Alienware X51 R2: Mini tower Review

Alienware kicked off the micro tower revolution with its original X51. Prior to that, most performance-oriented small-form-factor boxes used Mini-ITX motherboards in shoebox shaped chassis.

Alienware X51 R2: Mini tower Review
We checked with our resident Macsexual and he
said the Alienware was the coolest-looking of the four.
The X51 was different. Starting with the same basic shell and shape as a business class small form factor, Alienware set out to address the business box’s major weakness: graphics. Most PCs of that size use either integrated graphics or low-TDP, half-height GPUs with minimal chutzpah.

Alienware changed the game by making these thin form factors capable of, well, gaming, by squeezing in full size GPUs. The rest, as they say, is history, and the three other followers here show the strength of the design, with more competitors likely on the way. What can we say? People want big desktop gaming performance but in a box small enough to be confused with a game console.

So, without a doubt, Alienware deserves credit for moving the ball forward on small, fast PC performance. But does Alienware/Dell keep the forward momentum going with the R2 version of the X51? Unfortunately, no. More on that in a bit.

Getting into the X51 is pretty simple. Undo one screw and slide off a side panel to access the GPU and CPU. RAM is also there, tucked in under the air intake for the CPU. If you look at a picture of the X51, you might think replacing or upgrading the GPU would be a serious pain in the butt, but it isn't. Remove two screws holding the GPU in place and then carefully lift out the card. In fact, a GPU swap is actually easier here than with the three other boxes, despite its intimidating looks. Getting at the unit’s sole hard drive — a 2TB 7,200rpm Seagate Barracuda, in our case — is done with the GPU lifted out. Again, it’s really not daunting — we know because we’ve done it several times with the original X51.

Getting into X51 is actually very easy despite the daunting looks of the guts.
Getting into X51 is actually very easy
despite the daunting looks of the guts.
And that, sadly, is our problem. Despite the R2 moniker, the X51 R2 is largely the same as the original, and carries the same shortcomings, too. The primary shortcoming is its storage subsystem. The Seagate 2TB 7,200rpm Barracuda is a fine drive but it ain’t no SSD, and booting and other disk I/O–intensive tasks are simply painful. While the three others here boast the optimal setup of SSD-plus-HDD, the Alienware is stuck with a hard drive as its only option. The only way to add an SSD would be to buy a 2.5-inch-to-3.5-inch bay adapter and jettison the hard drive.

The other limitation is in power. The three other rigs here pack 450-watt or 500-watt PSUs, which is apparently enough, believe it or not, to run a GeForce GTX Titan card. When Alienware designed the X51, it moved from an inboard PSU used in most business small form factors to an external power brick. It’s a hefty brick and it puts out 330 watts. That’s not bad, but it’s not enough to run much more than the GeForce GTX 670 in the box. Now, let’s be fair to the GeForce GTX 670; it’s still a great card and, frankly, should play the vast majority of today’s and tomorrow’s games at 1080p resolution with a few knobs turned down a bit, but it’s getting to be a bit elderly.

In the processor department, the Alienware X51 packs a Has-well Intel Core i5-4430 quad-core part without Hyper-Threading. It’s got a 3GHz base clock with a Turbo Boost of 200MHz. As it’s not a K part, overclocking isn’t possible. Period. In performance, as you can imagine, the Alienware X51 R2 doesn’t take home any trophies. We’re not even sure it gets the consolation prize, a certificate created in Broderbund Print Shop 3.0 and spit out on a dot-matrix printer five minutes before the game was over. For example, the Falcon Northwest Tiki is damn near 100 percent faster than the Alienware X51 R2 in everything. And we mean everything. From gaming chores to CPU tasks, the Falcon laps the Alienware X51 R2 almost every single time. It’s not much better against the iBuypower Revolt or Digital Storm Bolt, either.

Before you start saying that it’s just our opinion, man, we’ll acknowledge that the Alienware X51 R2 sets the bar in pricing. The box as configured tips the credit card at $1,350, which makes it the most affordable micro-tower in this roundup. In real-world use, the Alienware X51 R2 will fill the needs of 75 percent of gamers, too. In fact, we took the Alienware X51 R2 to a small LAN party and for gaming at 1080p it performed admirably and got a lot of admiring looks, to boot.

But we have to say, at $1,350 you might think you’re getting a lot of value, until you eye the iBuypower Revolt. Sure, the Revolt is $1,999 but you’re getting a GeForce GTX Titan, an SSD, and a Core i7-4770K with liquid cooling and overclocking capability. If we had to pick a machine that gives you the most bang for the buck, we’d pass over the Alienware X51 R2 and go straight to the iBuypower Revolt, which really packs in the value.

To close this off, we have to again remind people that Alienware kicked off this wave of micro-towers, and we have no doubt there will be an X51 R3 in the future. We just really hope the R3 carries the ability to mount an SSD as well as a hard drive and the ability to run the top-end GPUs. It’s a worthy box, but it falls short against the competition.


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Wednesday, October 05, 2016 ×

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Alienware X51 R2 Review

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