Review: Alienware X51 R3 (And Windows 10 Pro)

Last week I received, via FedEX, a brand new Alienware X51 R3 gaming PC.

Specifications are as follows.

  • 16GB (2x8GB) 2133MHz DDR4 Non-ECC
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 745 (4 GB)
  • 256GB M.2 SSD + 2TB 7,200RPM
  • Windows 10 Pro (64bit)
  • Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6700 Processor (8MB Cache, up to 4.0GHz with Turbo Boost Technology)

The total cost was just a little over $1,400.

First off, it came in nearly frustration free packaging which was very nice. The Alienware X51 R3 is a mid-size tower with an external power supply. It has some fancy lights on the case which can be programmed to do different things and different colors if you like. The logo, an alien head, is on the front of the case and the eyes glow as part of the case lighting schemes.

Something I learned the other day while researching the company, is that in 1996 when Alienware was formed, the founders were greatly influenced by the hit TV show the X-Files. That was the inspiration behind their company name and logo. Then in 2006, Dell kind of bought them out, but left them to their own work and providing them the use of, and access to, the power and resources of Dell.

I wanted to get a look inside the case to see how the 256 GB SSD was in there and if there was a way for me to swap it out with a third-party SSD down the road if I wanted. However, the case is put together so well, I haven’t figured out how to open it yet! :oops:

It has plenty of USB ports, including some 3.0 and some 3.1, as well as a couple of 2.0 ports too. It has a special port to connect an external graphics amplifier that Alienware sells if I ever want to really go crazy with GPU’s. It even has wireless ac built in which is nice since I just had to get a new wifi router a month ago and bought the latest Apple Time Capsule with wireless ac, though, I have it connected via Ethernet instead.

Setting up Windows 10 Pro 64-bit was a breeze, as I expected from my experience using the Insider Preview from Autumn of 2014 until the public release this past Summer. Surprisingly, Alienware/Dell did not pre-load any bloatware onto it like you find on a typical store-bought PC. I guess maybe since it is a premium brand they spare the customer the trouble. It did come with some proprietary Dell and Alienware software, but its only diagnostic and performance software.

I decided to try out, for the first time, the native Mail app on Windows and it automatically configured my .mac account and got me going in a few seconds – after I entered the app-specific password I had to generate at appleid.apple.com due to the 2FA I have enabled. The Mail app also can do multiple accounts, so I have the .mac, my never used Outlook.com account, and my own sandboxgeneral.com account as well. I installed Office 2013 and use Outlook for my work email account.

I’m still not keen on using a Microsoft web browser, even though the new one is totally new, I’m a big Firefox guy and that was the very first app I installed on it.

I installed Malwarebytes Anti-Virus on it and its running just fine. Also put Acronis backup software on there as well, and its taking me some time to figure it out, though there isn’t much to it. It’s run several backups according to the schedule I set, but it hasn’t run in a few days now and I can’t figure out why. At first it would only run when I manually started it, despite being set to run automatically. I’m not sure if the Windows UAC is messing with it or not. I took the external HDD I was using Carbon Copy Cloner on with the MacBook Pro and converted it to Acronis for Windows. The MacBook Pro still uses the Time Capsule as well – it was doing both.

Cortana, Microsoft’s personal desktop assistant, is pretty neat. I hooked up my Blue Yeti microphone and configured Cortana rather quickly.

Setting it up was a breeze and it recognizes my speech quite easily and, so far, has gotten everything right that I’ve asked of it. I haven’t yet read the help or tips file for Cortana to see everything it can do, and have just said “Hey Cortana open ….” and it does it. I’ve asked, as a test, who Dorian Yates was and it opened a search page and got me the information I was looking for. So far, it’s opened every program I’ve asked it for, and not just Microsoft apps either.

I can ask it what is on my calendar and what coming next and it shows me whats there – and it’s grabbing the info from my iCloud account on top of that.

Today, after work, I was quite tired and wanted a nap. I have a couch in my home office near the computer and was going to lay down on that. I woke up the computer, asked Cortana to open Spotify, then I selected a lovely jazz playlist that Spotify maintains and began it playing. Then, without knowing if Cortana could do this, I asked it to set an alarm for 45 minutes, just like I do with Siri, and it did and set it up for me. I laid down and took a nap with some smooth jazz playing. After 45 minutes, not only did the alarm sound (it was a pleasant sound), it actually paused the music on Spotify while the alarm sounded. When I got up to the computer, there was an alarm notification in the corner which let me dismiss the alarm or set it to snooze for 10 minutes or more.

I’m impressed with its ability to recognize and interact with third-party apps on request. Oh, and I don’t have to shout at Cortana for it to hear or understand me either. At times, I have to shout, a little, at Siri for it to ‘wake up’ and respond. That, though, might be because its on a mobile device and not ‘always on’ in a sense due to being on a battery and/or having a very tiny microphone, especially compared to the large Blue Yeti I have on the desk.

I don’t understand why Apple still hasn’t brought Siri to OS X. They’re, or really, we, as customers, are missing out on some really helpful features on the Mac.

The power of the Alienware configuration I have is very nice. The machine is super fast as I expected it to be and very smooth. So far, the games I’ve installed and played on it, albeit briefly, have gone off without a hitch. Including the newly released Star Wars: Battlefront and Battlefield 4 too.

I also bought a gaming keyboard and mouse from ROCCAT, which is what was offered as options from Dell at the time of the order. There was some kind of problem with the keyboard order and it was going to take too long to receive, so I canceled it and ordered the identical one from Amazon earlier this week, at a savings too. It actually arrived in the US Mail on a Sunday!

However, there seems to be some issues with these ROCCAT products, because despite installing the latest firmware and software from the company, all I get is basic Windows functionality. I can’t configure any buttons, macros, and I can’t get the illuminated keyboard to stop fading in and out of brightness. Plus the Tyon mouse just cycles through its colors and I can’t program the buttons on it either. When I try to update anything in the software, it freezes up briefly, then returns to normal and nothing changes. I’ve sent in a support request email to the company, so hopefully, they’ll be of some help.

One other thing that Microsoft needs to get a handle on is the disparity between the classic Control Panel and the new PC Settings area. They need to be consolidated into one or the other. Too many things that used to be altogether are now mix-matched and difficult to find. I knew it was like this from using Windows 10 in VMware, but not like I’m experiencing now that I have an actual Windows PC.

But, this new PC will give me a great opportunity to really delve into Windows 10 now. Before, in VmWare, I only used the basic stuff, like Outlook, Word, Excel and not much else.

Since this Alienware X51 R3 is now in the primary computer position in my home, there are a few things I already miss about OS X. iMessages on the desktop, and Tweetbot on the Mac. Twitter apps for Windows kind of stinks.

All in all, the Alienware X51 R3 is a fantastic machine. It’s well built, beautiful looking, relatively quiet and very stable. I highly recommend this machine for anyone who is looking for a great quality gaming rig. If you’re a hardcore gamer, you can customize the Alienware X51 R3 with even better graphics cards and even upgrade to the liquid cooled version.

If you get an Alienware rig, you won’t be disappointed!