The Alienware X51 "mini HD gaming computer" has a unique selling point: it's currently the only small form factor (SFF) PC that can condense all the graphical grunt of a mid-to-high-end rig into a sleek, unobtrusive shell, a look that should be instantly recognisable to fans of Sony and Microsoft's flagship hardware. As a hassle-free entry point to the world of PC gaming, the X51 also has some considerable benefits owing to its streamlined, modular design, but as an overall package, is this all really enough to warrant the asking price?
Depending on which of the four base builds you choose, and whether you'd be tempted to add a Blu-ray drive into the equation, the price point is pencilled in at between 649 and 989. A glance at both ends of the spectrum shows specifications that seems quite reasonable for pre-built PCs of this nature, where a high premium is in place for sparing buyers the hassle of sourcing these parts and building it all themselves. The budget-conscious option is fitted with an Intel Core i3 (3.3GHz) processor, 4GB DDR3 RAM and an NVIDIA GT545, while the top-end model we received for review boasts an Intel Core i7 (3.4GHz) coupled with 8GB DDR3 RAM and a GTX555.
Regardless of which build you go for, you also get a slot-loading DVD-RW drive, an integrated 802.11n WiFi chipset, and a 1TB Seagate HDD running at 7200rpm. Actually, it's a little surprising to find there's no option to buy the X51 with a faster drives, or even an SSD alternative, but fortunately this is all entirely customisable once the unit's in your hands. However, you are limited by the form factor - the preferred setup of an SSD OS drive with a mechanical HDD for storage can't be accommodated.

External Build Quality and Design

There's more to the value proposition of the X51 than its raw specifications though. Common to all builds is the same extra-terrestrial themed Alienware exterior, featuring a glossy front-centre panel, two curved matte side panels, and inward angled vents on top and bottom that keep the unit nicely stabilised while in a vertical position. For those looking to place it horizontally beneath their HDTVs, there are four very faint elevated points on the left side of the X51, allowing a passage of airflow to run underneath while placed flat on a surface.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the X51 can be turned on with its iconic Alienware badge at the front, but this is purely a decorative point - the actual power button is a silver-toned plastic strip that runs around its topmost corner when placed vertically. Accident prone users may prefer recessed buttons for these sensitive commands as opposed to this protruding kind, but, thankfully, the button takes a firm press to sink all the way down and register, and remains alight while the machine is active. Meanwhile, the iconic alien-head badge near the bottom can be spun much like the PS3's logo prior to the slim redesign, which allows it to match either of the machine's orientations.