Custom Build vs Alienware Aurora Gaming Desktop (Canadian version)

Model from February, 2013.
Alienware desktop model from February, 2013.

It’s been my experience over the years of building computers that in many cases you can build better or cheaper computers from scratch than you would be able to get pre-assembled from major manufactures. For me, there was also great value in getting to have the experience of assembling a PC yourself and having a sense of the “I built that” pride. Despite holding this belief I never set out to actually prove it, until now.

On the right you’ll see the Alienware Aurora Gaming Desktop with the default settings as it retails in Canada for $1,499 for the low-end model all the way to $2,999 for the ALX high-end model (see the end for a detailed comparison of all specs). The goal will be to use NCIX to build a machine with the same specs (or as close as is possible) and compare the custom build based on price.

I’m using NCIX because of their liberal price-matching policy and because they offer a PC assembly option that will let you choose the components you want and have them build it, adding a 1 year warranty to the final machine in the process. This will let us compare the result directly with Dell/Alienware for the fully built machine.

Heart of the Beast: Intel Core i7

Our low-end Alienware machine boasts an Intel® Core™ i7-3820 processor (Quad Core, 10MB Cache, Overclocked up to 4.1GHz), while the high-end ALX starts with a Intel® Core™ i7-3930K processor (Six Core, 12MB Cache,Overclocked up to 3.9Ghz). Neither lists what’s being used for a heatsink (more than likely because it’s something custom to Dell), so I’ll be using my best judgement on a nice heatsink to allow overclocking to that degree.

[twocol_one]
Low-end Gaming Build
Intel® Core™ i7-3820
NCIX $299.99

+Noctua NH-D14 Heatpipe Cooler w/ Fans
NCIX $79.99

So far: $379.78
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
High-end Gaming Build
Intel® Core™ i7-3930K
NCIX $589.99

+Noctua NH-D14 Heatpipe Cooler w/ Fans
NCIX $79.99

So far: $669.98
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The Right Head Space: Motherboard

The motherboard is another part that Dell remains largely “mum” about. All we can know from the Dell specs is that it is LGA2011 and supports SATA3, DDR3 and has built-in 7.1 surround sound. For a mix of overclocking control and features I selected the ASUS P9X79 ATX motherboard for the low-end build and the Deluxe version of the same board (which has some more ports and features) for the high-end build. Both boards easily match what we could deduce from Dell’s and come with built-in overclocking tools.

I’ll also match the Dell provided DDR3 memory with RAM manufactured from G.SKILL of the same speed and capacity. I’d recommend totally maxing out the amount of RAM if you were getting one of these machines, but, for our comparison needs I’ll just match what Dell is doing for now.

[twocol_one]
Low-end Gaming Build
ASUS P9X79 ATX
NCIX $249.99

+G.SKILL Ripjaws X 8GB (2x 4GB)
NCIX $50.99

So far: $680.76
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
High-end Gaming Build
ASUS P9X79 Deluxe ATX
NCIX $364.99

+G.SKILL Ripjaws X 16GB (2X8GB)
NCIX $88.99

So far: $1123.96
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To See You With: GFX Card

We do get to know what GFX chipsets Dell used for these two Alienware builds: 1.5GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 660 for the low-end and 2GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 680 for the high-end. Despite my searching I was unable to find a decent 1.5GB GTX 660 for the low-end build, so I opted to go with a better ASUS 2GB GTX 660 (NVIDIA authorized). For the high-end I went with a EVGA GeForce GTX 680 Superclocked 2GB card. If that doesn’t scream “power”, nothing does.

There was a $20 rebate on the ASUS card, but my totals will use the full retail price.

[twocol_one]
Low-end Gaming Build
ASUS GeForce GTX 660 OC 2GB
NCIX $243.99

So far: $924.75
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
High-end Gaming Build
EVGA GeForce GTX 680 Superclocked 2GB
NCIX $464.99

So far: $1588.95
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Fond Memories: Storage & Operating System

Dell installs Windows 7 Home Premium (64bit, of course) on both builds. The low-end has a 1TB HDD and the high-end a 256GB SATA3 SSD. I’m pretty disappointed in Dell’s defaults here all around. I’ll match the for the comparison, but, you should be putting an SSD and a HDD in the build along with Windows 8 (same price as 7) if you’re making these builds for yourself. Also, remember that Windows 7 only supports at most 16GB of RAM.

Also included is a LG 24x DVD writer for the low-end and a Blu-Ray writer for the high (Dell only provided a reader). Once again, a possible $10 rebate for the SSD and $20 rebate for Blu-ray writer were not included.

