Alienware Aurora R8 review

From its spaceship inspired appearance to its selection of high-end silicon, there’s no denying that Alienware is catering to the demands of enthusiast gamers with the Aurora R8. Though this gaming desktop was designed for high-end gamers with features that top out with Intel’s 9th-Generation Core i9-9900K processor, dual-Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics support, and whopping amounts of storage and memory, even casual gamers who are fond of Alienware’s gamer-first designs can get in on the action thanks to a more affordable $899 entry price.

Enthusiasts who demand more performance than the base configuration – which includes an Intel Core i5-9400 processor, 8GB RAM, and AMD Radeon RX 560X graphics – will be happy to know that Alienware offers plenty of upgradeable configurations for this desktop. Unlike other boutique gaming PCs, like Digital Storm’s Lynx and Origin PC’s Neuron, Alienware only allows users to upgrade choose from internal upgrades, leaving the case design standard across all builds of the R8.

More of the same

Aesthetically, the Aurora R8 maintains the same design Alienware has been using since the Aurora R5. Though this isn’t necessarily bad, given that the tower was built to allow gamers easy access for upgrades, the dual-tone gunmetal and black bulbous design is starting to show its age next to sleeker more minimalist desktops, like HP’s Omen Obelisk, Digital Storm’s Lynx, or Origin PC’s Neuron. Alienware’s attempts at a futuristic silhouette with its UFO-like Aurora R8 falls a bit flat — the unit’s sloped top and angled feet make this tower look rather retro – and perhaps dated. Unlike many of R8’s contemporary rivals, this gaming PC is mostly constructed from opaque plastic devoid of any see-through tempered glass window, a feature that’s quickly becoming standard on many gaming desktops.

On the Origin PC Neuron and HP Omen Obelisk, for example, the glass window not only helps to showcase the technology inside, like water cooling pipes and LED backlighting, but also helps to add visual interest. The R8 comes with a removable side metal-lined plastic panel. Though we didn’t encounter any durability issues with the Aurora R8’s choice of materials, we found that some flexing in the plastic made this desktop feel less durable than competing all-metal cases.

At 18.6 x 14.2 x 8.4 inches, the Aurora R8 is about the same size as most mid-sized gaming desktops. Given the R8’s ability to accommodate up to two graphics cards, it’s closest competitors include the 18 x 18 x 8-inch Digital Storm Lynx and the highly customizable and compact 16.5 x 15.3 x 6.8-inch Origin PC Neuron. And even though the R8 weighs 32 pounds, it’s plastic top-carry handle – which feels less solid than Lenovo’s Legion C730 Cube’s cooler-inspired carry handle – helps in transporting this desktop to LAN parties.

The Aurora R8 is designed to accommodate up to two graphics cards, allowing for massive performance potential.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Alienware’s aesthetics, or if you’ve invested in an Alienware display – like the Alienware 34 Curved AW3418dw gaming monitor – the Aurora R8’s design will not disappoint. Like the Alienware display, the Aurora R8’s accents are minimal, including simple LED strips on its side panels, which can be controlled by the Alien FX software. The sloped top and angled feet make Alienware’s UFO-chasing design feel a bit retro, rather than futuristic, on a desk. If you prefer more understated aesthetics, you may want to look elsewhere.

Built for the future

Like more powerful mid-sized towers on the market, the Alienware Aurora R8 is designed to accommodate up to two graphics cards, providing gamers – and creatives who are interested in this PC’s design – with massive performance potential. With space to accommodate ample storage drives, the Aurora R8 is a PC that can grow with you, provided the gaming-forward design doesn’t look stale in a few years.

For cubicle dwellers looking to use the Aurora R8 as a workstation, a single screw, along with a secure lock port on a liftable tab on the rear, is designed to secure the R8’s internals from “RAM jackers” in your office. Though it adds a bit of security to the system’s internals, the screw is a curious element given that the R8 is likely to appeal more to gamers than cubicle dwellers. Once the screw is undone  and a couple of latches are switched to the unlocked position on the rear of the unit, the entire side panel can be removed.

Riley Young/Digital Trends

Inside, you’ll be greeted by a large metal bracket containing the 850W power supply unit. An image shows that you can lift the bracket out from the rear of the Aurora, allowing it to swing open to reveal the micro ATX motherboard, graphics card, memory, and RAM. Our review unit ships with two sticks of 16GB of HyperX DDR4 RAM, and users can easily upgrade to 64GB of memory through the four DIMM slots on the motherboard.

Storage space should not be a concern for digital hoarders. Even though our review unit ships with a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive and a 2TB hard disk drive, the R8 ships with five storage bays. Given the open design when the PSU bracket is swung open, making DIY upgrades is very easy. Though cables are neatly managed, there’s always a concern that cables may become cinched or inadvertently clipped when the bracket is closed.

Ports galore

Even if this PC’s styling may not be to your liking, a lack of port should not be a complaint with the Aurora R8. All configurations of this PC ships with the same abundance of ports, making it easy to connect mainstay peripherals on the rear and accessing flash drives on the front.

