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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  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Also any notebook sporting a GTX570M will be faster, so the price on this better be low.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Serious limitation with parts though, it is hard to know how many upgrade cycles that would work. It seems very appliance-like to me.
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Mini ITX is a commodity standard. New mobos shouldn't be an issue. 9"/150W covers mid level PCIe GFX cards so upgrades there shouldn't be a problem either.
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    It would need to be a nerfed 6870/50 with a custom (shorter PCB) to fit the size/power limits. Power wise the standard 6850 appears to be the limit (might be able to beat it and get a 6870 with binning/undervolting); but you'd still need the shorter custom PCB. I suspect the size/power constraints were behind Alienware going with nerfed 550/560 designs since even a stock 550 would draw too much power.

    While this is a nice step up from previous SFF systems with 2 slot half height cards (and AFAIK the decent options in this space never making it to OEMs), the power supply limit is biting more than I thought it would. I wonder if a mobile CPU to free an extra 50W for the GPU would've been a better move.
  • IanCutress - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    $699 in the US, £699 here, for the i3-2120, 4GB DDR3-1333 and 545. Got to love import+Tax. :(
  • overzealot - Sunday, January 22, 2012 - link

    $1300 in Australia... just as bad here.
  • CZroe - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The real question is: When the next generation is able to get performance equivalent to the current high-end under 150 watts, will we have upgrade options?

    Alienware M11x r3 owner/user here.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Yeah, you'll be able to upgrade. It uses a standard PCI Express x16 slot and mount.
  • Wolfpup - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    ...there's no way I'd buy this over a normal tower. I mean HP's normal desktop can be configured much higher end than this.

    Still, if for some reason I had to have a small system like this, this is obviously way better than any other alternative I've ever seen, since it's actually user accessible AND powerful enough to play games.
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I've been half seriously interested in something like this for a while; although irrationality of other family members is the primary driving factor.

    The only time I feel the lack of a gaming laptop is during extended holiday visits to my parents. Despite almost never using it (everyone has a laptop) my dad keeps half seriously talking about replacing the ancient desktop+15" crt they have with a new PC + widescreen LCD. There's not enough room on the desk to do that without an SFF system; and doin the smart thing and throwing out 12 year old chipboard furniture because it's decrepit and an obsolete form factor is apparently unthinkable. Covering the price gap between a system like this and an IGP based box is much less than a laptop I'd only need a few times a year.

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