Alienware X51 Omnireview
Staring at an Alien from all sides
WeBreakTech recieved an Alienware X51 for a month’s worth of review. (Sadly, it turned into closer to 2.5 months, sorry Alienware!) We ran the Alienware through every test we could concieve of. We ended up with three different perspectives and a video.
Katherine brings a casual gamer’s view of the device while Josh attacks it from the postition of a far more dedicated hardcore gamer. Trevor does what Trevor does best and approaches the situation orthogonally; he’s looking at the unit from a professional standpoint, evaluating it for suitability as a workstation. In all, we were quite impressed.
Completely irrelevant to the performance aspect: the Alienware X51 is sexy. It is all sleek curves and glowing lights like a sports car. (I suspect the analogy that I am supposed to be using here is “spaceship.”)
It comes packaged with everything you need except for a monitor and a network cable. Setup is painless. The keyboard is comfortable, though the delete key is in a weird place. I was skeptical of the mouse, which looks a bit like what would happen if Apple discovered black, but it is actually really good. It fits ergonomically in the hand, tracks well, and is precise enough for gaming. I didn’t miss anything about my old mouse except for the weight; the Alienware X51 mouse is light, which may bother some gamers. A minor quibble.
I do most of my gaming (and work) on an MSI GT780DX. I really like it, and will cheerfully use it for several more years. However, the Alienware X51 is a clear step up from the MSI in almost every respect. It boots faster, loads apps faster, and has near-instant page loads when browsing the internet. The 1920 x 1200 display makes games look gorgeous.
To put it through its paces, I loaded some graphics-heavy RPG titles from the last couple of years. Everything looked great. Colors were vivid and textures were detailed. Dragon Age: Origins played beautifully. I even spent about three minutes galloping around Skyrim on the Conjure Ethereal Horse mod, something that forces the video card to render so fast that it has caused previous computers to crash the game in protest. The Alienware X51 didn’t blink.
Listening to game audio is a pleasurable experience. It has subtlety and depth at low volumes, as well as the ability to make your neighbours in the next condo hear every shot in your epic space battle, if desired.
I gamed on the Alienware X51 for about eight hours and didn’t notice anything worth complaining about. In fact, I’m scheming about how I can get one when my current computer dies.
The Alienware X51 desktop is a valuable asset to any gamer who thrives on competition. The system itself is customizable and the hand we were dealt by our friends at Alienware contained an i5-3450 at 3.1GHz, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM running at 1600MHz, a Seagate 1TB 7200RPM Hard Drive to contain your entire gaming library and an Nvidia GTX 660 all crammed into an almost-silent console-sized box that draws up to 160W under load.
While certainly not a direct replacement for a monstrous custom-build gaming rig costing as much as a small car, the hardware does a great job of running the extremely popular titles. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 runs at an average of about 50 FPS (frames per second) with some drops to about 40 FPS in extremely hectic scenes on the highest graphics settings.
When optimized for visibility and high framerates – this means stripping the game of anything that hinders performance such as antialiasing, depth of field, bloom/HDR, etc. as well as any graphics options that might hinder my ability to see “the bad guys” – the game ran like a dream. Over 100FPS at all times while running the game at my BenQ XL24020T 120hz monitor’s native resolution: 1920×1080.
League of Legends, another popular title, ran at an average of 90FPS with no noticeable severe drops (Being a MOBA, we considered anything over 60FPS perfectly acceptable whereas FPS games are much more sensitive). Several of my friends also took the system for a test drive and the common theme was: “How does such a tiny box that costs so little do nearly everything my giant tower does?”
After our first-impression tests of these titles we unleashed the beasts on the system. First up was FutureMark 11. We kept our benchmarks to “The full FutureMark11 experience” and at 1080p the X51 got hammered. An average of 5-10FPS for the graphics tests signaled to us that this system wasn’t going to be cranking the dial to 11.
At 720p, the results were much more reasonable with average framerates in the 30-40 range and a final graphics score 3 times higher than that at 1080p. During these tests, the load measured no higher than 150W and stayed on average at 140W. Temperatures were reasonable as well, with the sensors on the motherboard reading 64C, CPU at 45C, HDD at 42C, and GPU at 80C when these tests concluded. FurMark also failed to break the system, topping out at an average of 38FPS at 720p with the GPU at 85C after a 15-minute burn-in.
