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Boutique PC builders: When you want the very best

By Bill O'Brien
November 16, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Alienware

Alienware is one of the Titans of boutique builders. Established in 1996, the company specializes in desktop and laptop performance computers for both business and gaming.

Originally, Alienware was in a neck-and-neck competition with Voodoo PC, which preceded Alienware to the marketplace by five years. The two battled each other for nearly a decade until 2006, when HP purchased Voodoo PC and Dell acquired Alienware. While HP has since folded Voodoo under its corporate wings, Dell still maintains Alienware as separate product line.

Boutique Builders
Alienware Aurora

Currently, Alienware has two principal desktop series, the Aurora and the Area 51. Each features a distinct case design (although they share the Alienware "Alien head" logo). While both systems can be expanded, the Area 51 series represents Alienware's performance models, while the Aurora offers an enhanced gaming experience on a less stratospheric budget -- at least to start. I found it remarkably easy to power-configure a base $2,499 Area 51 system into a $6,672 performance behemoth.

The company's laptop lineup currently includes the M11x, M15x and M17x models; the numeric designation indicates the screen size. If you don't think there's much you can do to specialize a laptop, think again -- I was able to quickly jump up a base $2,199 M17x to $6,193 by customizing hardware options such as the CPU, memory, graphics and hard drives for more aggressive performance. I was also able to add service and support options aimed at making my life easier (no wait times, and North American-based support).

Alienware offers one-, three- and four-year basic warranty plans along with extended in-home warranties. However, keep in mind that getting someone to show up at your house may not be easy. According to the Alienware site:

Remote Diagnosis is determination by online/phone technician of cause of issue; may involve customer access to inside of system and multiple or extended sessions. If the issue is covered by the Limited Hardware Warranty and not resolved remotely, a technician and/or part will be dispatched, usually in 1 or 2 business days following completion of Remote Diagnosis.

This is similar to the terms and conditions of a plan that Dell -- and many of the other "at home" service providers -- has offered on its computers for years.

So if you think that its acquisition by Dell has "institutionalized" Alienware, you might be correct to a small degree. However, when you talk to anyone there, you'll find the same thing I did: the same level of enthusiasm and spirit that existed before the two companies bonded.

At a Glance

Alienware Corp.

Phone: 1-800-ALIENWARE
Business start date: October 1996
Desktop lines: Aurora, Aurora ALX, Area 51, Area 51 ALX
Laptop lines: M11x, M15x, M17x
Warranty: 90-day, one-year, two-year, three-year or four-year limited product warranty
Refund policy: 30-day money-back guarantee; 15% restocking fee


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