Dell Alienware X51, SFF PC Gaming Refined

Article Index

Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: When some consider the size of a small form factor system, they tend to set their expectations in performance directly proportional to that size, for the most part.  To say we were impressed with the numbers this little machine put out would be an understatement.  We'll stop just short of "blown-away" but we're a bit jaded around these parts anyway.  In terms of general compute performance, the X51 performed about where we expected for its midrange Core i5 quad-core CPU.  It's not a workstation number cruncher but it gets the job done for gaming and multimedia tasks especially, where GPU performance is more critical.  In that regard, gaming performance of the X51 was, for all intents and purposes, the fastest of the bunch among the other full-sized systems we tested.  We gave the X51 a high watermark to hit, pitting it up against full-ATX and mid-ATX systems, and the little alien invaded and cleaned house.

It's not often we're fully satisfied with an SFF PC and though the X51 isn't perfect, in our opinion the folks at Alienware should be commended for putting out an exceptional product.  If they found a way to carve an SD card slot into the front of the system, we would really have been splitting hairs to find any other remotely significant omission.  Beyond that, this small but mighty alien life form is a downright supreme being.  The system is stealthy quiet.  We've seen reports of some other press folks noting that noise can be a factor under load but that definitely was not our experience.  It's a bit of a subjective area but we've heard more than our share of systems and notebooks over the years.  The X51 is definitely offers what we would consider to be a quiet PC experience, whether idling on the desktop or under intense gaming action.

Performance-wise, it's hard to strike a balance between size and thermal capacity within systems like this, but Dell-Alienware had their thinking caps on when they decided to engineer the power supply as an external solution.  Keeping 330 Watts exterior to the system was a smart move and allowed the team to drop a beefier graphics processor in this machine, to help drive frame rates higher in its primary usage environment.  Speaking of which, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 555 was sort of a sleeper for us.  We expected more middling performance from the graphics solution in a box of this size but once we figured out it was a dual-slot, 288 CUDA core engine in there, we knew there might be a bit of muscle going on.  How much more, honestly, we were pleasantly surprised to see.  The Alienware X51 small form factor gaming system offers full-sized gaming guts and gusto in a tight little package.  This thing has a Napoleon complex and we like that a lot.

Style-wise, though we've said before that Alienware systems can sometimes be a love-it or hate-it affair, we'd be hard pressed to think anyone seeing this sleek little machine would think otherwise.  The X51 is a stylish little black box that will class up any TV room, dorm room or similar setting and it won't take much shelf space to do so.

The Alienware X51 that we tested retails for $999 currently on Dell's site and you can configure a system with various upgrade options from there, which will affect your pricing either north a bit, or much lower if you prefer.  It's not cheap but as the cliche' goes, you get what you pay for.  We think the Alienware X51 is so impressive for small form factor gaming or as a kick-ass HTPC, that we have zero hesitation in giving it a HotHardware Editor's Choice.
  • Powerful machine for its size
  • Sleek, attractive design
  • Extremely quiet, even under load
  • Great gaming performance up through 1080p resolution with high image quality
  • Cool AlienFX lighting effects
  • Relatively low power consumption
  • A little pricey, depending on your config
  • No SD card slot

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