The Alienware X51 is a fantastic, compact gaming rig which I gushed about in my review. I also mentioned plans to upgrade it with a much-needed SSD. These plans have now come to fruition, and my X51 contains a 256GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD.
One would expect Samsung to produce a good quality solid-state disc, considering that they manufacture most of the components in many other SSD products. And one would be correct. Samsung’s big slice of the market have given them the technology and the opportunity to put together what is perhaps the first SATA SSD to contain parts manufactured entirely by one company. Indeed, Samsung have crafted the 840 Pro series entirely on their lonesome, and have paid great attention not only to the internals, but in creating a minimalist, compact and attractive shell for their product too.
The 840 Pro is just 7mm thin, and it’s notebook/ultrabook conscious design means it’s extremely well suited to filling the limited space available inside an Alienware X51. Just like other users who have chosen to squeeze an SSD into their X51, I opted to simply cram it between the Optical bay and side of the case. It fits perfectly, and if I were bothered to use a bit of double-sided tape or foam it would be extremely secure.
Getting the SSD into the X51 is a bit of a squeeze and requires an extremely specific splitter-cable. That’s where my friends at Startech come in handy, with the PYO1LP4SATA splitter. This intercepts a molex connector on the X51s mainboard and breaks out an extra SATA power supply for the SSD.
Data is somewhat easier, you simply need a regular SATA cable which will plug into the spare SATA connector located beneath the X51s optical drive caddy, which is easy enough to remove and replace.
Both the power and SATA connectors do need to awkwardly squeeze around the optical drive caddy, but the net result is that they hold the SSD itself securely in place ( I think it’s light enough for cables alone to hold it ) between the caddy and the side of the case.
Now. I chose the Samsung 840 Pro because of its thickness, it’s pedigree, and because I was fortunate enough to get a sample for review. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the Alienware X51 SATA port is only SATA-II. A pretty poor design choice considering the speed gains that SATA-III offers for SSDs. This is no big deal, given that the price between SATA-II and SATA-III drives isn’t huge. But it does mean that I wont get the most out of the Samsung 840 Pro until I upgrade the X51… assuming, or hoping, that the next model has SATA-III.
The interesting thing about SATA-II, though, is that it’s a fairly close match for USB3. Or, I suppose, it would be more correct to say the opposite. The Alienware X51 is adorned with a couple of USB3 ports which don’t tend to have a lot of purpose outside of external hard drives. If you’re nervous about opening up your X51, re-routing cables and plugging things in to get an SSD upgrade; you’ll be pleased to hear that you can get about 90%, if not more, of the performance you would with an internal SATA-II drive as you can by simply placing your SSD into a USB3 caddy.
I tested the Samsung 840 Pro in just such a caddy before I installed it internally. The results blew the HDD out of the water, but naturally aren’t a patch on proper SATA-III performance; which the X51 can’t attain anyway!
Using CrystalDiskMark on the Alienware X51s internal, 1TB HDD yielded sequential read/write performance of 151.4MB/s and 149.0MB/s respectively. The Samsung 840 Pro on USB3 blew this away with 247.3MB/s and 212.9MB/s. That’s not half bad for a totally non-intrusive upgrade.
The relative gains from installing the SSD internally are slight, with SATA-II read speed hitting 275.6MB/s and write hitting 257.3MB/s. These speeds don’t translate exactly into relative real-world performance, but the gist of things is that on either USB3 or SATA-II you’re going to get some noticeable gains in loading speeds in any game you decide to install on the SSD.
Sequential Performance ( 1px = 1MB/s )
On SATA-III the Sequential Performance should hit about 530MB/s read and 512MB/s write.
512k Performance ( 1px = 1MB/s )
On SATA-III the 512k Performance should hit about 486MB/s read and 498MB/s write.
4k Performance ( 4px = 1MB/s )
On SATA-II the 4K Performance should hit about 33MB/s read and 76MB/s write.
With Steam Mover I migrated a handful of my most played games onto the 840 Pro, which I had installed internally, and installed a few more using the traditional method ( you can pick which hard drive to install a game to when first downloading from Steam )
Some of the most beneficial gains were seen in titles like Planetside 2, which is notorious for short time-to-death and will see you hitting loading-screen after loading screen. The additional benefit here is that you’re never really waiting for anyone else after a load; you can get straight back into action. Arguably an SSD is essential for making you a more efficient and less frustrated soldier.
Games like Natural Selection 2 also benefit from snappier loading times, but these were far less relevant. Often you will have a considerable wait for a match to start, as commanders step up and other players load into the game. An SSD, in this instance, simply affords you more time to skulk around the map admiring the scenery. With no SSD you could spend this time grabbing another snack or a cup of coffee.
Single-player games are naturally much less irritating. For anyone who has suffered through Skyrim on an Xbox 360, even installed on the hard-drive, experiencing the near-instant loading of a house interior would bring a tear to the eye. The 840 Pro delivers this even on a lowly SATA-II bus.
I opted to install the Samsung 840 Pro in addition to the internal HDD and made a very conscious and very important choice not to boot from it. The Alienware X51 boots and runs snappily enough as it is; there’s absolutely no need to wear out the SSD with operating-system drudgery. Not booting from the SSD also makes the USB3 method possible, and even gives you the opportunity to later add more than one SSD to your system via USB3. With both power and data easily coming through the one USB cable, it’s a surprisingly tidy upgrade. Duct tape or double-sided tape it to the side of your X51. I dare you.
In short, you need an SSD upgrade for your Alienware X51. And as I’ve tested the 840 Pro and successfully fit it into the tight confines of the X51s case, I couldn’t recommend it more. Don’t shy away from the SATA-III, even if the X51 doesn’t support it. You can re-use it in a new system later. Remember that, if you use it sensibly, the only writes you’re going to be doing are from installing games, so the SSD will not wear our quite so fast and should stay in pretty tip-top shape for later builds.
What’s pretty clear, however, is that the Alienware X51 should have a SATA-III port. Speeds would almost double across the board, and one can only assume that game loading speeds would follow suit- assuming they are not bottle-necked by anything else.