[twocol_one]
Low-end Gaming Build
Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit OEM
NCIX $97.99

+Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM
NCIX $69.99

+LG 24x SATA Internal DVD Writer
NCIX $17.99

So far: $1110.72
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
High-end Gaming Build
Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit OEM
NCIX $97.99

+ADATA SX900 2.5″ 256GB SSD SATA 3
NCIX $189.99

+ASUS BW-12B1ST Blu-Ray Writer
NCIX $79.99

So far: $1958.92
[/twocol_one_last]

Skin Deep: Case

Alienware has a trademark case design, which means finding something equally obnoxious (er, I mean… artistic, yea!) case is difficult. If we wanted to go with something more unassuming you’d do well to select the Antec GX 700 which I’m rather fond of. Although I find the Alienware design and lighting atrocious I was able to find a case in a similar vein: the Thermaltake Chaser MK-1 which also includes three color modes for the lights (Red, Green, Blue).

We’re also going to need something to give juice to the case, for the low-end that juice is provided by a 700W Thermaltake PSU, and for the higher-end I went to a Corsair Professional 1050W PSU. Now is also the time to add comparable keyboards and mice to each build as well.

Once again, rebates of $20 on the Thermaltake Chaser MK-1, $10 on the Thermaltake PSU and $15 on the Corsair PSU were not included.

[twocol_one]
Low-end Gaming Build
Thermaltake Chaser MK-1
NCIX $139.99

+700W Thermaltake PSU
NCIX $64.99

+Logitech MK120 Desktop Keyboard and Mouse
NCIX $14.99

+nGear Media Card Reader
NCIX $18.99

So far: $1349.68
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
High-end Gaming Build
Thermaltake Chaser MK-1
NCIX $139.99

+Corsair Professional 1050W PSU
NCIX $214.99

+Saitek Cyborg V.7 Gaming Keyboard
NCIX $69.99

+Corsair Vengeance M65 Gaming Mouse
NCIX $59.99

+nGear Media Card Reader
NCIX $18.99

So far: $2460.87
[/twocol_one_last]

How You Play the Game: Results

After applying the $50 assembly fee to each of our builds, both come in under the retail price of the Alienware alternatives. One could also argue that both are also easier to change before ordering and upgrade after receipt, since there are no proprietary components to deal with. Since you’re building yourself you get to choose which components you want, and the result will be even more uniquely your own.

All four builds are listed below, hopefully they’ll be an aid for you next time you or a friend need to choose between a brand-name computer and a custom build. Remember, these prices are correct as of when this post was written, and none of them include taxes or shipping (NCIX and Dell often have free shipping offers if you keep an eye out).

[twocol_one]
Low-end Alienware Aurora

Software
Windows 7 Home Premium, 64Bit, English
Microsoft Office trial
McAfee SecurityCenter, 15-Months
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Alienware Aurora Desktop (Support crapware)
Alienhead 3D (Screensaver thing)

Hardware
Intel Core i7-3820 processor (Quad Core, 10MB Cache, Overclocked up to 4.1GHz)
8GB Quad Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz
1.5GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 660
1TB Serial ATA 3 Hard Drive
Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio
Single Drive: 24X CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW)
AlienFX Color, Quasar Blue (lighting)
Alienware Optical Mouse, MG100
Alienware Multi-Media Keyboard
1 Year Essential Support
19-in-1 Media Card Reader

Sub-total: $1499.99
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
Low-end Custom Gaming Build

Software
Windows 7 Home Premium, 64Bit, English
Adobe Reader
Microsoft Office trial
Microsoft Security Essentials

Hardware
Intel Core i7-3820 processor (Same as Alienware model, however you would need to overclock via BIOS yourself)
Noctua NH-D14 Heatpipe Cooler w/ Fans
ASUS P9X79 ATX Motherboard w/ USB3
8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR3 at 1600MHz
ASUS GeForce GTX 660 OC 2GB
Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM
LG 24x SATA Internal DVD Writer
Thermaltake Chaser MK-1
700W Thermaltake PSU
Logitech MK120 Desktop Keyboard and Mouse
nGear Media Card Reader
Assembly, Testing & 1Yr Warranty

Sub-total: $1399.68 ($100.31 cheaper)
[/twocol_one_last][hr][twocol_one]
High-end Alienware Aurora ALX

Software
Windows 7 Home Premium, 64Bit, English
Microsoft® Office trial
Adobe® Acrobat® Reader
McAfee SecurityCenter, 15-Months
Alienhead 3D (Screensaver thing)
Alienware Aurora Desktop (Support crapware)

Hardware
Intel® Core™ i7-3930K processor (Six Core, 12MB Cache,Overclocked up to 3.9Ghz )
16GB Quad Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz
2GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 680
256GB SATA 6Gb/s Solid State Drive
No Monitor
Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio
Single Drive: Dual Layer Blu-ray Reader
AlienFX Color, Quasar Blue
1 Year Essential Support
Alienware Aurora with ALX Chassis
19-in-1 Media Card Reader
Alienware TactX™ Mouse
Alienware TactX™ Keyboard

