Alienware X51

The X51 is a beast in a tiny box. You sacrifice on your upgrade path by getting something this small, but if you're after something tiny that still manages to be a decent gaming machine, this could pique your interest.


8.5
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CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.


In something that approximates console-size, Alienware has released an intriguing little machine that also manages to be a high-powered PC. If you want a powerful PC but can no longer justify the size, time and effort in building one yourself, it's a tempting option.

The X51 will happily sit in portrait or landscape orientation, and just like the PS3 it allows you to rotate its front-mounted logo so it's always upright. Its aesthetic is typical Alienware, with bits that light up, and the user being able to change what colour those bits are.

The alien head rotates to match the orientation, and glows.
(Credit: Alienware)

The X51 owes its diminutive size to two factors: firstly, Alienware has split the power supply out of the box, providing one of the hugest power bricks we've seen (330W for the SKUs that carry the GTX 555, 240W for the GTX 545). The second conceit is something that has been employed in servers for a long time: using a riser board to change the orientation of the graphics card from vertical to horizontal. Pair this with a Mini-ITX board, and things start making a whole lot of sense.

The riser board flips the graphics card orientation 90 degrees.
(Credit: CBSi)

The standard parts mean that there's some wiggle room for upgrading your CPU, wireless card, RAM or optical drive; however, you're limited to the 330W power supply (if you order one of the higher-end SKUs), something that really can't take more than a 150W GPU. GPU length is also limited, and although you could possibly set up a solid-state drive (SSD) plus mechanical hard drive solution, you'd have to find some adhesive to attach the SSD as there's no dedicated mounting point for it. In saying that, there is a gap above the optical drive that a 9.5mm SSD could fit in if it were taped down.

The HTPC question

There's going to be a few folk immediately thinking "home theatre" with this one. It could certainly do that job, although you may have to customise it to minimise noise.

The CPU fan is by and large quiet enough to not distract from movie watching, but it does have the potential to hit howling level if it needs to. The fan and baffle are a custom job, taking advantage of the X51's tightly packed internals — so finding something low profile and quiet enough to replace them may be a challenge. It's certainly quieter than an original Xbox 360 when gaming, but some may still consider this too loud.

Also, the 1-terabyte Seagate drive included with our review sample (and indeed, all SKUs of the X51 in Australia) isn't the quietest of drives. At 3 metres away we could still hear it grinding away, and the lack of SSD option means you'll have to supply your own if you want total silence.

The included keyboard and mouse are wired, which is more inhibitors to home theatre PC (HTPC) use. Both are passable efforts usability-wise, but they feel a little cheap for an Alienware product. There's no media remote bundled at all.

It does come with a Blu-ray drive, though, and there's optical audio out. A full-sized HDMI port is on the back, which, through the magic of Nvidia's Optimus, will use the integrated Intel HD Graphics when doing light work, and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 545/555 when doing heavy lifting. There's also a mini-HDMI port on the GeForce itself if you want to guarantee Nvidia output all the time.

Power

So it's powerful right? Well, with a GTX 555 in there, along with a Core i7 2600 and 8GB of RAM, it does incredibly well for the size. Alienware's even managed to jam a wireless controller in there (although it's 2.4GHz only), and the whole thing will set you back AU$1699.

The PC also has you reasonably well covered for ports, too. Despite its size, the X51 manages to fit in eight USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0, but are vexingly located at the back of the machine), gigabit Ethernet, 5.1 sound, optical and coax audio, HDMI out, and headphone/microphone jacks on the front. The full-sized graphics card brings dual DVI and mini-HDMI, and that's it for ports. Not having eSATA might be a concern for some.

The tightly packed X51 will limit what upgrades you can perform, along with the limited power supply.
(Credit: CBSi)

There are two lower tiers to the X51 if you've got a tighter budget — an AU$1499 model drops the processor to a Core i5 2320 and GeForce GTX 545, while AU$1299 will pick you up the same processor and graphics card, but drop you to 4GB RAM and include a DVD drive instead of Blu-ray. Across the board there are no configuration options on Dell's website at the time of writing — the lack of SSD option is curious.

The external power adapter means Alienware has to be smart with how it uses its power supply, and the use of Optimus definitely helps here while also reducing your power bills and internal system heat, at least for single monitor systems; plugging up the Intel HDMI port and Nvidia DVI port to different monitors resulted in the GeForce running both interfaces permanently. If your monitor has a resolution higher than 1920x1080 you'll miss out on Optimus as well, as that's the maximum resolution HDMI will feed.

Being an Alienware machine, it of course ate our benchmarks for breakfast. We haven't covered gaming PCs for a while, and so all we have to compare to are all-in-ones, machines that use laptop parts. Just take a look at the difference that having even a small, yet fully fledged desktop can make.

