A bit different this. Please take note that the pictures depict both an Alienware Predator 2.0 (steel inside) and a Predator 2.1 AKA ALX (anod alu inside). Other than that and some cosmetic differences they are pretty much the same thing.
Due to the recent influx of Alienware cases/chassis arriving on Ebay* you may have been tempted to get one. Well this thread may be of some help to you and it's also the good, bad, and of course ugly as to what it will involve to get it running as Alienware intended.
*long story short Dell and other large computer manufacturers signed an EU agreement to recycle. This has worked out quite well for people who wanted a poke around a Predator chassis but didn't want to pay the extorionate prices people charged. Computers are, however, THE most unrecyclable thing on our planet.... I think.....
I got myself into some trouble for speaking about this on a.n.other forum because I found them to be quite the snob. Sadly it would seem that when some one has paid through the bottom for an Alienware they don't like it when people encourage others to make one for less (with what they want in it) and to actually get it running.
The Alienware owner usually falls into one of a few categories, I shall break them down before I begin.
1. The "Hardware? what's that? JUST GIVE ME THE MOST EXPENSIVE ONES OF EVERYTHING !!oneone.
Yup, the retarded teenager who simply must
spend thousands of pounds on an Alienware just so he can say "well mine was the most expensive !" and then post videos of himself gleefully boasting about it on Youtube. It's thalidomides like this who make up the majority of Alienware owners. *sigh*
Sadly it's the same said thalidomides who keep companies like Killer NIC !!oneoneneoneetcetc in business.
This 'type' is easy to spot on Youtube infact, it's painfully easy. They post a video of them unboxing their new price and then feverishly
tell you the price OVER AND OVER AND OVER
before opening the box. They usually have lots of metal in their mouthes and speak with a squeak due to their testicles not having reached the lower level yet.
2. Thankfully the second group of people who buy Alienware* are not quite as bad. This group usually consists of people who work in I.T and are so sick
of working on computers all day they simply could not bear to come home and faff around buying lots of bits and hoping it all works.
This is almost like a lesser spotted species of bird because you don't see them very much.
This group of owners know full well that buying an Alienware means paying (slightly) over the odds for their machine but don't care.
* Alienware are no longer Alienware. They are now Dellienware. In 2006 they were taken over by Dell but not turned into facists until mid last year when Dell Dellized the entire range and made a set of lovely monopolised motherboard with crap overclocking options. Truly dumb just like the XPS range of Dells. Nice one.
3. People like myself who are a bit, well, special
and actually like the case and appreciate its design. I am Art Deco mad (and Fallout 3 mad) and love anything that has that look.
I will warn you though, getting it working as it should and how Alienware intended can be a task if you don't have one to cross reference with. From wire routing to the lighting system can be a real pain.
Before we begin I will point out that the case has been built by Chieftec
so if you have ever had one (who didn't back in the early Noughties?) you know what to expect. It weighs in at around 20 kilos all told and is hella heavy.
O.K. So obviously you are going to be concerned about cooling yes? Well, one thing I will say is that the Alienware does not offer the best airflow on the planet. The design is quite good but far from one of these new fangled meshy cases that basically sit on the desk or floor and breathe.
The hardest part when buying a case is getting one that is complete. And when I say complete I mean just that. They are actually enormously complicated and without every piece in place simply will not function properly.
Let's get onto the cooling then. As a stock unit the Alienware Predator 2 should
consist of the following. Also worth remembering is that all of the fans are basic Yate Loon fans which are supposed to be pretty good. However, I have replaced all of mine with Arctic units and it cost me less than £17 all in.
The cooling system.
- just inside the front (the metal front) is a 120mm fan bringing air in.
- Right where your HSF is is a 120mm fan on exhaust.
The left side panel
- This contains a 120mm fan set to intake for the GPUs. It's not really in the best of positions but it does bring something to the game.
Here you can see the front fan and get a feel for the air flow. As I said it's not the greatest but it works.
And here is the side intake fan.
It's not positioned in the best place sadly but I suppose some air is better than no air. Also consider that without the correct mounting mechanism you will have terrible trouble mounting a fan on here.
The hard drive bay
- which is side ways. This has a 92mm fan set to exhaust. I must say that it doesn't really have anywhere to get cool air from so always seems to be blasting out hot air. Mind you having said that I have yet to see a hard drive failure in the machines I own so I guess it does something.