Sub-total: $2999.99
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
High-end Custom Gaming Build

Software
Windows 7 Home Premium, 64Bit, English
Adobe Reader
Microsoft Office trial
Microsoft Security Essentials

Hardware
Intel® Core™ i7-3930K processor (Same as Alienware model, however you would need to overclock via BIOS yourself)
Noctua NH-D14 Heatpipe Cooler w/ Fans
ASUS P9X79 Deluxe ATX Motherboard w/ USB3
16GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR3 at 1600MHz
EVGA GeForce GTX 680 Superclocked 2GB
ADATA SX900 2.5″ 256GB SSD SATA 3
ASUS BW-12B1ST Blu-Ray Writer
Thermaltake Chaser MK-1
Corsair Professional 1050W PSU
Saitek Cyborg V.7 Gaming Keyboard
Corsair Vengeance M65 Gaming Mouse
nGear Media Card Reader

Sub-total: $2510.87 ($489.12 cheaper)
[/twocol_one_last][hr]

Trademarks are held by their respective owners, prices are provided for informational purposes only. Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen. Contents may be hot.

11 thoughts on “Custom Build vs Alienware Aurora Gaming Desktop (Canadian version)

  1. I have been trying to find a direct to the point comparison for the Alienware because I plan to buy one in a few days. Now if I chose to get the Alienware low end model couldn’t I change any parts after purchase to get better results if I needed to?

    1. You will be able to do some upgrades, Dell doesn’t really say how many PCIe,SATA, etc ports will be available. Older Dell models required buying parts from Dell to even do something as basic as adding a second hard drive. Most sources are saying you only have 330w of power to play with as well, so you’ll have to stick with components that use the same amount of power or less.

      Ultimately, all you’re likely looking at for upgrade options will be RAM, switching out the GFX card later down the road, and replacing the internal HDD/SDD or using a USB3 external drive. Remember, the adage is to try and build a computer that over-performs your current needs for your budget so you won’t need to upgrade for a while. Even with a home build replacing some components (such as the CPU) can be difficult.

  2. The 3000 dollar option for the Aurora at the time of this article came with two GTX 680s in SLI, either that or a GTX 690 for a slightly smaller amount.

  3. All Alienware auroras come with liquid cooled cpus standard. Please make sure you factor that extra cost into the custom built pcs. I’d say equivalent to a corsair H60 or something like that. So the cost delta to the low end is much smaller.

  4. I just ordered the lower end Dell.

    The power supply is over 800 watts.

    The cpu is liquid cooled as mentioned by the other poster.

    For an extra $150 I upgraded to the ALX casing, much better.

    For an extra $50 I upgraded to 4.2Ghz cpu.

    I also take away the $100 plus onsite installation fee (optional).

    So the final price was around $2800 Australian dollars. (about the same in US dollars).

    With a 3GB HD 8950 video card.

    So, when you counter in your own time and stress costs of building a machine (sure, it might be fun, so long as not one single thing goes wrong) – the Dell is leagues ahead I’m believe.

    I used to build my own pcs, but as tolerances for cpu insertion and warranty caveats become so tight, it’s not longer worth the energy, particularly when I can get such a fine machine that’s already well constructed.

    Note also, the Dell has many HDD bays, many USB ports (I think it was 6). It has internal case lighting (even without power connected) – not that i’ll bother going inside either.

    And the ALX venting system is a great piece of engineering, although I’m yet to expereience full time, from what I’ve seen it seems very good. (it’s worth the $150 to upgrade to the ALX case, as far as I’m concerned).

    Thanks for the review and a chance to comment.

      1. Gonna assume you meant 2TB; although RAID had been a standard feature of mid-high motherboards for years now; you just need to have the storage to make use of it.

    1. I’ll need to go over all the pricing again, sadly, as Dell’s changed their stats and pricing for the box and NCIX prices have fluxed a lot as well. Ultimately the monetary difference is pretty marginal; however the NCIX version PC /is/ assembled, arrives to you fully assembled, and has a 1 year warranty. It’s a nice feature NCIX offers for $50 and they’ll basically put together and warranty any combination of compatible parts you like.

  5. Ca you do an updated analysis of their r6 revision in 2017? It is tooless upgrades, has a gtx 1080 for around 2100 or was it 2800cnd ? I’m thinking of ordering one for 4k gaming although building or should I say upgrading is certainly an option . My dell xps 8300 is about 4 years old but has decent get up still. I just need a better ssd and gpu and memory. It already does 4k in gta5 on medium to high settings.

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