To its credit, Alienware's new x51 has introduced some real innovation to slim tower desktop design.
I was wary of the x51. Slapping an alien-themed case around a Core i-series motherboard doesn't really bring anything new to the table. This system does more than the slim towers we've seen from Acer, Lenovo, HP, Gateway, and others. Its competitors all have standard motherboard layouts, and because of their size, they require half-height, lower-power graphics cards. The x51 has a full-size card inside of it. In the case of our review unit, it has a respectable double-wide GeForce GTX 555.
Alienware X51 hands-on
That graphics card should give the x51 a demonstrable gaming edge over other slim towers. Yes, you can find small form factor PCs that take full-size cards. Shuttle will sell you its XPC R4 6100 G for the same $999 price as our unit. But it also has an older, slower GeForce 430 card, as well as a Core i3 CPU. Our x51 review unit came with a Core i5.
Alienware achieved its impressive graphics card feat by orienting the card parallel to the system's left side panel, and then bridging the gap between the card and the motherboard with a PCI-Express daughter card. Frequent upgraders may bristle at having to navigate a series of metal brackets to access all of the x51's internal components. I expect more people will appreciate Alienware's creativity.
We're currently putting the x51 through our performance tests. Barring any complications, look for the full review on Monday.