And that is about it. Also worth remembering are the mechanisms that the fans fit to. They are quick release and without them there really is no good way to mount the fans. The back one holds in with those sharp grub screw affairs but the rest all have mechanisms.
My main bone of contention is how the top area of the system has no air flow or fans. It's all done in and around the bottom meaning your CPU HSF will be intaking warm air from the get go. Also, the top GPU (the one that sits in PCIE slot 1) is just slightly too high for the air coming in from the front and slightly too high for the air coming in from the side. You won't see fantastic GPU temps in a Predator 2.
As you can see here the retention mechanism for the 5.25" bays is utterly excellent. The hard drives go in on plastic rails that leave a lot to be desired. They tend to break pretty easily leaving you a bit screwed.
Also note how my SSD is totally out of range of the air flow.
Onto part two.
Now you need to remember that this case was designed and born some time around 2005. This means that whilst it does have reasonable cable management it isn't the best and without modding will not offer the greatest solution for hiding every single cable. I have been tempted at times to break mine down and get a hole saw but it really wasn't worth bothering with. You will see in the pics just how Alienware used the case properly and where all of the cables should go.
Things to remember if you are considering this case and want to do it right are : Make sure your PSU has super duper long wires or you will end up with a rat's nest in your case. Also, take careful note of where to hide excess wire. Other wise you won't get the right side panel back on.
Case in parts.
Taking note everything runs through that right panel before going into an inlet into the case itself.
And here is that top section that hides any wiring you don't need and also routes the wiring for the AlienFX (the lights, basically).
A common mistake with these is how to route the front audio, USB , Firewire and power cable (for the switch). They should route through and come out here.
And go through here (also note the hard drive exhaust fan and shroud it goes into)
Part three Drive space.
With the Predator 2.0 there is actually a lot less space for drives than in the previous model. The previous model was the famous Chieftec Dragon with a plastic shroud on. The Predator 2 was a complete new design and was changed.
In the predator 2 you get space for three 5.25" drives which is a bit mean IMO. Especially in a case of this size. You also get space for four hard drives in the side ways bay that is cooled by a 92mm fan. However, the fan is positioned just slightly lower than I would like and thus if you use the very top slot then air will only flow accross the bottom. With drive sizes the way they are now and for what they cost, though, this shouldn't be a problem. To me a 2tb drive is like throwing a million sausages down Regent St and I would never ever fill one.
Part four Build quality
I could safely sit here and say there are about 500 parts to this case. An I am not stretching the truth when I say that, I mean it. To try and simplify it a little bit I will show the case in some basic pieces with a basic form. It is made up of two main parts.
Part one is the inner casing.
Part two is the outer shell. Which consists of lots of parts. Here are some of them.
Which does not cover the lighting or the hinge mechanism. The final part of the main structure is these.
Which are the gills. Again, these are made up from numerous parts and can help you to understand why these cases are so ruddy heavy when assembled.
All told the case is immensely strong and sound.
Also you will note in pics of the ALX chassis (the black one) I have acoustic dampening fitted. This is absolutely pointless now. When Alienware started building these machines they were using WD Raptors and they were incredibly noisy. I would imagine it helped with those but it does not change fan noise and most drives today are almost if not inaudible. So don't let this stuff be a deciding factor.
Part five The lighting system
This comes in one of two ways. You can have the passive system (three switches) or the active system which is made up of three PIC chips (programmable interrupt controllers) that can not only change the colours and states but blend and throttle light to create colours like orange (for example).
Some say that this is pretty pointless and I agree to a degree that it is. Within a week or so you will tire of it.
The system works on the RGB philosophy. Each LED has three filaments and each can be lit. There is one live which is resisted to 3.6v (as most LEDs are) and three grounds. Connecting each ground will then enable that particular LED to come on and mix with others. For example, putting on red and blue creates purple and so on.
If you buy your chassis without the complete FX system in place (like 99.9% of people I know who have) then there is a slim chance you will get it working. With my silver chassis all the lights were there and in place but there was no controller board (or FX card). I did manage to cut up about 200 wires and get them all lit in blue though but it was a lot of work.
Also remember if you go for active lighting you will likely never get it working
. The reason for this is simple. The system works on three PIC chips (see above) and detects in your system as a USB device. However, unless your motherboard is DMI Alienware (the software searches your system) then you simply won't get the software to install. It is possible to hack your DMI but this has never really proved fail safe. I would imagine Alienware went to lengths to protect what is theirs and I can't really say I blame them. First thing Dell did after the take over was use the lighting system in their XPS series.
