Introducing the Alienware X51

While Alienware isn't openly inviting comparisons to Microsoft's Xbox 360 with their brand new X51 gaming desktop, it's hard not to see the resemblance, at least in form factor. But where Microsoft's aging console continues trudging away with generations old hardware, Alienware has produced an authentic Windows 7 gaming PC in a shell roughly the same size. Not just that, but they're introducing it at one of the lowest prices we've ever seen for what's ordinarily a very premium brand. Was Alienware able to cram a fully-powered machine in this tiny chassis, or were too many sacrifices made?

The X51 is basically the size of an Xbox 360, but the insides are pure PC: Alienware employs a Mini-ITX motherboard, desktop-level Sandy Bridge Intel processors, and a full-sized double-slot graphics card (rotated ninety degrees and connected via a riser card to the PCIe 2.1 x16 slot).

The component options available are listed below, and we've bolded the items from our review unit where applicable. Alienware currently has four models listed, with slightly varying specs. Our unit is the $949 model with an upgrade to 8GB RAM, though it's of course possible to upgrade other areas on your own.

Alienware X51 Specifications
Chassis Custom Alienware X51
Processor Intel i7-2600
(4x3.4GHz, Hyper-Threading, Turbo to 3.8GHz, 32nm, 8MB L3, 95W)

Intel Core i5-2320
(4x3GHz, No Hyper-Threading, Turbo to 3.3GHz, 32nm, 6MB L3, 95W)

Intel i3-2120
(2x3.3GHz, Hyper-Threading, No Turbo, 32nm, 3MB L3, 65W)
Motherboard Custom H61 Chipset Board
Memory 2x4GB Hynix DDR3-1333
2x2GB DDR3-1333
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 555 1GB GDDR5 (OEM)
(288 CUDA Cores, 736/1472/3828MHz core/shaders/RAM, 192-bit memory bus)

(144 CUDA Cores, 870/1740/3996MHz core/shaders/RAM, 128-bit memory bus)

Intel HD 2000 IGP
(6 EUs, 1100MHz core clock)
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) HL-DT-ST DVD+/-RW GA31N slot-loading drive
Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo slot-loading drive
Power Supply 330W Custom
240W Custom
Networking Dell Wireless 1502 802.11b/g/n (150Mbps 2.4GHz)
Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks, optical out and S/PDIF for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical drive
2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side Optical and S/PDIF
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks
2x DVI-D (GeForce)
1x Mini-HDMI (GeForce)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 12.54"-13.5" (back-front) x 12.52" x 3.74"
(318.5-343mm x 318mm x 95mm)
Weight 12.1 lbs. (5.49kg)
Extras External PSU
Integrated 802.11b/g/n
User-configurable external lighting
NVIDIA Optimus
Warranty 1-year parts, labor, and support
Pricing Starts at $699
Review system configured at $999

Alienware keeps the configuration options for the X51 pretty lean, but they benefit tremendously from being a subdivision of Dell as opposed to a standalone boutique. The X51 enjoys a custom chassis design just like all of Alienware's hardware does, but they also have access to OEM only graphics hardware.

The entry level system offers Intel's Core i3-2120 dual-core processor, certainly plenty for gaming, and pairs it up with NVIDIA's GeForce GT 545. Our review unit steps each of these up to the next available part: the Intel Core i5-2320 and GeForce GTX 555. Unfortunately the X51 maxes out at the GTX 555 while the processor can be upgraded to a Core i7-2600 for users who want an extra 400MHz plus Hyper-Threading on the CPU.

The GT 545 and GTX 555 are odd birds in and of themselves, but the graphics card in the X51 is user upgradeable. So why these parts? The GT 545 is a touch above entry-level; it's a GDDR5-equipped part (OEM only as opposed to the DDR3-equipped retail parts) and sports a cut-down GF116 GPU, with 144 CUDA cores and a 128-bit memory bus hooked up to 1GB of GDDR5. The chip is clocked at 870MHz (putting the shaders at 1.7GHz) and the memory is clocked at an effective 4GHz.

More compelling is the GeForce GTX 555 that our review unit is equipped with. Due to limitations on the X51's external power supply, the X51 can't handle graphics cards rated for more than 150 watts. Thankfully the GTX 555 maximizes that power envelope; it employs a trimmed-down GF114 GPU with 288 CUDA cores enabled along with a 192-bit memory bus and 1GB of GDDR5. That's an asymmetrical memory configuration just like the desktop GTX 550 Ti has but on different silicon. The GPU itself is clocked at 736MHz (for 1472MHz on the shaders) and the memory runs at an effective 3.8GHz. Note also that models that ship with the upgraded GTX 555 GPU get the larger 330W external power brick, so if you're thinking about upgrading to a different GPU in the future you will most definitely want to go with the higher spec system.

The icing on the graphics cake is that the X51 is the first instance of desktop Optimus we've seen. That's right: you can actually plug your monitor into the IGP's HDMI port and the tower will power down the GPU when it's not in use. This implementation functions just like the notebook version does, and it's a welcome addition.

