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Hands-on with Alienware's water-cooled, Skylake-packing X51 microtower

Gordon Mah Ung | Aug. 28, 2015
Alienware is back with an updated version of its microtower that kicked off the revolution.

Alienware is largely credited for kicking off the micro-tower revolution three years ago with the original X51. 

The concept was simple: Take the typical business small-form-factor box, pull the PSU out of it and make enough room—just enough room—to shove an off-the-shelf graphics card inside. The result was a truly compact tower system that could sit on a desk or next to a television, yet still play games with reasonable performance.

The X51 was a success. Soon, most other PC makers were copying Alienware's micro-tower concept—and surpassing it in capability and performance, too.

Well, Alienware is back with its third-generation model, putting more pep into the X51’s stride. The most obvious update to the R3 version is Intel’s 6th-gen Core i7-6700K Skylake chip inside. That’s tied with DDR4 support, and this particular box I touched has 16GB of it.

Alienware also took the opportunity to address the cooling of the Skylake chip. While not horribly loud, the X51’s CPU was noticeable under heavy loads with its air cooler. On the R3, Alienware taps Sankyo Denkin for a nifty little liquid cooler. It’s incredibly tiny and doesn’t take up much more room than a stock heat sink and should help dampen the acoustics.

Liquid cooling also means Alienware is going to ship the X51 from the factory with an overclock option in the 4.4GHz range. Not bad. Alienware officials did say that overclock won’t be on all cores. But then, they never promised you a liquid nitrogen-cooled rose garden either.

dsc01604 Peep this tiny little liquid cooler. That’s a radiator, blower and water block in a teeny, tiny package. Dare we say “cute?” Credit: Gordon Mah Ung

Space has always been a premium in the X51, and Alienware is still shackled by capabilities of its chassis design. For example, the first-gen X51 could run a 3.5-inch hard drive or SSD, but not both simultaneously. The second-gen kinda sorta addressed that with a combo adapter that took a 2.5-inch laptop hard drive and a 2.5-inch SSD. The problem with that approach is the limitation of the laptop hard drives in capacity.

With the third gen, Alienware again kinda, sorta fixes the situation by putting in a full-size 3.5-inch hard drive and moving the SSD to an M.2 in a nearby slot. This seems like the best of both worlds, but the SSD in my hands-on unit was Samsung’s PM851. I initially thought it was Samsung’s SM951, a true PCIe-based M.2 drive capable of 2GB/s reads and 1.5GB/s writes, but it’s actually a standard SATA M.2 drive that’s really no faster than a SATA SSD.

 

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