January 19, 2012, 8:09 AM — Tuesday night (I'll admit to being a day late with this news; I've been trying to figure out a way to blame SOPA) Alienware sprang a new compact design on the PC gaming world: the Alienware X51. This new design is intended as a Home Theater PC. Sure you can use it at your desk but the intent is for you to shove your Xbox 360 to one side and replace it with an X51.
Alienware computers generally command a hefty price but the X51 starts at a reasonable $699. That'll get you an i3 processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 1 GB hard drive, and an Nvidia GeForce GT 545 graphics card with 1 GB of RAM. From there you can start scaling up until the top of the line model, at $1149, gives you an i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 1 GB hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 graphics card with a GB of RAM. $100 extra adds a Blu-ray player to any model. Alienware claims the top of the line option will play Battlefield 3 at 50 FPS at 1080P.
[ Free download: 6 things every IT person should know ]
The company also claims that the X51 is easily upgradable with standard PC parts, so you can swap in a faster CPU, bigger hard drive, more powerful video card or more RAM. That's a pretty surprising claim considering the case is a bit under 13" x 14" x 4". The standard configuration comes with a fairly anemic 240 watt power supply but you can bump that up to 330 watts. It's unclear if the X51 uses an 'off the shelf' power supply; if you want a cutting edge graphics card you're going to need more power, I suspect.
It's a nice looking machine and probably more spouse-friendly than a typical beige box would be. Add a wireless game controller and you're all set for the console experience, only with those much-improved PC graphics (assuming your preferred game supports a gamepad; more and more PC games do these days). Of course you could do the same with a wireless keyboard and mouse but that's not as couch-friendly a setup as a gamepad.
In addition to gaming, the X51 is an excellent way to deliver Hulu, Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix or any other PC-friendly streaming site, without the additional cost that some of these services charge for 'device support.' That new Logitech Cube might make a nice accessory to the X51.
I have to admit I was a bit tempted to pre-order the high end X51 (it would've shipped on the 24th); I enjoy PC gaming but miss the comfort of the couch; my laptop doesn't have the chops for today's AAA titles. But the power supply situation gave me pause, and I think I'll wait until I read some hands-on reviews before I seriously consider one.
Is the X51 the kind of device that tempts you?
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.