Alienware X51 vs Xbox 360: Which should I buy?

The Alienware X51 is a monstrously powerful gaming machine, but does its steep asking price mean the Xbox 360 is a better bet?

Alienware's new game-munching mini-desktop the X51 has proven itself to be an extremely capable machine, happily chewing through the latest, most demanding games with reckless abandon in my full review . If you already own a games console like an Xbox 360 though, what exactly does the X51 offer to tempt you to splash your cash?

If you're a gaming fan -- and I'm assuming you are if you're reading about gaming hardware -- you probably already own a console, be it an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3, and you're probably wondering why on Earth you might want to drop £900 on a computer. Well, let me tell you.

More power

First and foremost, the X51 is considerably more powerful than the Xbox. Its stonking lineup of specs includes an Intel Core i7 processor clocked at 3.4GHz, 8GB of RAM and a powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 graphics card. The power these pieces provides makes graphically intense games such as Skyrim play at higher frame rates, resulting in a smoother overall gaming experience and faster loading times.

In my hands-on tests, I found the X51 was able to play Skyrim at an average of 45 frames per second at 1080p resolution with graphics settings ramped to ultra. It coped similarly well with Batman: Arkham City, where it also maintained 45fps with all settings on their maximum. Playing through the games was buttery-smooth and I never noticed any lag or frame rate drops, even in the most frantic scenes.

That also means it's better equipped to handle the major new titles that'll drop ahead of this Christmas. The Xbox has been around for a long time now and many users find it's just not up to the task anymore. With such powerful components on board, you can be much more confident about its ability to tackle the latest games.

If you're a firm fan of the arm-waving, limb-flailing fun you can have with the Kinect sensor on the 360 , you might be pleased to know the sensor works with Windows too, meaning you can hook one up to your X51 and set about looking like a fool in your living room. There aren't many games for the PC that use it yet, so if you're a big fan of the Zumba fitness games or Kinectimals, the 360 might still be your better option.

You can also use the same Xbox wireless controllers with your PC, but you won't get quite the same experience as you would with the console. You'll still need to navigate around and launch games with a keyboard and mouse -- the controller only comes into play once the game has opened. Don't expect the X51 to fire up into your games when you hammer the central Xbox button on the controller.

Flexibility, at a price

The X51 is also an extremely competent PC, so you're also getting the benefits of being able to tackle your office work, as well as proper Internet browsing, photo and video editing and all the social networking you could dream of.

That doesn't mean it isn't without its problems. PC gaming can sometimes require you to download updates to the game, to your video card drivers and even to your motherboard's firmware before anything will play. It's not quite as simple as just popping in a disk and watching it load.

Services like Steam, however, allow you to download games to your hard drive, rather than install them from discs, making the process much smoother and easier to use. Console users are increasingly finding themselves plagued with update issues, so it's not always a walk in the park for them either. If you've got even an ounce of computing knowledge, you shouldn't struggle with gaming on a PC at all.

It's also packing 7.1 surround-sound inputs and digital audio connectors to hook it up to a home cinema system, so the X51 would also function extremely well as a media computer. Fill up its 1TB hard drive with your favourite TV shows and movies, hook it up to your TV using the HDMI output and crack open your tipple of choice and settle into the most comfortable chair you can find. (It's probably the one with the cat in it.) In fairness, the Xbox is a very capable media box too .

The X51 is considerably more expensive than an Xbox -- it starts at £650, whereas the Xbox 360 starts at around £130. It can simultaneously act as several devices at once, however -- your demonically powerful games console, your media centre and your office PC. Better yet, its small size means it can easily hide away next to your TV, which won't make it an ugly eyesore in your living room.

If you're only a very casual gamer and already have a perfectly capable PC, it certainly won't be worth the money, but if you're a hardcore fragger and need the extras the X51 could provide, it may very well be worth splashing the cash. I for one will be very sad when Alienware phones up and asks for its review model back.

What do you reckon to the Alienware X51? Is it too expensive to consider over an Xbox, or is it actually well-priced for such a powerful machine? Let me know in the comments below or over on our Facebook page.

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About the author

Andrew is a senior editor at CNET and has always been fascinated by tech. When not getting up close and personal with the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

 

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