The system is made up of these parts.
A control motherboard.
A daughter card (either passive or active).
A front board with 6 leds on (see pic above with lights in purple you can make them out)
Two bay LEDS to illuminate the optical bay when the door is open.
Two side boards for the alien heads.
Two LEDs for the front ports.
Two LEDS in the main head itself. One for power and one for HDD LED.
A door switch that disables the bay LEDs when the door is closed.
Love it or hate it the Predator definitely makes a statement. If the function did not match the form I would probably have done away with them a long time ago. I admit I am a fan of the Predator. It keeps alive everything that Alienware did for computer design. Whilst not the best chassis on the planet and miles off of what the HAF for example can offer in functionality it's still far from being the worst. It's an enormously complex piece of equipment and everything feels pretty much spot on. The door makes a lovely convincing clunk when closed and everything fits and feels about as good as it gets in terms of quality engineering. As mentioned a few times now there are a few things that could have been better but this is getting on as a design now.
That said it is still miles ahead of the cack that Dell have just redesigned. Some say that was a bad move on Dell's part but personally I was very happy to see Alienware come to a conclusion and change into something that it was never meant to be.
I would not reccomend fitting an enourmously powerful system into one of these. Corsair H50s for example are not a great idea because they slow down the exhaust of the entire system which will lead to GPU heat. I noticed a good few degree drop in my GPUs when changing the Corsair out for the Noctua.
Triple SLI is just totally out of the question.
Things like that are best in cases designed for the cooling required and many have tried (and failed, including Alienware themselves) to keep a Tri SLI system under control in there. That said though triple SLI was never the brainiest thing to try and do in the first place because the scaling leads to performance drops in most cases (pardon the pun). I would also be a bit worried about running SLI with any of Nvidia's recent offerings. I just don't think the case offers enough cooling and escape for that to be viable.
The looks. Space is pretty good and airflow isn't bad. The lighting is fun for a while. Build quality is about as good as it gets when it comes to plastic steel (or alu) and chrome. The paint finish is gorgeous and is a two pack multi stage finish (base coat colour coat laquer).
Cable management isn't bad if you know where it is supposed to go.
5.25 mechanism is about the best I have seen.
The looks. If it isn't what you like then it's easy to hate. The lighting is fun for only a while.
Air flow could be better. I might even try some modding soon to add another fan parallel to the front fan to boost the air flow as I can hardly even feel it with my hand near my GPUs. In fairness though I do not have the side panel on which should make something of a difference.
Getting one in good shape with everything
needed to do it properly is pretty much impossible. Sadly a lot of the ones broken down by owners are torn apart in a frenzy with pieces lost and missing. Hard drive rails are amazingly easy to snap leaving you with a nightmare to remove the drive and another trying to replace them. Thankfully when I brought my silver case (damaged) the company accidentally sent out another one (damaged) and I was able to put together an entire system from the two (second one they classed as unsolicited goods and weren't bothered about paying to have back).
Cleaning it is a massive pain in the ass. It shows fingerprints and marks like you would not believe. If you have ever owned an Antec Sonata and hated that for marking then don't go near one of these. The paint finish is almost too good.
Also, the mesh that wraps the fans is large and a complete pig to clean. And when dirty it looks like crap.
The biggest no no for me with this case is the lack of a hole to enable you to remove your cooler without removing the board. This is an easy mod with the case emptied but emptying it of all of the important wiring is a day's job. Some have cut a relief and it works well, but it's a bit of a pain if like me you like to change coolers.
I shouldn't really rag on the design of that though because this case was never meant for us minions to play with.
The final word
If you really want one of these then go ahead. Personally speaking I love mine and wouldn't change them any time soon. But they are a very marmite kind of thing. Prices fluctuate on Ebay but expect to pay around £70-£150. Just like buying cars aiming for the cheapest will bring problems where usually as a rule the higher end of the price scale will net you a better case. That's not always the way it works though.
Before you do buy one MAKE SURE that it comes with everything you need. Ask for photos espeically of the fan shrouds and things like that. If something is missing you will not get it from Alienware as they refuse to deal with you unless you have an original order number and Myhive login which basically you're screwed without.
If you do manage to track down parts as I have with certain bits then the prices are going to be painful. Thankfully I have friends in the U.S.A and most of the spares I have needed have come from there.