Where I think Alienware does lose a point is in the storage configuration. Understanding internal real estate is at a premium, the single 3.5" drive bay still hurts a little at a time when the ideal system configuration is an SSD for a system drive and a mechanical disk for storage. The 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 included isn't bad, but it will hurt the X51 in PCMark testing and detracts a little from the overall user experience. Given the sloped shape of the chassis, however, we would have preferred a modified design with space for a 2.5" SSD/HDD at the back. That said, the X51's motherboard has enough SATA ports for you to remove the 3.5" drive and replace it with a pair of 2.5" drives, so the enterprising end user can opt to install an SSD and notebook hard drive.

Finally, the X51 supports USB 3.0 on the back, has a slot-loading optical drive that can be upgraded to a Blu-ray reader, and has wireless networking included on a user-replaceable mini-PCIe card that's mounted to the motherboard.

The final price of $1000 for our review unit gets you a very interesting piece of hardware, though obviously there's a price premium for going with the custom Mini-ITX chassis, PSU, etc. You could put together a similar system in terms of performance with a Micro-ATX case/motherboard for under $800 quite easily, but if you want to go the Mini-ITX route things become a bit more difficult--both in terms of finding hardware that will all fit and work together well, plus the assembly process in ITX chassis generally requires more time and effort than mATX. Overall then, the price and specs are very reasonable, so let's see what this black beauty can do on the race track.

System Performance
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  • Meaker10 - Friday, February 17, 2012 - link

    Xotic pc 16f2 barebone.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, February 17, 2012 - link

    Except a barebone doesn't come with a CPU, or hard drive bays, or memory.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, February 17, 2012 - link

    Er...or hard drives. Derp.
  • Meaker10 - Friday, February 17, 2012 - link

    This is a customised barebone, so the price includes a dual core CPU, 8GB of ram, HDD, wireless and OS.

    It would also ship with brackets for a second HDD.

    Plus it supports raid.
  • kasakka - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    The mobile graphics chips are nowhere close to the speed of their desktop counterparts. A GTX460M or whatever they've rebranded it as 5xx is about the same as a desktop GTX260, a several years old GPU.

    Personally I'd love to see more gaming PCs like this, but simply ditch the optical drive for more space so a bigger PSU, graphics card and cooler can fit in.
  • Death666Angel - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    This thing has no PSU inside the case, so ditching the ODD would not give you more space for the PSU and without a bigger PSU you can't have a beefier GPU.
  • Mark_Hughes - Friday, February 17, 2012 - link

    I like this system, If I where looking right now this would certainly be high on my list, I normally use laptops, but one of my laptops hardly ever moves from the desk, this would make a great replacement when the time comes.
  • Swirlser - Friday, February 17, 2012 - link

    Congrats to Dell on once again messing up and being blinded by its continuing race to the bottom.

    As if it wasnt bad enough a few years back when they bought Alienware and began pegging their XPS against it and now have taken what little was left of the BRAND and killed it with this bargain basement offering, quintessentially the opposite of what Alienware *was* about.

    Im embarrassed that once upon a time I bought an Alienware, it cost 5,100 euro (monitor not incl). It was without a doubt the worst purchase Ive ever made, Ive had rather expensive cars experience less depreciation than that did! In the 6 weeks it took to deliver it, a dual core version of what I bought had come out (that'll give an idea how long ago it was). While money isnt particularly an issue and whether you like it or not, theres always something better around the corner, it still stung that before I even opened the box it was outdated. Fine, that was my own fault for not doing more research - in fact I did none. So my bad on that! BUT, even ignoring that, it was still a stupidly overpriced box that within a year I was itching for an upgrade.

    Thankfully, I've since seen the light. I have done the lego route on my last 4ish rigs and its been a joy. Forget the cheaper price tag, just being able to hand pick each part, incl the case, the motherboard, the ram (none of which you get control over with an Alienware). Heck last time I checked they did away with picking a colour scheme (cba to check if its back or not).

    Dell have a bargin basement brand already, its called Dell. A shrinking niche market the Alienware brand may have been, but it *was* that - a brand. Not anymore.
  • KitsuneKnight - Saturday, February 18, 2012 - link

    Are you seriously lamenting that Dell is making Alienware sell more reasonably priced machines in the same post as you tell us the wonderful story of how the "worst purchase [you've] ever made" was a 5,100 euro Alienware machine that was an overpriced piece of junk, and outdated by the time you opened the box?

    Um... what?
  • seapeople - Saturday, February 18, 2012 - link

    I was talking to a guy at work once who had just built his first new computer and I asked him why he didn't just get one from Dell, since you don't save all that much money. He used the argument about how great it is that you can pick each an every single component, whatever motherboard you want, the CPU, ram, etc...

    I then asked him "Oh, ok.. what CPU did you get?"

    His response was "Um, I don't remember. I think it was Intel something or other. It was a quad core I'm pretty sure." (He had just finished building it about a week before)

    So I said, "You mean, like a Q6600? Did you overclock it?"

    "I... I just don't remember. Overclock? What's that?"

    Then he went on to tell me how his computer kept crashing every few minutes, but he didn't know what to do so he just used it like that. It's people like you that lead poor, unknowledgeable saps like this astray.

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