Alienware X51 review: Alienware X51

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars Outstanding
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Extremely powerful; small size means it's easy to fit in your living room; relatively affordable.

The Bad low-power PSU limits upgrade options; styling won't appeal to everyone.

The Bottom Line The Alienware X51 achieves the magic combination of being small yet extremely powerful. If you want a gaming PC that doesn't dominate an entire room but can still chew through the latest titles, the X51 is an excellent choice.

CNET Editors' Choice Apr '12

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Gaming desktops are usually enormous, power-hungry machines covered with more glowing lights than the Vegas strip. But what if you need something smaller for your living room but don't want to sacrifice power? Alienware reckons it has the answer in the form of the X51 -- a console-sized desktop PC with enough power to tackle serious gaming.

My review model came packing an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 graphics card. It's available now for £900 or you can opt for a lesser configuration from £650 if money is short.

Design and build quality

The first thing you'll notice about the X51 is its relatively miniature size. Most desktop PCs designed for gaming are enormous beasts -- just look at the gargantuan Alienware Aurora -- but the X51 is just a little bigger than the most recent Xbox so you won't need to make special modifications to your house to accommodate it.

Alienware X51 side
If you worry about angry glowing alien head logos frightening the kids, the X51 is small enough to hide away in your TV cabinet.

Rather than have it sitting below a desk in your study or bedroom, it can happily rest in the space by your TV. The small size will appeal to families who don't want the eyesore of a huge PC tower slathered in glowing lights in their living room, but still need something brutal to tear into the latest games. If you've been trying to convince the other half to let you install a powerful rig in the one spot you entertain guests, you might have better luck with the X51 than the Aurora.

The X51's styling will be immediately recognisable as an Alienware machine to anyone with even a passing interest in PC gaming. On the front edge, you'll find Alienware's logo -- an alien head -- which glows when switched on and can be turned 90 degrees so it's the right way up if you want to lay your PC flat.

Alienware X51 flat
You can push this animal on its back, if you like, but be careful it doesn't bite your fingers off.

The outer casing is made from black plastic, with the usual angry-looking ridges and vents along the top. It's a very Alienware look. Fans will be pleased to see the inclusion of glowing slivers of plastic on the side -- these can be configured to have either the same colour as each other and the front Alien head, or alternating colours if you're feeling fancy. I naturally opted for hot pink and set about telling everyone why this was the only colour you should ever use ("because it's awesome!").

The styling definitely won't be to everyone's tastes -- fans of country pine bookcases and Laura Ashley curtains won't be too keen -- but it's at least small enough to slot away somewhere inconspicuous.

Alienware X51 front
Upgrading to Blu-ray from the standard DVD player will set you back £90.

On the front edge you'll find a slot-loading DVD drive, which you can upgrade to a Blu-ray drive. It'll cost you an extra 90 quid, but if you're hoping to use the X51 as a media centre in your living room, it's probably worth the extra cash. You'll also spy two USB 2.0 slots as well as headphone and microphone jacks.

On the back are two HDMI ports (one of which is on the graphics card), four USB 2.0 slots, two USB 3.0 ports, jacks for a 7.1 surround sound speaker system, two DVI ports and Coaxial and TOSLINK digital audio outputs for feeding high-quality sound to home theatre systems.

Alienware X51 ports
There are plenty of ports for an entertainment set-up, with two HDMIs, surround sound and digital audio outputs.

As a small PC, the X51 has been custom-built to make sure everything fits just right. This makes it more awkward to get in and fiddle about with in the same way that you would with a regular desktop PC. Sliding off the side panels was a tricky process that initially flummoxed both myself and GameSpot's Mark Walton. Our attempts at replacing components was fraught with problems -- something which I'll return to later.

When it's all closed up, it feels particularly solid. The side panels don't offer any flex and it's reassuringly free of creaks or clicks when you poke it. I'm satisfied that it's built well enough to justify the price tag. It's not as though you're going to be carrying it off on your travels anyway.

Alienware X51 keyboard
The Alienware keyboard is nothing special but will suffice for sledging your mates during games.

The X51 is just a desktop PC, so it doesn't come with a monitor, unless you buy one with Dell at the time of purchase. If you've already got a decent monitor, you can just hook it up to that. It comes with an Alienware keyboard and mouse, which are pretty bog-standard affairs. They do the trick for everyday use, but if you're a hardcore fragger, you'll want to upgrade to something ridiculously fancy with more buttons than a Boeing 747.

Alienware X51 mouse
What, no garish flashing light show -- just a mouse?

Performance

Stuffed inside my review unit is a serious line-up of specs. It's packing an Intel Core i7-2600 quad-core processor clocked at 3.4GHz, backed by a meaty 8GB of RAM. I took it down the CNET UK testing chambers and, with a trembling hand, ran the benchmark tests. Unsurprisingly, it provided excellent results.

First of all, I fired up the PCMark05 test, which looks at how well the processor can perform tasks like web-page rendering and moving files around. It clocked up a score of 13,138 -- an extremely impressive total and one that beats the menacingly powerful Toshiba Qosmio X770 gaming laptop.

A score like that hints that this machine will happily chew through any office tasks without breaking a sweat. That is indeed what I found during use. Heavy multi-tasking was handled with aplomb, thanks to the healthy portion of RAM, and demanding programs will run without trouble.

Its powerful graphics card will lend a hand with photo and video editing too. It managed to encode my 11-minute 1080p video file into 24 frames per second H.264 in just over 4 minutes. That's a lightning fast time, and easily beats the X770's 11-minute attempt. If you're hoping to use the X51 as a media centre, rest assured that it will handle playing back your high-definition files without the slightest hiccup and will happily chomp through your holiday pics and video clips editing.

Of course, the X51 is first and foremost a gaming PC, so I rolled up my sleeves and checked out how it handles the polygons. It's packing an Nvidia GeForce 555 graphics card with 1GB of DDR5 memory.

Alienware X51 flat, back
On the 3DMark06 benchmark test, the X51 scored higher than any other computer I've seen.

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Where to Buy

Alienware X51 (January 2012)

Part Number: DPCWXN3_1
Pricing is currently unavailable.
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