Some may say Dell smells, but here at Highpants we say Dell is the epitome of doing just enough. Working with razor thin margins on one side and competing with the Chinese on the other, we can understand their predicament. Alienware, Dells house of extreme gaming hardware may just be taking a page out of its parent companies book. The X51 Mini Gaming PC , is a full blown mini gaming PC on a budget. With prices starting at $699 this is the Alienware Aurora ALX’s little brother, with the same gaming pedigree and styling of its brethren, the X51 is pure Alienware. Is this the Alienware for everyone?
The case continues the Alienware extreme styling tradition. Wrapping the X51 in Alienware’s black angular casing this new mini-gaming machine is easily identified as pure Alienware. This is the first compact gaming machine from Alienware, it’s just as happy on the desktop as it is nestled with your components next to the TV.
Alienware are aiming squarely at our TV sets and living rooms with the new X51 – Area 51 reference ?-, it doesn’t look like a console by accident, the resemblance to the 360 is striking. The machine itself has been designed to operate fast at 1080p resolutions, the maximum resolution available on TV’s at the moment With HDMI 1.4 the X51 is as 3D TV ready as any machine needs to be, 3D playback and Blu-ray 3D ready out of the box.
The X51 is designed for both upright operation or flat desktop style orientation, even the Alienware badge can be rotated to accommodate your preference. Standing on its end the X51 takes up minimal desk real-estate, blending in next to any display. Laid down flat the X51 could slot in amongst any collection of audio and video components in your living room.
Hardware and Upgrades
While the base specifications may be described as just good enough for gaming there is enough power here to playing any modern Direct X 11 game at decent speeds. Options are minimal but with the higher specifications CPU and GPU comes improvements in performance of course. The fully optioned X51 is an extremely flexible media center or living room computer as well as having enough grunt to let you enjoy any of the latest DX 11 games.
Accessing the X51’s internals is an easy task. One lock screw holds the case top on and two internal screws opens up the internals of the beast for modification. Using desktop related parts as opposed to notebook parts allows the X51 to be easily upgraded.
At its core the Mini-ITX motherboard uses an Intel® H61 Express Chipset, not an overclocker’s dream but a good solid base for a solid gaming machine. Included on the motherboard are 2 USB3 ports, 6 USB 2 ports – 2 front and 4 rear-, Gigabit network along with analogue and digital audio output – SPDIF Digital Output includes TOSLINK and Coax -.
By using a Mini-ATX motherboard NVIDIA has been able to keep the power usage and heat to a minimum. With the fully optioned X51 using a 330 watt power supply instead of the default 240watt PSU a little more headroom for faster parts is available. Keeping in mind the latest NVIDIA GTX 590 or ATI 7990 video cards use 300watts on their own – when running at full speed -. So while the performance isn’t in the same ballpark as the X51’s big brother the Alienware Aurora ALX, which also includes a minimum price tag of $2,199 USD, it offers enough performance for the casual gamer and multimedia junkie.
The base video card is a mid-range card NVIDIA GT 545, with the upgrade option being an NVIDIA GTX 555. These are video cards typically included in laptops. When upgrading the video card pay special attention to its dimensions, especially the size of the fan, and the power usage. The current card doesn’t leave a lot of room to spare so any upgrade should be roughly the same size. The limited power supply – even the upgraded option is only 330 watts – forces a limit of 150 watts. Any upgrade should use a lot less, the base video card uses under 100 watts of power.
The Mini-ITX motherboard limits the memory slots to just two, with the cramped conditions inside the case also limiting the height of the memory, no fancy Corsair Vengeance here, only short memory sticks without heat sinks will fit in.
The standard CPU included is the Intel® Core™ i3-2120 3.3GHz – 3MB Cache -, a solid dual core CPU from Intel. This can be upgraded all the way up to the Intel® Core™ i7-2600 3.4GHz – 8MB Cache -, the overclockers CPU of choice.
The X51’s CPU is air cooled, Dell doesn’t include a water cooling option yet – the crowd boo’s -. The air cooling and limited space inside the case will seriously limit the CPU options if you wish to upgrade it yourself in the future. The CPU is a current generation Sandy Bridge CPU, the next generation Ivy Bridge CPU’s will be an interesting upgrade option once they become available later this year.
In an effort to keep the prices low Alienware have only included a 1TB hard drive for storage, no SSD drives are included in the options. This does leave room for an easy upgrade option in the future. Either directly swapping the hard drive for an SSD or adding an SSD in and keep the hard drive in place. There are enough SATA plugs on the motherboard to accommodate this option but space will be an issue, as ever.
All of the most important boxes for gaming speed have been ticked. The main two ingredients for good gaming gear are there, a good CPU and video card – or rather not using integrated video -. Even with the base option this is true. Add to this 4 or 8GB of fast desktop RAM and you have all the makings of a solid casual gamers PC. Alienware is quoting 34 frames per second in Battlefield 3 at high settings and a resolution of 1080p. Not too shabby indeed.
The X51 has many suits in its closet. The X51 is ample fast enough to be a media center PC or living room media playback PC. With the gaming options, web connected nature and compact size the X51 can fit many roles, with enough power to juggle multiple roles at the same time.
In times when Über gaming PC’s – rigs – are passing the 1kilowatt – 1000 watt – power usage mark a gaming machine that uses only 330 watts at its maximum is an appealing option. Especially if your machine needs to be on for long periods, days at a time.
Alienware also includes various pieces of software to enhance your computing experience. Alienware Command Centre software controls the lighting effects , themes and power management profiles at the click of a button. An incredible number of custom lighting combinations can be created, along with application control.
Alienware have achieved a nice balance with the X51, it’s cheap starting price as well as capable gaming and media skills make this a serious desktop with serious value. It’s small but not too small, so parts haven’t been soldered to the motherboard. This along with the easy internal access makes it completely upgradeable.
Alienware’s first attempt at sensible desktop gaming machines looks to have hit the mark. With prices starting from $699 USD this is also Alienware’s most affordable machine to date. The Alienware X51 is already available through Dell’s website. Is this a new direction for Alienware ? How long before we see mod’ers jam water-cooling, overclocked CPU and souped up graphics card into this beast?
Alienware X51 Product Specifications:
• Intel Core i3 Dual Core (standard) and Intel Core i5 and i7 Quad Core Processor Options
• Intel H61 Express Chipset Architecture
• Mini-ITX Motherboard
• Powerful NVIDIA Graphics Card Options: 1GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 545 (Standard) or 1GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 555
• Configure with up to 8GB of DDR3 Memory (4GB Standard); 2x 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM Slots
• Fast 7,200RPM 1TB Hard Drive
• Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
• Slot-Loading Dual Layer DVD Burner (Standard) or optional Blu-ray Disc Reader
• Internal High-Definition 7.1 Performance Audio with Waves MAXX Audio Software
• Integrated 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet NIC and Integrated 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi Wireless LAN (standard)
• USB 2.0 (6x); USB 3.0 (2x); Microphone In; Headphone/Speaker Out; HDMI 1.4 Output; RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet; Front, Rear and Center Speaker Ports; SPDIF Digital Output (TOSLINK); SPDIF Digital Output (Coax)
• Alienware 240 Watt Power Supply (Standard) or optional 330 Watt Power Supply
• Dual-orientation tower system dimensions: h: 13.5” (343mm) x w: 3.74” (95mm) x d: 12.52” (318mm)
• Starting Weight: 12.1 lbs. (5.49 Kg.)