with this particular software. It's safe to say the Aurora and its 10th Generation Core i9 CPU, with 10 cores and 20 threads, would have crushed the test, however; in fact it's massive overkill for everyday multitasking. Peeking at the previous-gen version of this chip in the Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 should give you an idea. On the storage front, PCMark 8 demonstrates that these are all snappy SSDs, which should serve you well for swift load times with media and games.
Media Processing & Creation Tests
Next is Maxon's CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that's highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It's a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total execution time; lower times are better. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
Against a less potent set of competitors, the R11's results would look stellar. When the competition is just as powerful, these middle-of-the-pack results seem less impressive at a glance, but all of these systems are performing at an incredibly high level. As a quick aside, I saw a small gain over the previous-gen Intel CPU (the Raptor's Core i9-9900K) in Cinebench, but the other scores are tied. AMD's 16-core/32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X remains superior in these tasks; Cinebench and Handbrake are too well-threaded for the Ryzen not to dominate utterly.
If you're a media editor, animator, or any other profession with work that really leans on hardware, this machine can do it effectively. If you're a shopper prioritizing gaming but also need a professional-grade desktop for other purposes, the Aurora R11 is a good fit. If you're the inverse (a professional who may do some gaming as well), I'd probably recommend a workstation or less gaming-centric desktop first.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
UL's 3DMark test suite measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it's rendered in the company's eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine's graphical prowess.
The same general story from the CPU tests applies here: Still mainly for gamers, but definitely capable for professionals. The GeForce RTX 3090 isn't a professional-focused Nvidia Quadro card, but its benefits extend beyond what you need for gaming compared to the RTX 3080. We have yet to test the RTX 3080 in a retail system, but our review of the GPU itself tells you what it can do. The raw power of the RTX 3090, meanwhile, outpaces the rest here (particularly on the demanding 1080p Superposition test). As for actual gaming...
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it's hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings.
The RTX 3090 blows away all of the competition except for the Titan X in the Origin PC Neuron, which it betters by a smaller margin. That's the GPU it's meant to replace and the one at the top of Nvidia's last-gen hierarchy, so everything is as it should be. (Really, the RTX 3090 is a traditional Titan card in GeForce clothing.) Compared to the RTX 2080 Ti seen in each of the other three systems, the RTX 3090 is a massive improvement. Considering that the RTX 2080 Ti has been the cream of the crop for gamers for more than a year, it's remarkable to see it so heavily outmatched.
The frame rates the Aurora R11 posted in these games are what you'd hope for from these parts at this price, but they're still impressive to see. This is especially true at 4K resolution, where this system delivers over 100fps while the other GPUs barely reach 80fps. High-refresh-rate 4K gaming is still the realm of the most elite enthusiasts, but the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 make it much more feasible, for around the same cost as GPUs from the RTX 2000 series that couldn't hack it at 4K.
Being able to play big-budget single-player games at 4K resolution at so far above 60fps is definitely a new paradigm. Meanwhile, the ray-tracing improvements are a huge boon in addition to the raw fps increase. I didn't test titles with ray-tracing (RTX) on for this review, but see our full review of the GeForce RTX 3080 for how much better it is at running ray tracing smoothly than the RTX 2000 series GPUs.
Competitive multiplayer games, of course, benefit from the extra juice, as well. Running the benchmark test built into Rainbow Six: Siege, the Aurora R11 averaged 116fps at 4K, 183fps at 1440p, and 213fps at 1080p.
A Potent Plug-and-Play Option
This leads me to my overall point about the Alienware Aurora R11. Performance-wise, this configuration is incredibly impressive. Alienware knows that it sent a benchmark-busting rig that represents maximum power rather than a configuration that goes for value, so it should be obvious that this desktop does not need to be this expensive. Choosing extras like 64GB of RAM and a ton of storage only maximizes the price tag here, and is not necessary for outstanding gaming performance. As a showcase for what the parts can do when money is not an obstacle, it succeeds.
As a desktop PC, disregarding the specific elite components in our unit, this is still a likable system. The novelty of the design has worn off a little, and I wish the interior was nicer to handle and look at. If you're going to spend over $4,000 for a desktop PC, I think I'd be hard-pressed to find a shopper who wouldn't rather have a cleaner, more attractive interior, likely one visible through a glass panel. The Aurora design is cool and unique, but it's still a plastic build without a way to show off your fancy components.
If you opt for a more palatably priced configuration, the system becomes a better fit. The Origin PC Neuron is one of our favorite mixes of performance and visual appeal, maintaining its Editors' Choice award in this price range. And other boutique manufacturers, such as Maingear and Falcon Northwest, offer attractive systems whose interiors, even on their more basic rigs, blow away the humdrum bare-metal utility of the Aurora's insides.
Alienware Aurora R11
The Bottom Line
The Alienware Aurora R11 is a highly configurable gaming desktop with a unique design, and our super-powerful configuration is capable of top-charting numbers. Big spenders may prefer a chassis that showcases their components, however.
Alienware Aurora R11 Specs
|Desktop Class||Gaming, Tower|
|Processor||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|Processor Speed||3.7 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||64 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||2 TB|
|Secondary Drive Type||Hard Drive|
|Secondary Drive Capacity (as Tested)||2 TB|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
Best Desktop PC Picks
- The Best Desktop Computers for 2020
- The Best Gaming Desktops for 2020
- The Best Budget Desktop Computers for 2020
- The Best Desktop Workstations for 2020
- More Desktop PC Reviews
- More from Alienware