Alienware X51 R3 Upgrades

07 September 2019

Back in 2015 I purchased an Alienware X51 R3 gaming computer. It is a small form factor desktop PC. At the time I bought it, I ordered it with almost the highest spec's Dell offered for it.

When I bought this computer I was winding down as a gamer and became an occasional and casual gamer at best. So I wasn't looking to be a top-tier competitive gamer at all. Because of that I was content to get this computer with the specs that it had and not go for something much better.

The computer served me well over all these years for the little bit of gaming that I would do on it. It went through a lot of changes too, from Windows 7, to being an early beta user of Windows 10 for a good year before it was publicly released to running various distro's of Linux up until recently.

Of all the computers I've owned personally or worked with professionally in my life, this is the one computer I've never physically opened to look at or do anything with. I'm not really sure why I never peeked inside of this machine before, but I finally did about a month ago.

For as small as it is and for never opening it up, even to clean dust out of it, it was remarkably clean. So clean in fact that it looked new still except for a very small amount of dust on the fan blades which is normal.

Now that I've shifted back to building my own PC's again after using Apple computers for a long time where I couldn't do much of anything to them, I decided to upgrade the X51 R3.

Being that it is a small form factor it limits what can be done with it, primarily with the GPU. When I first opened the machine and saw the NVIDIA GTX 745 I was kind of shocked that it was so tiny. The machine also has an integrated Intel GPU which is typically the cheapest way to get a display and not really meant for gaming. So this GTX 745 surprised me at how cheap it looked. I assumed it would be a little bit beefier than it was, but not like the full sized GPU's in serious gaming rigs. I was wrong. It's tiny.

I looked around on the Internet for a while to see what others had done with the machine and what components it can handle. One thing I found that no one was able to change was the power supply unit unless they ended up with the 280 watt PSU. Dell designed this machine and motherboard to handle no more than the 330 watt PSU they sell, and which I have. But 330 watts seems like it will handle what I planned to with it.

I did a couple of things that I didn't see anyone else doing, or at least that they mentioned, and that was disconnecting the CD/DVD-ROM unit and removing the 2 TB HDD. To me, the CD/DVD-ROM drive was wonky and slow. Sometimes it wouldn't work well or wouldn't work at all with some discs or tasks I gave it. I ended up using an external, full-sized and powered ROM drive instead that always works well when I need it. After I opened the machine for the first time I disconnected the ROM drive altogether and left it in place. I figure that it was useless anyway and there was no reason to leave it connected and drawing power from the system. Granted it probably didn't draw much power, especially when not in active use, but it was some power nonetheless. Plus, I didn't want to listen to it power up when I'd turn on or wake the PC.

The other thing I did was remove the 2 TB HDD. Again, it was another component that was drawing power from the system, and no doubt much more than the ROM drive. The HDD worked fine and never had any problems, but I never really used it much over the years. So I figured I'd remove it too and free up some power and remove a source of heat from the small case.

Now for the upgrades. Here is what changed. (Links are Amazon affiliate links)

By upgrading the Intel CPU from the 6700 to the 6700K the performance gains are about 15% with the additional 600 MHz in base clock speed.

CPU Benchmark Comparison

The EVGA NVIDIA 1060, 6 GB Mini is much larger in size than the original GTX 745 and when the benchmarks are compared it provides about a 553% performance increase! That's huge.

GPU Benchmark Comparison

I hadn't intended on replacing the 256 GB NVMe at first. That lasted until I re-installed Windows 10 and upgraded it to the latest release version, 1903, and installed Steam with a few games. I noticed the drive was already 60% full with just that little bit of stuff on it.

Windows is bloat. I use Arch, btw.

That's why I ordered the 1 TB NVMe SSD to replace it. The OEM SSD is a Samsung PM951. With the newer WD Black SSD, I gain a lot more storage space and an effective speed increase of 122% over the OEM SSD.

SSD Benchmark Comparison

Overall, these upgrades have been well worth the price and effort put into them. There were remarkable performance increases with these 3 upgrades. I've played a few games already and have noticed a major difference in quality, responsiveness and overall play-ability.

I mentioned in another post recently about how I don't chase benchmark numbers. I don't. I only looked at these benchmarks for this project to gauge whether the money I'd spend on the upgrades would be worthwhile or not. In the end, they were worth it given the dramatic gains they provided.

When researching these upgrades I read comments from some people who were worried about or made claims about too much heat being generated or not enough power from the PSU to support these components. Specifically, the Intel 6700K CPU and the NVIDIA 1060 GPU. Granted, these components do consume more power and produce more heat, but so far my experience has been a good one. I've had no throttling issues and no overheating issues either. The 330 watt PSU is providing enough power to keep everything running well. I did a bit of mental math when looking at these upgrades and determined that the wattage increases they would need ended up still within the limits of the 330 watt PSU I have.

The only thing I haven't touched yet is the OEM 16 GB of RAM. I haven't decided if I want or need to upgrade that, or if the board will support a higher amount. If I go down that path, I'll update this post.

If you have one of these older Alienware machines and want to breath some new life and better performance into it, you most certainly can.

Download the pdf version with pictures here.