The Alienware X51 has landed, but is this tech from another world? We take a look at the powerhouse gaming PC to see how it stacks up
Alienware has a long standing reputation for making behemoth gaming PCs and laptops, such as the excellent Aurora R3 and the outstanding M11X. The Alienware X51 is another feather in Alienware's gaming PC cap, but the focus is rather different.
PC gamers will always be a dedicated bunch, and as games and technology evolve, you can upgrade your components to keep pace with the times. This is a great advantage in many eyes, but keeping up with the rapid advancement of PC tech has always, and will always be expensive.
The tempting alternatives for PC gamers are obviously the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony Playstation 3. These consoles offer no upgradability, but both have huge catalogues of games, and offer significant multimedia options and online services as well as being smaller and much cheaper.
It's no wonder that more and more gamers are turning to home consoles to provide their daily dose of virtual amusement. So can Alienware restore some faith in the PC gaming market with the X51? We're about to find out.
Alienware X51: Features
And so, here stands the Alienware X51. Despite its small stature, this is still a phenomenally powerful PC. The mid and top of the range models are where the real potency lies, and they pack a serious punch. Whilst the mid-range £799 model carries a 3GHz Intel i5 processor, the range-topping £899 model that we reviewed has a monster 3.4GHz Intel i7...
Apart from that, the two models are identical. We're talking a 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 555, 8GB RAM, 1TB of hard-disk space, a slot-loading CD/DVD read/write drive, HD 7.1 Performance Audio, 802.11 Wi-Fi and Windows 7 Home Premium to hold everything together.
There is a basic model that retails at £649, which only has 4GB RAM but runs a very capable 3.3GHz Intel i3 and NVIDIA GeForce GT 545 combination.
If you take the £649 and £899 models and add around £300 to each, you can buy an upgraded bundle that gets you the Alienware X51 along with a 23-inch Alienware monitor, an integrated Blu-Ray player and an 18-month McAfee Anti-virus subscription.
Alienware X51: Build
The X51 lands with typical Alienware styling, complete with glowing Alien head and sleek curves in the matt black casing. Like it's games console competitors, this Alien is comfortable and stylish on its side as well as standing up.
The X51 measures 94mm wide, 330mm deep and 344mm high, and weighs in at 5.49kg. By comparison, the Xbox 360 measures 75mm by 264mm by 270mm and only weighs 2.9kg, and Playstation 3 tips the scales at 65mm by 290mm by 290mm and weighs 3.5kg.
So, the X51 is bigger and heavier than it's competition, but not by much. In fact, it's about the same size and weight as the original Xbox, and millions of people were happy to have one of those juggernauts sitting in their front room.
Outside of comparisons, the Alienware is remarkably well built. When you open up the tower you'll see that the engineers have really worked hard to cram all these components into such a small frame. As a result, it feels very sturdy. There's no rattling and very little vibration whilst the PC is running.
The fan is only noticeable when the CPU and GPU are running with all guns blazing and even then it's not unreasonably loud.
It's quieter on the whole than the Xbox 360 and PS3 BUT like any PC or games console, we would expect the Alienware to get noisier as time goes on. We remember the Xbox 360 being whisper quiet on first look, and now ours rumbles like a herd of migratory wildebeest.
The power supply unit (PSU) has been left out of the case to preserve space, and comes as an external power pack like you would get with a games console or a laptop.
Even then, the case itself is so well packed that it would be much harder than usual to start chopping and changing parts in there, and even if you did, we can't guarantee that the lower-than-normal wattage PSU could handle anything much heavier duty than it's already running.
The PSU only runs at 330W, and many higher spec graphics cards (such as NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680) require a PSU of at least 550W. Alienware claim that you can "easily upgrade your core components to keep pace with the latest games and digital entertainment", but it seems to us that upgrading the X51 might be a trickier minefield than anyone realised.
Alienware X51: Connectivity
In terms of connectivity, the X51 does a good job of providing almost anything that you would need. It supports HDMI and USB 3.0 (with two ports) as well as having 6 USB 2.0 ports (essential for support multiple gaming peripherals), an ethernet port, a coax port and all your usual audio and microphone connections.
The microphone and headphone ports, as well as two of the USB 2.0 connections are on the front of the case for ease of access. The rest of the connections are located on the back.
Be warned: with further testing on Diablo 3, it has become clear that the Wi-Fi card in the Alienware cannot handle large amounts of traffic. When playing a game with a constant online connection, such as World of Warcraft or Diablo 3, the Wi-Fi card struggles to keep the connection stable and drops it regularly. Additionally, our connection never got stronger than 3 out of 5 bars, even when set up right next to the wireless router.
Obviously, internet connections are painstaking and there are lots of factors involved, but this issue is being experienced quite widely and there does appear to be a hardware issue with the Alienware X51, one that Dell claims to be working on.
Alienware X51: Performance
We ran a number of benchmarking tests and games on the X51 to test it's computing a graphics potential and frankly, it passed everything with flying colours.
In PCMark05 (a benchmark designed to test CPU capabilities) and 3DMark06 (a similar program that tests the power of the GPU) the Alienware X51 scored 13,618 and 22,488 respectively, both phenomenal scores that far out-perform any of the gaming laptops and indeed, any of the desktops we've looked at recently.
When we played both The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, it ran the game comfortably on maximum settings at an average frame-rate of just under 50fps. Even when we pushed the resolution up to support widescreen, it never dropped below 40fps.
Crysis 2 was a similar story, even at resolutions above 1024 x 768 and at max graphical settings, the Alienware showed no signs of struggling, save for a bit of heavy breathing from the fans. It's safe to say that the Alienware X51 will have no problems running even the most intensive media and gaming tasks you throw at it.
Alienware X51: Verdict
For £899 at the top of the range, the Alienware X51 is packed to the gunnels with power and a gaming PC of this size and power for this price is astounding.
Unfortunately, that still doesn't hide the fact that the Xbox 360 and PS3 are now cheaper than ever, and still both excellent at what they do. If you're looking to get into PC gaming, the Alienware X51 is a great option but it's fantastic value for money is significantly dampened by the difficulties you might encounter in trying to upgrade it in 12/18 months time.
Outside of it's depreciation of value, we have nothing but good things to say about the Alienware X51. It was brought to market as a slimmed down gaming and media PC with top of the range power, and that's exactly what it is. If you decide to put some money down for one, you really won't be disappointed.