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Hands on: Dell’s Alienware X51 PC

Pint-sized PC looks ideally suited to gaming in the living room

Update: read our full Dell Alienware X51 review review now.

High-end hardware specialist Alienware showed off its latest high-end PC last night, and we were on hand to get a closer look at what eager gamers can expect when it goes on sale.

Designed to take the place of a games console underneath your living room TV, the X51 is barely any bigger than an Xbox 360 or PS3. Alienware’s trademark Grey logo glows menacingly when the system powers up, as do the angular side panels – these are sure to stand out in a darkened room, but you have the option to disable them from within Windows.

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Alienware X51 1

A slot-loading optical drive, two USB ports and two 3.5mm audio jacks are all you get on the front of the case, with the majority of the connectivity at the back. Four USB ports, two faster USB3 ports, an HDMI video output, digital composite and optical outputs and six analogue audio jacks are much more comprehensive than the average games console, and that doesn’t even count the graphics card inputs.

Despite the small chassis, Alienware has managed to squeeze a full PC inside, that can be upgraded by customers without too much difficulty. There’s room for a dual-slot graphics card, so there’s no shortage of gaming potential. It’s also one of the first desktop PCs to use Nvidia’s Optimus graphics switching technology, so connecting a display to the motherboard’s HDMI port will still let you use the dedicated graphics card to its full potential.

Alienware X51 2

Powered by your choice of Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors, up to 12GB of RAM and an Nvidia GTX 555 graphics card, as well as the option to upgrade the integrated DVD re-writer to a Blu-ray drive, the X51 should have no trouble playing modern games. We saw several games, including Super Street Fighter IV and a demo version of Mass Effect 3 running on the X51 at the event, and at 720p both games looked incredibly smooth. It’s unlikely to break any performance records without an SSD or top-end graphics card on board, but most games should be playable at high settings.

Based on what we’ve seen, the X51 could be the ideal PC for anyone that doesn’t have the room for a regular desktop. It’s user-upgradable, although the external power supply may struggle with more powerful graphics cards, and it shouldn’t cost a fortune – Alienware has yet to reveal official UK pricing but a spokesman we talked to yesterday said the top-end Core i7 model should cost around £1,000.

Whether it will convert console gamers remains to be seen, but for now the X51 looks to have lots of potential. We’ll have a full review a little closer to the machine’s release, where we’ll see if it can convince home theater PC owners to make the switch.

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