Dell’s Alienware range makes a handful of laptops that cater to the gamer who needs performance and quality. From the tiny M11x netbook on steroids to the huge, huge M18xR2, there’s something for everyone who has about R15,000 stuffed under their mattress. For those of you who’ve decided that the Xbox or the PS3 sitting by your TV is lonely, there’s the X51 for you to consider.

Alienware’s X51 is the only small form-factor PC that could look at home with your regular entertainment systems and could even replace the need for a console for some people. The X51 is based off desktop parts and requires very little maintenance. Its fully upgradeable and also negates the need to buy Valve’s console box when it launches. Read on to see why you’d want one. 

By default the X51 ships in two flavours; the low-end version houses a Intel Core i3-2120 LGA1155 processor, 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM (upgradeable to 8GB), a 1TB Western Digital hard drive, a dual-layer DVD drive and a full-sized Nvidia GT545 desktop card. When ordering the X51 from Dell’s Alienware site you can also choose any component up to a Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770 processor, any solid state drive of your choice, a Blu-Ray reader as well as Nvidia’s GTX555. You might have your jaw on the floor and tongue wagging by now, but the best thing is how Dell got all this kit into such a small chassis.

The X51’s chassis is tiny, comparable to the Xbox 360 Slim more than Sony’s trying-to-be-anorexic PS3. The chassis was designed from the ground-up to be modular and its slim design is thanks to – you guessed it – an external power brick. The more expensive X51 with the Core i7 option comes with a 330w 80Plus rated power supply which means one of two things; 1) if your power supply blows, your hardware is still safe from frying out and buying a new one is all it takes, even if its expensive and, 2) the power circuitry is specially designed for the TDP of the entire system including the CPU and graphics card. That’s why, on the 250watt power supply, the most you’d ever do is a Core i5-2400 as an add-in. In their review of the console-like PC with the larger power supply, The Verge managed to use a GTX560Ti inside the chassis with room to spare. The GPU slots in sideways inside the chassis and uses a riser board (those of you more than twenty years old will probably remember those) that plugs into a modified PCI-Express 16x expansion slot, all in an effort to keep space usage to a minimum. I wish more things were designed with as much thought and attention to detail as the X51. When powered on, the plexiglass cut-outs glow with a range of colours that you can configure in Alienware’s customisation program in Windows – red, green or blue.

Its probably the best usage of space I've ever seen.

At the back you’ll see a host of ports for use of the X51 as a desktop PC or a entertainment console/media centre. USB3.0 ports are found on the front and back of the chassis, there’s a slot-loading DVD drive at the front as well as HDMI and Digital Audio-out ports at the back. Its designed to usurp your consoles with better gaming performance and ability and this is certainly true in The Verge’s tests. Most games play with high settings at 720p resolutions, with some allowing for the use of AA and AF. That’s on the GTX555, which I need to remind you is a last-generation part. With the minimum TDP of 150w that Alienware recommends for the 330w power supply, you could squeeze in a GTX660 when it launches and have 1080p visuals and not-so-anemic settings. Hell, stick in a HD7770 or the GTX660 and you could theoretically put up three 46″ Tvs running at 3840 x 720 for the best gaming experience this side of the equator. The potential is nearly limitless with this machine.

Stacked with the consoles, the X51 looks right at home.

Sadly, this is not an option for most of us. While the X51 would end up being the perfect LAN partner with a 22″ monitor, an Xbox controller or wireless keyboard and mouse and some comfy earphones, the basic version starts at $699 direct from Dell. For the best balanced configuration, you could order the Core i3-2120 with 8GB of RAM, the GTX555 and the 330w power supply if you phone Dell and ask them nicely. That at least leaves you open to upgrades to a quad-core Core i7 processor, a GTX or Radeon-whatever and an SSD stuck somewhere inside where you can fit it. You’d be putting up at least R9000 for the convenience of the small chassis, but at least you aren’t shooting yourself in the foot with the low-end option either.

For those of you who use high-end workstations, ask your IT department to consider getting you an X51 if you’re due for an upgrade. Choosing the 8GB option with the Core i7-3770, a 240GB SSD, Blu-Ray reader and perhaps a mid-range Quadro card would mean you’ve got a lot less desk space to be occupied and a quieter and better-looking machine. But what if you can’t afford to buy the X51, what other choice do you have for getting a low-cost, slim gaming desktop to have fun with? You could go with an ITX chassis and motherboard, which I’ve outlined for you below (convenient, isn’t it? Drool no more, you can have something similar too!)

LIAN LI PC-Q07 (Black) @ R585

INTEL DH67CF CLEAR FORK @ R1050

Intel Core i3-2120 3.3Ghz @ R1183

Geil Value Plus DDR3-1333 4GB x2 @ R478

Club 3D HD7750 1GB DDR5 Single-slot @ R1145 or Gigabyte GTX550Ti 1GB DDR5 @ R1377

Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB @ R804

LITE-ON iHAS524 DVD-RW @ R174

Antec EA-380D Earthwatts Green @ R452

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit @ R1077

Total: R6892

Its closer to the X51’s default asking price, yes, but what you lose in slim width and convenience you make up in flexibility. You’ve got the same range of upgrade options, a comparable chassis that allows you to use a third-party CPU cooler if you wanted. The Lian Li does have one caveat though and that’s the use of a single PCI slot for your graphics cards. You’d only be able to use single-slot solutions which isn’t too bad, as the coolers are still allowed to be dual-slot sizes. However, you’ll get all that heat back into your chassis. A better option for those who worry about heat would be the Cooler Master’s Elite 360, which is a slimmer desktop chassis and allows the use of cheaper mATX boards and dual-slot graphics cards. You can even turn the case sideways and put your monitor on it, saving space in cramped environments.

If you’re a purist, however, there’s only one option for you – the Alienware X51! And that’s why its today’s Fantasy Friday hardware item.

Source: Alienware.com, The Verge, Eurogamer

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