Alienware x51 desktop review: Alienware x51 desktop

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MSRP: $999.00

The Good The affordable Alienware X51 brings innovation to slim-tower PCs by offering a full-size graphics card.

The Bad Despite the big 3D card, the X51's slim-tower chassis still has a limited upgrade path.

The Bottom Line Alienware has successfully brought its brand to an affordable, suitably stylized package, and I can recommend the X51 to anyone in the market for a mainstream gaming PC.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 7

Scaling down a gaming desktop means sacrifice. In exchange for the reduced footprint, you lose performance, flexibility in upgrading, and often value. In spite of those issues, I still like the new Alienware X51 slim tower. Alienware's designers have distilled the company's signature UFO motif into an aggressive little package without crossing into gaudiness. Our $999 X51 review unit is also fast enough to play most current PC games well.

A midtower gaming PC still offers better upgrading and more hardware for your money, but if you need the X51's smaller footprint, or you just want a competent gaming system for a reasonable price, this system would be a good choice.

Alienware quite obviously looked to the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 to guide the design of the X51. That inspiration has pluses and minuses. The X51's slim-tower chassis measures a tidy 13.25 inches high, 3.75 inches wide, and 12.25 inches deep, making it only a little bit larger than those gaming consoles in overall volume. The fact that the X51 can stand upright or lie down flat on its side is useful. The X51's glossy black front panel and slot-loading DVD burner would also fit in with the aesthetics of any media rack. Even Alienware's signature "alien eye" side panel cut-outs give the X51 a certain charm, thanks to a refined design.

However compact and crafted, the X51 can't boast a console's couch-friendly ease of use. You still need to install games, tweak video drivers, and otherwise endure the various idiosyncrasies of PC gaming. In the X51, Alienware is clearly trying to offer a gaming PC packaged for mass consumption. There's nothing wrong with that, but for all the X51's visual appeal, let's all pause to remember: this is still a Windows gaming computer.

The Alienware X51's design has room for a full-height graphics card.

What's remarkable is that Alienware can credibly call the X51 a gaming desktop. I've seen many slim-tower desktops. The limitations of their design (or perhaps their designers) have saddled those smaller PCs with half-height graphics cards, so described because they're short enough vertically to fit inside those narrow slim-tower cases.

Alienware has done away with that limitation in the X51. Instead, this system has a full-height 3D card, sandwiched on top of the motherboard. With the motherboard affixed to the right-hand panel per usual, Alienware has used a connector card to bridge the gap between the graphics card and the PCI Express slot. That it's capable of accepting a full-height 3D card means the X51 is a better gaming machine than any other slim tower we've tested.

Alienware X51 Lenovo H330 77801HU Velocity Micro Edge Z40
Price $999 $799 $1,199
Motherboard chipset Intel H61 Intel H61 Intel P67
CPU 3.0GHz Intel Core i5-2320 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500 4.0GHz Intel Core i5-2500K (overclocked)
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6450 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti
Hard drives 1TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray player/DVD burner combo Blu-ray/DVD burner combo
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

The Lenovo H330 listed above offers a typical competing slim-tower build. It's not as expensive as the Alienware X51, and it actually has a faster CPU and a Blu-ray drive, but the half-height, budget AMD graphics card can't compete with the Alienware's full-fledged Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 card. On the other hand, for just $200 more than our $999 X51, you can turn to the Velocity Micro Edge Z40 for a true gaming midtower, complete with an overclocked CPU.

Our benchmark charts outline the performance difference between these and other PCs. What you'll see from comparing the features is that while the X51 is faster than competing slim towers like the Lenovo H330, Alienware asks a premium for its new desktop beyond typical commodity PC pricing. You can also get a faster computer in a standard performance midtower. Given the innovation Alienware has brought to slim-tower design, I don't find Alienware's asking price unreasonable. I also won't be surprised if another vendor copies Alienware's design and comes in at a lower price.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench score
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

I've written about enough general-purpose desktops that run games poorly, it's almost refreshing to see a gaming PC with subpar non-gaming application performance. The Alienware X51 is not an incapable computer. I felt no obvious lag during general Web browsing or system navigation. Still, the X51's 3.0GHz Core i5-2320 chip is the slowest in this comparison, and it shows. This system will be fine for day-to-day media consumption and light-duty media editing, but you can get more for your money elsewhere. Alternatively, you can buy an X51 with a Core i7 CPU upgrade for $1,149.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

Metro 2033 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)  
1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)  

3DMark 11 combined test (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Extreme (1,920x1080)  
Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)  
Entry level (1,680x1,050)