We reported earlier this week on a new version of Alienware's Area 51. The enthusiast desktop PC, originally launched in 2014, will get internal transplants in the form of AMD’s ThreadRipper or Intel's Skylake-X or Kaby Lake-X high-end desktop CPUs. We learned a few more details while visiting with Dell/Alienware during E3.
First, Area 51 will be an OEM exclusive for AMD's ThreadRipper for 2017. You’ll be able to build your own of course, or buy made-to-order PCs from builders or systems integrators, but among the primary system manufacturers--Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, etc.--Alienware will stand alone for this year. If it’s a feather in the cap of Dell to have this exclusively, it’s certainly a good sign for AMD, getting the whole-hearted support of a prominent OEM so early in the life of its new CPU.
Area 51 is ultimately configurable. We saw a version with three AMD Radeon 580 GPUs, and we saw a version with AMD’s yet-to-be-released Vega GPU inside. A Dell representative opened the Area 51 so we could see, but we couldn’t touch, and we couldn’t take pictures. An AMD representative was on hand to condone the viewing.
We also pressed Alienware about cooling, given these new high-end desktop processors. The chassis hasn’t changed (it’s still that same trapezoid-ish shape, with no alterations for air intake or exhaust), but the system’s liquid cooling required for ThreadRipper and Skylake-X demanded fans spinning at higher RPM, a bigger radiator, and changes to the hoses. An Alienware representative at E3 couldn’t recite the exact details.
Dell partners with Asetek on the cooler. The company designs and builds its own motherboard.
Alienware wouldn’t give us price ranges. You can guess that it’ll be expensive, given what’s going on inside and that you’re not building it yourself. However, Alienware said that the customer it's targeting with Area 51 is the so-called “mega-tasker,” a term onerously (criminally?) coined by Intel, and one that is sadly catching on. Don’t worry, though: you’re forgiven if you’re merely a multitasker.
But Area 51 could also be favored by those conducting more high-end design work, and, yes, people with more money than sense. At least, that’s our interpretation of what Alienware said. What a representative actually said was that some people just want the fastest thing available, no matter if they need it and no matter the cost.