Application performance

Choose a benchmark: Handbrake | iTunes | Photoshop | Multimedia

Handbrake encoding (in seconds)

  • 166
    Alienware X51 (Core i7 @ 3.4GHz, 1TB HDD, 8GB RAM)
  • 264
    HP TouchSmart 520 (Core i5 @ 2.5GHz, 1TB HDD, 4GB RAM)
  • 401
    Toshiba Qosmio DX730 (Core i5 @ 2.4GHz, 2TB HDD, 6GB RAM)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


It's not exactly fair matching, pitting a Core i7 against Core i5 machines, along with a desktop graphics card versus mobile; but it does illustrate that you can still get a lot of power into a small box.

It also shows that the performance game is one of diminishing returns; unless you have a highly threaded application like Handbrake churning over, there's not that much of a gap between a high-end machine and a medium tier. It's significant, especially for power users and professionals, but for the average user they likely won't notice.

But we're here for gaming, right? Let's see what a mid-end desktop graphics card will do against mid-end mobile graphics cards.

Gaming performance

Choose a benchmark: Metro 2033 | Batman: Arkham Asylum

Metro 2033 (in FPS)

  • Max FPS
  • Average FPS
  • Min FPS
  • 164335
    Alienware X51 (Core i7 @ 3.4GHz, 1TB HDD, 8GB RAM)
  • 36112
    Toshiba Qosmio DX730 (Core i5 @ 2.4GHz, 2TB HDD, 6GB RAM)
  • 1751
    HP TouchSmart 520 (Core i5, 2.5GHz, 1TB HDD)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)


Game results are more dramatic, courtesy of the much beefier GTX 555 in the X51. The HP all-in-one features an AMD Radeon HD 6450, the Toshiba an Nvidia GT 540M. Both are reasonably well performing cards; but if you're a gamer it still makes a lot more sense to go for the full desktop over a mobile solution. Once again it's not the fairest comparison, but then, gaming desktops cross our path quite rarely.

Conclusion

The X51 is a beast in a tiny box. There are some concessions to be made from an upgrade perspective, but if you're after something tiny that manages to be a decent gaming machine, this could pique your interest.

See more on how we test PCs here.



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AlexanderG Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Plugged in, installed games, plays everything"

AlexanderG posted a review   

The Good:TINY, looks awesome, has lights you can change, top performance

The Bad:Came standard with Win 8. actually had to Google to figure out where the "shutdown" options was... 8 is annoying on anything without touch screen.

Plays everything on max settings with smooth frame rate.... What else can i say?

Sits in my bedroom, nice and quiet, could easily sleep with it going.

Just upgraded to a 1080p monitor and wow things look good!

This one came with the I7 cpu and the gtx 660. a stack of ultra fast ram.

Honestly, upgrading is not an issue, Its one of those things people 'think' is a benefit but rarely do anyway, even then the power supply will be good enough.
It will be a solid performer for a few years regardless, then its outdated just like any other pc.


Anyone whos had issues it seems like a batch problem. i got this 8 months? ago now, its been perfect.
The actual techs are really good in my experience, you just have to get past the phone jockies.

And if all else fails, contact ACCC, where you can solve virtually any dispute solved.

Yes its a pain, but simply don't take no for an answer. If you have a problem that isnt being solved you arent serious enough.

TheITGuy
1
Rating
 

"If you want a good PC don't buy this one, Dell doesn't help their customers"

TheITGuy posted a review   
Australia

The Good:I'm sure this product has some excellent features, to bad mine didn't work.

The Bad:If something happens to this machine...you're screwed and Dell won't help.

I bought the $1500 x51 from dell for around $1300, I received the product in about 15days, everything was going well until it came to the desktop.....The video card kept stopping, error bubbles began to appear "nvidia video card has stopped working, nvidia card restarted...". The display started turning off then back on, then the display would go black...the computer would start beeping, then....Blue screen. My x51 has video card had problems so I called dell not once...not twice...but three times, all they said was a technician would call and schedule a time. The third time I called the support staff told me that the parts weren't available so I asked for a refund. The refund process will take 14 working days and theres no guarantee, so now I'm left with a PC that doesn't work and warranty that doesn;t want to help. WORST DECISION EVER!! If you want a good PC buy it from a little PC shop, or build it yourself.

