Alienware x51 desktop review:

Alienware x51 desktop

The X51's gaming results paint a much rosier picture. The most interesting comparison is with the HP Pavilion Elite h8xt. The h8xt is a $1,299 do-it-all midtower with an AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics card. The X51 is not as fast as the h8xt, but it comes awfully close on every gaming test. Not too shabby for a slim tower that costs $300 less.

Anecdotally, I can also report that the Alienware X51 can run current popular titles with no hiccups. I had no trouble playing Battlefield 3 at high image quality, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on its "ultra" setting, both at 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution.

Given the system's convertible design, its facility with 1,920x1,080 games is probably no coincidence. That's the same resolution as an HDTV. Bump the resolution to 2,560x1,440 pixels and you will run into slowness. I expect the same would occur if you enabled 3D viewing. And although there are few high-profile "next-gen"-looking games on the immediate release horizon, I can't guarantee the Alienware X51 will be ready to deal with next year's most demanding PC games. For now, the Alienware X51 is a perfectly decent gaming desktop.

If you want to improve the X51 post-purchase, you have some options, but not as many as true tweakers might like. Its Core i5 chip is not a K variant, so it's not as easy to overclock. You get only two RAM slots, so memory upgrades will require wholesale replacement of the current memory sticks. The single hard-drive slot hides underneath the graphics card. You will also remain firmly in midrange graphics card territory thanks to the 330-watt power supply and the relatively short case depth. You do at least get a second graphics card power supply connector.

This slide-out tab only has a preview unit sticker on it now, but on the shipping version it will hide all of those ugly branding stickers PC owners loathe.

Alienware includes a few welcome extras with the X51. To the left of the graphics card, you'll find a mysterious plastic tab. Pull it, and you'll see where Alienware has posted those unsightly service and partner branding tags. Open the Windows Start menu and you'll find the Alienware folder, which holds various programs for tweaking and monitoring system settings and adjusting the external lighting.

For connectivity, the Alienware X51 lined up with my expectations. Highlights include a pair of USB 3.0 ports, digital audio output and 7.1 audio outs, and a pair of DVI jacks and a Mini-HDMI port on the graphics card. I won't be surprised if a year from now the X51 has a new motherboard with a Thunderbolt port on it.

Juice box
Alienware X51 Average watts/hour
Off (watts) 1.02
Sleep (watts) 2.41
Idle (watts) 52.68
Load (watts) 193.26
Raw (annual kWh) 313.709
Energy Star-compliant Yes
Annual power consumption cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $35.61

The Alienware's power consumption is a touch out of proportion to its capabilities. In a perfect world, it would require less power than the faster Hewlett-Packard system. Perhaps that's due to the Alienware's external power brick. In terms of noise generation, the Alienware X51 is average. I didn't notice the fans ramping up past what I expected during game testing. Alienware, owned by Dell, backs the X51 with a straightforward one-year parts and labor warranty. You get discretionary home repair service, 24-7 phone support access, and remote diagnosis capability through DellConnect. You also get to face the perils of Dell's call center support.

Gaming desktop traditionalists, this PC is not for you. You'll hate the limited upgrade path. I have no hesitation recommending the Alienware X51 to everyone else, in particular those who've ever felt put off by the process of buying or building a gaming computer.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Alienware X51 (Core i5-2320, January 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.0GHz Intel Core i5-2320; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Gateway FX6850-51u (Core i7-2600, May 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT440 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

HP Pavilion Elite h8xt (Core i7-2600, August 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics card; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Lenovo H330 77801HU
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.0GHz Intel Core i5-2500; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6450 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Velocity Micro Edge Z40
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core i5-2500K (overclocked); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics card (overclocked); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

What you'll pay

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