Alienware held a launch party in chilly San Francisco, California tonight to launch their upcoming X51 desktop. If you've been following them on Facebook, they've been doing a bit of a lead-up, doling out clues here and there about this new machine, but silly hype seems almost inappropriate for a launch like this one.

One thing Alienware has as leverage over boutiques is the ability to produce a custom chassis, due in no small part to their relationship with Dell. So while we've seen Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX custom builds from boutiques over the past couple of years, Alienware has the luxury of producing a more specialized enclosure. The result? A desktop gaming machine, using desktop hardware, the size of an old school Xbox 360.

Internally, the Alienware X51 uses a Mini-ITX motherboard with a pair of DDR3 slots and runs desktop Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors, not lower wattage mobile parts. There's also a slimline optical drive (available as a DVD burner or blu-ray reader), USB 3.0 support, and built-in wireless-n networking. For the single PCI Express x16 slot, Alienware uses a riser card that allows a roughly 9", dual slot video card to be mounted inside the enclosure. Finally, beneath the video card mount is a single 3.5" drive bay, though enterprising users can actually install a pair of 2.5" drives (provided you have the necessary adaptor cage) and there are enough SATA connections on the motherboard to handle both. That means you can use an SSD and mechanical storage combination if you're so inclined. For a custom build, the internals are remarkably standardized and look like they'll allow for easy upgrading.

Since virtually every last scrap of internal real estate is being used and used efficiently, the X51 has to employ an external power brick similar to the ones used for Alienware's M17x and M18x notebooks. That also places a limitation on how much power the video card itself can draw: just 150 watts.

That video card is also where things get interesting. Alienware will offer the X51 with either an NVIDIA GeForce GT 545 or a GeForce GTX 555; both are OEM only cards, but both employ GDDR5, giving the cards enough bandwidth to handle Alienware's target 1080p resolution. The GT 545 is a cut-down GTX 550 Ti, with 144 CUDA cores, a core clock of 870MHz, and an effective memory clock of ~4GHz on a 128-bit memory bus. Note that this GDDR5 version is OEM only; the DDR3 version is the one available in retail. More serious gamers will want the GTX 555, which is a cut-down GTX 560, with 288 CUDA cores, a core clock of 776MHz, and an effective memory clock of ~4GHz on a 192-bit memory bus. Our experience with mobile GeForce hardware suggests the GTX 555 should actually be just enough to handle medium-to-high detail 1080p gaming. Finally, just to make things extra exciting, these cards and the X51 support NVIDIA's Optimus, making this a rare appearance for the power-saving technology on the desktop. Not bad at all.

The best part, though, is that Alienware will be selling the X51 starting at just $699. It's unusual for Alienware to lowball like this, but the build quality seems to be there, suggesting it could be a fantastic value. We'll have a review unit in as soon as possible.

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  • spyral - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Waiting on performance reviews..

    Are the keyboard and mouse wired or wireless?
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Wired. Reply
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  • bill4 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I know it would cost me about $800 to build a nice gaming PC off newegg (assuming I reuse my current SSD, HDD, PSU, and DVD burner). So 699 isn't bad.

    The two limitations that jump out are 150 watts and 9" on the graphics card. If they could have only upped those to say 11", and 250 watts, you could have replaced the standard GPU with something with a lot more beef. Assuming it wouldn't burn up in there. And an extra 2" doesnt seem like it would have broken the space budget.

    Probably given those limitations, you'd be best sticking with the GT555 anyway, as you probably wouldn't be able to do a whole lot better.

    Core i3 is a nice CPU anyway, and pretty much no games are CPU limited, so even at the low end CPU wont be a problem. Would like to know pricing on a decently specced GTX 555 model.
    Reply
  • bill4 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    all in all it suffers from the same problem as gaming laptops, not enough beef. Would have been nice if they could have got something like a HD6870 in there. Something beefier on the GPU, even if it cost them a bit on the size or price.

    would be interesting to see what type of small form factor gaming pc you could cobble together on newegg compared to this.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    True, but laptops don't let you upgrade the GPU at all. I'd think long term, it will be easy enough to go with the mainstream desktop GPUs and keep a pretty decent performance level. With a laptop, when it becomes too slow, you're SOL. Reply
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    They do actually, the Alienware M17X, M18X, MSI's entire high end range, Clevos/Sagers with GTX560M and up all use standard MXM slots that you can upgrade. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The cost for such parts is high, to say the least, and the laptops are not specifically advertised as being upgradable to my knowledge. If you can buy the necessary GPU(s), get the appropriate BIOS to support the new GPU, and then go ahead and remove your old GPU and upgrade, yes, it's technically possible. It will also void your warranty and leave you with an MXM module that you can't do anything with (although I suppose you can try eBay).

    Also, MXM modules are not standardized other than the connector and, to a lesser extent, the size. The location of the memory chips and GPU can and does vary, so just because a GPU fits in your chassis doesn't mean it will work with your HSF.

    For these reasons, I generally don't even try laptop GPU upgrades. You're often better off selling your old laptop and buying a new model with the GPU you want. Not only do you get a faster GPU, but you often get other features thrown in with the upgrade--a new chipset and CPU perhaps, stuff like USB 3.0, etc.
    Reply
  • Meaker10 - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Those who use non standard positioning (there are specs for it) such as Asus are not considered MXM.

    Again the ones I listed all use the same layout, and while it's not valid for the majority of users it's perfectly valid for enthusiasts.

    A graphics upgrade will cost £200-300 for a highend chip and there are companies selling cards on ebay such as eurocom who actually build systems too.
    Reply
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