Alienware X51 R3 Review: Console-Sized Gaming PC Gets Skylake Infusion

A Look Inside The Alienware X51 R3

Three screws, that's it, and you'll gain access to all the major components of the Alienware X51 R3. One black screw holds the side panel in place and from there, a few key upgrades, should you so desire, can be easily navigated with minimal fuss or risk of injury (for you or the machine).

Alienware X51 R3 Side Panel Off2
Ready, for an "Alien Autopsy"...

X51 R3 Internals Graphics Card Out3

Surgical removal of the heart of this alien being is also as simple as one screw. From there you can extract the graphics card cage, which slides out with ease from its X20 PCI Express card slot on the motherboard. And that's not a typo. Alienware designed a X16 + X4 PCIe slot for the X51 R3 motherboard. This is a rather ingenious approach to design efficiency which allows the M.2 gumstick Solid State Drive in this machine to ride along shotgun with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960, on the side of a custom riser card. This simple and elegant design approach really warmed-up our cold, geek hearts.

X51 R3 Internals Graphics Card Out2 Alienware X51 R3 PCI Express Slot

Alienware X51 R3 SSD And PCIe Riser
Business in the front, party in the back, as they say...

At the risk of sounding gushy, we think this design approach is fantastic. There obviously isn't a lot of PCB real estate inside this machine, though there is one M.2 socket just underneath the CPU water cooler setup for the Intel 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4 radio module. What this design does is allow for very easy extraction of both the GPU and SSD simultaneously, which will not only help the end user upgrade experience but saves on precious PCB board space as well. Of note also is the fact that Samsung's PM951 PCIe NVMe SSD, seen here, is rather snappy, offering 1.6GB/sec of read throughput but we'll circle back on that shortly as well.

X51 R3 Internals Graphics Card Out Alienware X51 R3 CPU Socket And Water Cooler

Alienware X51 R3 Font IO Board Alienware X51 R3 PCIe Power Connectors
Highly integrated water pump, barrel cage fan and radiator - all in one self-contained unit

Another solid Alienware innovation is the custom watercooler system the team designed for the X51 R3. This unit is a single integrated design of a self-contained and sealed water pump, cooling block, a radiator that vents out the rear of the chassis and a barrel cage style fan that doesn't actually get too loud under load. In fact, Alienware claims a 5 - 7 dB(A) noise output advantage with this water cooler over standard air cooling, and measures 33.8 to 39.9 dBA system noise at 25ºC and 35ºC ambient room temperatures, respectively.

We didn't dare tear down the cooler assembly due to time constraints with this review but this is one area of the design that does look a bit tricky. It can be done by removing a few retention screws around the CPU socket but if you opted for the quad-core Skylake Core i7-6700K CPU like we received, you probably won't have the need to dig in this area for a while. Although, we did notice there are a pair of PCI Express power connectors in there, even though the GeForce GTX 960 card in our system requires only one - which of course screams upgrade potential down the road.

X51 R3 GeForce GTX 960 Card Cage

X51 R3 Card Cage
Alienware X51 R3 Graphics Card Cage And Riser - Watch this space, organ transplant soon.

In fact, upgrading the graphics card in this machine couldn't be easier. Just remove a couple of wiring harnesses and release the card from its slot by pressing in the PCIe card lock release button that sticks out the back side of the card cage. From there your GPU is free as a bird. And let's just say we plan to revisit this card cage with a new little birdie, very soon. So stick around.

X51 R3 IO Ports

And of course, if you need even more graphics juice than the X51 R3's 330 Watt brick can handle (which is still a fair amount), Alienware has enabled this new SFF system with their external graphics dock connector, so connecting an Alienware Graphics Amplifier box to the machine is as simple a plugging it into the slot on the rear of X51 R3 (the thin slot pictured above).

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