The front ports are located at the top near the front of the unit just above the Alienware glowing alien head logo, which doubles as a depressible power button. Here, you’ll find connections for three USB-A ports, single USB-C port, microphone input, and headphone jack. Thunderbolt 3, however, is absent on the Aurora R7.

On the rear, you’ll find an SPDIF connector, Ethernet jack, eight USB-A ports, single USB-C port, single USB 3.1 Type-A port, and audio jacks. There are also three DisplayPort connectors, and HDMI port, and an extra USB-C port on the Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics card on our review unit. Depending on the graphics card you choose, these ports may vary.

Chunky but not clunky

Our Aurora R8 review unit ships with an eight-core Intel Core i7-9900K processor from Intel’s 9th-generation processor family, and performance is strong. If you’re looking at the Aurora R8 for productivity tasks, you can upgrade to a configuration with a more powerful Intel Core i9-9900K processor. As configured with a Core i7 silicon, we did not encounter any issues using the R8 for Adobe Creative Cloud or Microsoft Office 365 applications, and games load relatively fast.

Though processing performance isn’t as strong as on newer systems with Intel Core i9-9900K CPUs, the Aurora R8’s processor performance is higher than the HP Omen Obelisk, which is to be expected given the latter system shipped with an older Intel Core i7-8700 processor. In our Geekbench 4 benchmark, the R8 scored 6,056 and 29,032 points in single- and multi-core tests respectively. This isn’t as high as the Origin Millennium’s scores of 6,357 and 34,309, respectively, given that system’s better CPU configuration. Interestingly, the R8 beats the Alienware’s Area-51m in single-core performance of 5,848 points, but fell short of notebook’s the 32,164 multi-core result.

Most users likely won’t notice any marginal gains in performance with upgrading to an Intel Core i9 processor on the Aurora R8. Instead, a better investment would be to go with a Core i7 build and using your funds to upgrade the RAM and memory.

In our video encoding test, the Aurora R8 took 96 seconds to encode a 4K video using the Handbrake software. This places the performance of the R8 in between Core i9-9900K systems, like the Origin Millennium, which took 77 seconds to accomplish the same task, and older processors, like the Core i7-8700-equipped HP Omen Obelisk. Given that the Area-51m laptop ships with a stronger Intel Core i9-9900K processor, it’s interesting that the R8’s time wasn’t too far off from the 81 seconds posted by its sibling.

Though the SK Hynix SSD on the R8 isn’t the fastest SSD on a system we’ve tested, the read and write scores of 1,801 Mbps and 1,365 Mbps, respectively, is still plenty fast for most daily activities.

Double the graphics

Though the Aurora R8 is a pre-built gaming PC, it accommodates plenty of graphics potential that will make you the envy of enthusiast gamers. The Aurora R8 has the distinction of being one of the more commercially available and compact systems that can support up to two GPUs, topping out with dual-Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti cards. Our review unit ships with a single GeForce RTX 2080 non-Ti card. This places it in the company of the Origin PC Neuron, though most users will likely not even need or approach that level of GPU power unless they’re using the system for design work.

The single GeForce RTX 2080 card on the Aurora R8 delivers solid performance for 1080p gaming, and even gamers with 2K ultra-wide 1440p monitors will find a lot to love about this ray tracing-capable card. When benchmarked against Underwriter Laboratories’ 3D Mark Time Spy test, the RTX 2080 card still trails its more powerful RTX 2080 Ti sibling, but results were better than other RTX 2070 systems we’ve tested. The Aurora R8’s score of 9,670 points on this test is about 1,000 points better than the RTX 2070 card on the Digital Storm Lynx, but this result is still more than 3,000 points behind the RTX 2080 Ti performance on the Corsair One Pro i180.

In our gaming performance, the RTX 2080 card performed as expected, besting the results of Nvidia’s RTX 2070 while trailing the more powerful RTX 2080 Ti cards. With modern, less graphics-heavy titles, such as Epic’s Fortnite and 2K Games’ Civilization VI, the Aurora R8’s RTX 2080 graphics managed to stay above 60 frames per second (FPS) across all resolutions, even when gaming details were turned up to Epic mode in the former and Ultra mode in the latter game. At 4K in Epic mode, the Aurora R8 only dropped to 61 FPS at 4K resolution in Epic mode. Gamers who prefer either a FHD display or an ultrawide 3,440 x 1,440-pixel 2K display won’t experience any issues, and even at 4K, the RTX 2080 was more than capable at handling these titles.

Titles with more complex graphics rendering, like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and EA Dice’s Battlefield V, show more degraded performance in frame rates when played at higher resolutions. Although Alienware boasts “whisper quiet” operations on the Aurora R8, fan noise becomes noticeable when the system is taxed. On idle, the fan the fan emits a low pitch hum, and when the system is on full load, the fan sounds slightly louder than on competing systems, like Origin’s Neuron and Digital Storm’s Lynx. Gamers, designers, and those who rely on the system for GPU-heavy tasks should likely consider the placement of the R8 in a workspace to minimize distraction caused by the whirling fan.

