Quick Look: The Alienware invasion

This is no weather balloon — it's a full-scale alien invasion. A series of desktop computers, notebooks and workstations by Alienware are infiltrating the government.

Alienware has traditionally marketed its computers to gamers because it specializes in building machines with high-end graphics. But last year, federal officials became interested in Alienware's products, and the company was recently awarded its first General Services Administration contract. It is now actively marketing to government customers.

"There is a lot of interest from the Department of Defense," said Robert Lusk, vice president of sales and marketing at Alienware.

The company's computers excel in modeling, simulation and other graphically intense applications, so they are well-suited to uses such as warfare-simulation training in the Army, research projects using 3-D imaging and homeland security applications.

Another advantage for government customers is that Alienware's manufacturing process can be customized, Lusk said. "We don't use exactly the same procedures every time," he said. "We're a smaller company, and we're not cranking out zillions" of computers.

The company recently released the Bot, a compact desktop computer with an appealing price tag for budget-conscious customers. A basic configuration costs $694 after a $400 mail-in rebate.

Our review unit, which costs $1,645, shipped with an Intel Pentium 4 3.4 GHz processor with Hyper-Threading Technology, 1G of dual-channel DDR memory, a 160G hard drive, a DVD-RW drive, a floppy drive and an ATI Technologies Radeon X600 XT PCI Express graphics processor with 128M of video memory.

In addition to sophisticated graphics, this machine is serious about sound. It comes with Intel High Definition Audio and six rear audio jacks that support six-channel, 16-bit audio. Headphone and microphone jacks are located on the front of the chassis.

Preloaded software extras include AlienGUIse, which lets users alter desktop features such as icons; CyberLink's PowerDVD 5, a software interface for playing DVDs; and Nero's NeroVision Express 2 for creating and playing CDs and DVDs and performing other video tasks.

We liked the sleek silver and black chassis. It would even look good in a living room because hinged covers hide the floppy drive, optical DVD drive and a set of ports. However, it could get tedious to open a door every time you want to load a CD or DVD. Frequent CD users might choose to leave the door open all the time, making the chassis look sloppier than it would if the drive were simply exposed in the first place.

The Bot comes with a host of ports, including serial, parallel, 10/100 Ethernet, 56 kilobits/sec V.92 modem, two PS/2, six USB 2.0 (four on the back and two on the front) and two FireWire (one in back and one up front). Video ports include Digital Visual Interface and VGA.

The Bot's one-year AlienCare warranty includes toll-free, around-the-clock telephone support and on-site service.

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