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Aurora m7700 vitals

   Aurora m7700
   From 1500
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   1 September 2006
   Lawrence Latif

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Worth its weight
Notebooks clad in glossy paint are usually reserved for those of a Jimmy Saville disposition or spoilt pre-teens; but not this one. Alienware have been working their own brand of magic on notebooks for a while now and while I use the term "notebook" in it's widest sense (you'll find out why soon) the Aurora m7700 is a gaming behemoth even compared to desktop machines.

Firstly let me put this one to rest. As a machine to lug around all day, everyday the Aurora is hopeless. In terms of weight, carrying a bag of bricks would provide a similar experience and as for battery life, you may as well keep a box of rubber bands ready wound up. However there's a very good reason as to why the Aurora is like this. What it packs underneath that glossy plastic fascia is pure power, both in terms of processing capability and memory.

Click to enlargeThe machine I used had an AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 processor, that's the full dual core job mated to NVIDIA's Geforce Go 7800GTX for graphics capability. On the memory side it's got 2Gb DDR400 and a single 100Gb SATA hard drive. There's space for a second hard drive and the option of RAID 0 should you wish to speed up that area of the system. The display is 17" widescreen with a matt finish and has a resolution of 1440x900. Though if you do order this notebook may I recommend paying the premium for the 1920x1080 screen as it's definitely worth it. If you haven't thought of the downsides to all this power then I refer you to the previous paragraph.

Clearly aimed at gamers and people who want a true desktop replacement, and in many cases the Aurora would be an upgrade rather than a replacement, it provides a very good experience - there's little reason not to. Games like Battlefield 2, Doom 3 and Farcry play well although sadly don't take advantage of the widescreen. Thanks to four speakers, sound is very good for a notebook, but any serious gamer would want to use headphones such as the excellent Grado units we reviewed.

Doom 3 (1280x1024)113.6 FPS
FarCry (1280x1024)76.3 FPS

Since we all heard Alienware being sold to Dell, I've been worried not about whether Alienware would loose it's touch for producing desirable systems and whether their notebooks would be laden with some of the most horrible keyboards known to man. Thankfully, the Aurora's keyboard isn't quite as bad as the Inspiron 8600 I've had for the past few years. Thanks to its physical dimensions, the Aurora sports a full size numeric keypad alongside the standard alphabetical keypad. This may all be a moot point as if you game for long periods of time the chances are you'll want to hook up a full size keyboard anyway.

Click to enlargeCuriously, the carry case came with mountings for the power brick (in every sense of the word) rather than the notebook itself. However the Aurora does fit inside the case, although carrying it on a single shoulder should help it ease into dislocation. Unlike most other notebooks I've seen you can't even take the battery out of the chassis. This eliminates the possibility of replacing the battery two years down the line or even during the day. That said battery life was around 100 minutes, but this will vary wildly depending on what you were doing. Certainly with a heavy gaming session expect the juice to run out on or near one hour.

Alienware have had to pack a number of fans and some serious heatsinks in to cool the FX-60 processor, which is essentially a high-end desktop part. Should you feel adventurous, you can actually get down to the processor and see that the same 939pin socket as you find on desktop PC motherboards. Sadly the FX-60 will be the last socket 939 processor therefore cheap upgrades in the future are snuffed out. Even packing the numerous fans the Aurora isn't too loud nor too hot, nevertheless it's far from a 'laptop'.

There's also some nice touches such as a DVI output port, so connecting to LCD screens is a doddle. There are options for a second CD/DVD ROM drive underneath the default one and a 7-in-1 card reader. Surprisingly, Bluetooth connectivity isn't built in, but Alienware supply a Belkin USB Bluetooth dongle. Similarly, Alienware's decision to leave out a floppy drive means that they supply an external USB one. It's a fair substitute as a floppy drive would seem somewhat out of place in a machine of this stature.

So who exactly will want this notebook? If you game a lot then this is a good machine but if you go to LAN parties a lot then this is an excellant machine. It plays the current crop of games just fine and older games like CounterStrike are dispatched with obvious ease. I didn't incur any overheating issues even after several hours of heavy gaming and when mated to a full size keyboard it's not a bad gaming setup at all, just keep the number of your chiropractor handy.

Correction - 13 September 2006

We have been informed by Alienware that the battery is removable from the chassis and therefore can be replaced should it need to be.

UKGamer would like to apologise for the inaccuracy in the original article.