When Alienware recently introduced their X51 gaming system, gamers were taken aback. It was small. It was affordable. It was an Alienware!? Can a computer so approachable really deserve that alien head branding? After spending some time with it, we can happily say “yes”.
Alienware first tested the waters of the supersvelte gaming market over two years ago with the introduction of the Alienware M11x. Despite the notebook market still flush with the rise of netbooks, no one really saw it coming. Previous attempts by companies such as ASUS to bring reputable gaming performance to the netbook market by marrying discrete GPUs to the Atom processor failed.
When the M11x launched, then, its instant success took everyone, including Dell and Alienware, by surprise.
Clearly, the company is hoping to do the same with the X51. Kept under wraps until its big launch, Alienware has take a lot of inspiration from its gaming ultraportable to make the desktop variant. The smallest gaming desktop Alienware has offered by a wide margin, the X51 takes up no more space than one of those awfully slim Dell Inspiron desktops…which is saying something.
So, looking at it from a sheer size standpoint, you’ll be able to fit the Alienware X51 pretty much anywhere in your house, a fact that cannot be said of the other desktops Alienware currently has on offer. Since it is so thin, the Dell-owned gaming manufacturer also engineered the desktop so that you’ll be able to use it vertically – like most towers these days – or horizontally, like the desktops of yesteryear. If you’re only using one display and have limited desk space, the horizontal orientation can be the way to go, helped along by four little nubs on the bottom of the machine.
Despite being the littlest Alienware that could, the X51 offers customers all the right design cues that mark a machine of the Alien persuasion. A silvery alien head marks the front of the machine, and it swivels to stay upright regardless of whether the machine is oriented horizontally or vertically. Clear plastic wedges on the sides let the multicolored AlienFX lighting system shine through, a popular feature of the Alienware lineup.
Going inside the machine, you’ll find there’s enough room for all the components present, and precious little else. Alienware managed to pack in a full-sized graphics card, which is impressive in a machine so small, but you won’t be using the flagship GPU models in a desktop like this. Officially, the ‘best’ graphics card you easily install is the NVIDIA GeForce 560 Ti – everything else risks overloading either the massive external GPU or the desktop’s cooling system.
Still, Alienware promises that everything in the system, from the CPU to the RAM to the storage drives to the video card, everything is upgradeable by the end user. More importantly, Alienware also understands that the people who buy their machines are perhaps more likely to want to open them up than the typical PC user, and so performing these upgrades in no way voids the company’s warranty – unless you manage to do some serious damage.
The X51’s size isn’t its only slim characteristic – there’s also the price to consider. The previous record for Alienware’s lowest-priced system went to one of the Aurora models, introduced at $999. The X51 manages to undercut that price by another 30%, with a starting MSRP of just $699. While hardcore PC enthusiasts will always cry at the level of performance you get in a pre-built system, Alienware is doing a good job of balancing that delicate price/performance ratio. The makers are swearing that it can play some of today’s hottest games without breaking a sweat: at that low price point, Battlefield 3, running at 1080p on high settings, still hits an average framerate of 34 frames per second.
Are we taken with the X51? You betcha. It offers a lot of what makes Alienware great: aggressive design, aggressive performance and Alienware quality, all at a price point that most gamers are likely to afford. Is it the future of gaming PCs? Quite possibly. Stay tuned for the full Alienware X51 review, where we dive into what makes the machine tick and put it through all its paces. Until then, check out the gallery for the system’s unboxing and first look photos.