To round out our tests, we fired up Crysis 3, Natural Selection 2 as well as a few titles using Steam’s Big Picture mode. Crysis 3 boasts the well-optimized CryENGINE 3 and serves as a great test for the latest and greatest in gaming. Natural Selection 2 is a competitive-oriented cross between FPS and RTS and serves to test how practical the system is for those looking for a system that will “just work” when victory is on the line. To see some of the results, check out our review video.
When it comes down to it, the devil is in the details. Alienware has proven that their chassis design is solid and can contain a ton of power. The system loadout we were given performs quite well for the current generation of games on low/medium graphics, but the Nvidia GTX 660 just doesn’t pack enough punch to keep you on top of the next few years of releases. With that being said, the Alienware X51 is a no-muss-no-fuss system that won’t let you down when it matters most, it’s extremely power and space efficient and you’ll get more than a few solid years of gaming out of it. Just don’t expect to be running Crysis 4 on ultra.
Alienware shifts gaming computers; they are not positioned as workstations. Despite this, the delta between a more traditional “workstation” PC and a modern gaming PC is increasingly irrelevant. While the rest of my coworkers have crawled all over Alienware’s X51 with an eye to gaming, I’ve taken it to to task as a video and professional photographic workstation and found it surprisingly capable.
The obvious differences between workstation and gaming rigs are typically a combination of the support class the system is assigned to, the processor(s) added and the type of video card it runs. Beyond this there is a certain level of engineering and build quality that goes into a proper workstation-class rig; the sort of attention to detail you just don’t see in margin-starved consumer level tat.
Dell’s consumer-class support is awful and their lower-end SMB support hasn’t won them any friends either. Dell’s enterprise support, however, is absolutely top notch; this is where workstations typically live. I’ve had occasion to use Dell’s Alienware support and it is fantastic; a cut above the consumer support levels provided by any vendor. I’d go so far as to say that my experiences with Alienware’s support has rivalled enterprise support from most vendors; from a support standpoint I have no qualms about putting an Alienware unit into the field in a professional setting.
The video card issues are something we could debate until the cows come home. The X51 we got to play with has an upper-mid-level mainstream nVidia card (GTX 660) instead of a Quadro. I tried video rendering in Premiere, realtime photo rendering in Flow, batch image rendering in Photoshop and more. In some very specific circumstances a Quadro might be better, but the GTX 660 in the Alienware held up just fine; the performance was so strong that in fact I am beginning to challenge the traditionally held belief that workstations must have Quadros or FireGLs at all.
The CPU in the X51 wasn’t stellar. It’s an i5 3450 that can start to feel underpowered during heavy rendering. There is no way it’s going to go up against a pair of top-end Xeons; on the other hand, anything holding a pair of top-end Xeons is going to be at least 4x the physical size of the X51 anyways. For every task except the kinds of bulk renders we’d leave overnight on a Xeon system anyways, the CPU in the X51 holds up just fine. It does realtime work in Flow, Photoshop, Maya, Lightwave and Premier. I don’t really know what more to ask of it.
As far as the build quality, I was impressed despite myself. I rather like Alienware systems to start with, but exactly how sexy can you make an xBox-sized desktop? They’re cute and all, but a pain to upgrade or work in; I’ve been dealing with these “book-sized” PCs since the original ASUS Pundit.
Where I became impressed was when I flattened the system for 3 solid hours in a fairly warm room and it didn’t throttle itself. The CPU stayed at stock speeds and the GPU just kept on doing it’s thing. No errors, no glitches, no lock-ups or crashes. Someone designed this system to handle the thermal load of actually using the device as designed: a shocking rarity in PCs of this size.
In all, I’m rather taken with the thing. The Alienware X51 is a stand up system that does yeoman’s work as a workstation. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better quality system with more horsepower for anywhere close to the same price while still mataining an acceptable support tier.
So long as I could convince Alienware to ship the workstation versions with all the lights and custom operating system “bling” turned off, I’d have no problems replacing the next generation of workstations at my clients with an Alienware X51. It’s good gear; well worth your time.
Don’t forget to check out our video review of the Alienware X51. If our review has made you interested in getting one of your own, the Alienware store is here. There are also variants with Steam for Linux running on Ubuntu.
Feeds and speeds
CPU: Core i5-3450 @ 3.1GHz,
RAM: 8 GB of DDR3 RAM @ 1600MHz
Disk: Seagate 1TB 7200RPM
GPU Nvidia GTX 660
140W under load from FutureMark11
150W under load from Crysis
150W Natural Selection 2
160W under load from Arma 3 Alpha
40W under idle/windows load
Please note: LucidLogix increased 3dmark score but I was unable to replicate this in-game and thus did not explore it much further. Another time, perhaps.