 

JoeH posted a reply   

I know this was 3 months ago, but you're an idiot. Nowhere will give you a refund or replacement without checking it first. Obviously the checking process takes time and they're not going to guarantee it because if you broke it, it's not their problem and isn't covered by warranty. Did you expect them to run on an honor system? =\

 

JoeH posted a reply   

I know this was 3 months ago, but you're an idiot. Nowhere will give you a refund or replacement without checking it first. Obviously the checking process takes time and they're not going to guarantee it because if you broke it, it's not their problem and isn't covered by warranty. Did you expect them to run on an honor system? =\

 

LyallR posted a comment   

I also have one from JBHI and i love it, i have had no trouble with it at all its been great.

 

Ti JuanN posted a reply   

hey did they give you a keyboard and mouse?

 

StanleyL posted a comment   
Malaysia

Hi, I am looking at X51 with the i7, GTX 555 and 8gb of DDR3. Dell Malaysia quoted RM2,901 (after the RM200 rebate and 9% discount because I am entitled for the Employee Purchase Program). Before I make the payment, I would like to check whether it is worth to buy at RM2,901?

OzNick
8
Rating
 

"Alienware X51; the best option yet for gamers with a space issue"

OzNick posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Grunty, compact, good looking and beautifully built

The Bad:No room inside for another 3.5" HDD

Picked up a X51 with the i7 processor, NVidia GTX555 and 8Gb of DDR3 ram a couple of days ago. JB HiFi were doing them on special for $1455.00 but I got that down to $1188.00 and half price Kaspersky Pure 2.0 virus protection. I had been contemplating an iMac but at this price the X51 is an unbeatable solution for those of us with limited space and it will kick the crap out of any current iMac for gaming applications.

So what's it like? I couldn't be more happy. I'm not sure what's going on with some of the other people who have posted here but my experience with this little powerhouse has been all positive. Its super fast, quiet and looks awesome! The only negative I can find is that there is no room for another internal 3.5" HDD but with USB3 its no biggie; I just got a Western Digital My Book Essential 2Tb USB3 drive from UMart for $140.00 and that solves the problem.

As far as gaming performance goes the X51 is more than capable of running any current game at more than acceptable resolution and frame rates. Sure a huge tower with every last piece of tech thrown at it will always be the ultimate choice but for those of us not so concerned with achieving a zillion frames per second and without a spare room to house all the hardware the X51 is the best option yet for space efficient and visually appealing gaming.

If you can get it at the price I managed from JB HiFi then that just makes it even more appealing. Very happy with my Alienware X51!

MichaelO1 Facebook
1
Rating
 

MichaelO1 posted a review   

I have waited almost 10 years to buy an Alienware and my wife just got me a brand new X51. First it takes over 35 days to receive the computer and they can not tell me why there is a delay in my purchase. The video card acts up on the first night, Tech support wants me to buy a HDMI cable to just troubleshoot the computer. Finally get the video to work on port 2. The keyboard doesn't light up, ...1 hour of Tech support and promised a new keyboard two weeks later I still haven't received it even though they promised me in writing next day service. Today the hard drive is no longer detected and I cant even boot the computer. I hope you all have better luck with this company as for me I will never buy another Alienware pc

 

HollandW posted a comment   
Australia

...never could spell that word correctly. *definitely.

 

i00Productions posted a comment   

My rating would be 0 Stars, why, simply because I purchased one thinking that this would be a great system, but the truth is I would be luckey if I could play a game for 2 mins without it powering off due to over-heating if it isn't right infront of an air-con outlet.

Kris

 

HollandW posted a reply   
Australia

Hello Kris,
Sorry to hear about the experience mate, that's definitily not normal and not a complaint I've received on these. Would like to take a look at the system or at least webex in to make sure we have everythign updated and setting are correct and worst case scenerio get someone onsite to replace hardware if needed. Could I get you to send me your details and your service tag to ANZ_Consumer_Esclations@Dell.com please?

Cheers,
Holland@Dell

 

JoeB2 posted a reply   

Seriously? Ive got an M14X and my brother bought an X51 mid line specs had it for a week and he hasnt had any issues its pretty cool heat wise although I explained to him the benefits of standing it vertically.. Id contact Dell, or even ask the Gizmo technician who is part of the package for free. Tbh unlucky though (n)




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User Reviews / Comments  Alienware X51

  • AlexanderG

    AlexanderG

    Rating9

    "Plays everything on max settings with smooth frame rate.... What else can i say?

    Sits in my bedroom, nice and quiet, could easily sleep with it going.

    Just upgraded to a 1..."

  • TheITGuy

    TheITGuy

    Rating1

    "I bought the $1500 x51 from dell for around $1300, I received the product in about 15days, everything was going well until it came to the desktop.....The video card kept stopping, error bubbles beg..."

  • LyallR

    LyallR

    "I also have one from JBHI and i love it, i have had no trouble with it at all its been great."

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