In Battlefield V, our RTX 2080-powered R8 review showed a noticeable drop in performance when the game is played in 4K resolution compared to more powerful RTX 2080 Ti systems, like Corsair’s One Pro i180. In 2K resolution, the game played well above 60 FPS, but there is some drops on frame rates, making Battlefield V appear a bit choppy during scenes with heavy rendering at 1440p in Ultra mode despite an average frame rate of 94 FPS.

When ray tracing is enabled in Battlefield V, the game showed slightly more details. At 1080p and 1440p resolutions, there wasn’t any perceivable loss in frame rates, but at 4K, the RTX 2080 really began to show its weakness. Gamers who play in 4K will want to upgrade to the RTX 2080 Ti, but if you mostly play at 1080p or 1440p, the RTX 2080 graphics in our R8 review unit is more than adequate.

Similarly, with the graphics-rich Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the RTX 2080 was able to deliver above 60 FPS results at 1080p and 1440p resolutions, even when Ultra mode is enabled. At 1440p Ultra, stuttering was noticeable, and frame rates dipped below 60 FPS at 4K resolution — down to 39 FPS at 4K in Ultra mode. Gaming performance is on par with other RTX 2080 systems. Graphics performance overall is slightly weaker than comparable systems with better RTX 2080 Ti graphics, but it’s still better than the RTX 2070-equipped Digital Storm Lynx.

Warranty

Although the Alienware Aurora R8 ships with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor with a generous free on-site repair policy, the system also benefits from Dell’s PC experience. Drawing from the Dell’s extensive enterprise support packages, Alienware also offers optional warranty packages that extend the coverage to five years with extras like virus removal. Users who prefer a standard warranty can also add optional accidental damage coverage. These optional coverage plans add to the cost of the Aurora R8 – Alienware’s 5-year Premium Support Plus is priced at $749 – but the extended warranty can provide peace of mind.

Unlike Origin PC, which also offers an optional upgrade plan that will give you market value of your PC components when you send them back to the company, Alienware offers no such plan. In this case, enthusiast gamers who wish to upgrade their graphics card in the future, for example, will either have to sell their existing cards themselves or eat the cost.

Our Take

The Aurora R8 delivers the performance you need in a very uniquely Alienware design. With eight different pre-built configurations to choose from, the Aurora R8 can either be an economical system for casual gamers or a worthy investment for enthusiast gamers.

As reviewed, our Intel Core i7-9700K and RTX 2080-powered configuration costs approximately $2,500 after discounts, but upgrades that add even more performance to this system – like a better Core i9-9900K processor, dual-RTX 2080 graphics, and speedier RAM – will quickly drive up the cost to more than $4,500.

Is there a better alternative?

The closest competitor to the Alienware Aurora R8 is HP’s Omen Obelisk. Since we’d reviewed the 2018 Obelisk, HP had made some notable changes to the 2019 model that makes it more competitive with the Aurora R8. Like the Aurora, this year’s Omen Obelisk can be configured with the same choices of 9th-generation Intel processors, and the PC can be configured with up to an RTX 2080 graphics card. Even though HP doesn’t ship the Omen Obelisk with two graphics cards, the tower does support it. An Omen Obelisk that’s similarly configured to our Aurora R8 review unit would cost $3,223, making the Aurora the more affordable option. Where the Obelisk stands out is with its more modern design, a see-through tempered glass side panel that showcases the unit’s liquid cooling mechanism, and a mostly metal build.

If you’re after a more customizable PC where you can select the paint and trim colors, Origin PC’s Neuron is an excellent alternative. The Neuron feels more modern with its all-metal construction and glass window design. The Neuron is as compact as it is powerful, making this gaming rig an excellent choice for gamers and designers who need to maximize desk space. Like the R8, the Neuron supports up to two graphics cards, but power users can extend this PC’s performance with an 18-core Intel Core i9-9980XE processor, making it a workstation replacement. And while the Aurora R8 tops out with dual-RTX 2080 graphics, users have the option of dual-RTX 2080 Ti graphics on the Neuron. When similarly configured to our R8 review unit, the Origin PC costs upwards of $2,700.

How long will it last?

The Aurora R8 offers a lot of value for its price. With builds that incorporate some of the best processors and graphics cards on the market today, the Aurora R8 will last for years of use. The highly upgradeable case design – although made of opaque plastic – will help keep this gaming PC fresh years down the road, allowing you to make DIY upgrades in the future.

Should you buy it?

Yes, the Alienware Aurora R8 is a solid gaming PC that offers excellent performance for its price. With plenty of room for future upgrades, it’s a system that will last you for years, making it all the more curious as to why Alienware went with a design that is already several years old. If you can forgive Alienware’s relentless UFO-chasing design pursuit, the Aurora R8 delivers punchy performance at a reasonable price in a system that offers a lot of room for upgrades down the road.