Altec Lansing's entry in this review might look a little out of place compared to the other 5.1 systems. On paper, it's notably less powerful than the other systems, and it doesn't have any wireless capability. The Altec Lansing FX5051 differentiates itself with one important feature, however: it has a built in 5.1 sound card with USB connectivity.
This feature might seem a little strange at first. I mean, with most new motherboards equipped with on-board 5.1 capabilities from the factory, who needs a 5.1 USB soundcard? Well, there are three notable categories of people who might find this combination really useful: first, those with older systems; second, people who aren't comfortable fiddling with the cables required for connecting a surround sound audio card to the speaker system; and finally, laptop users.
Out of the three, I find the laptop angle the most interesting. For a user with no desktop PC and a laptop that is often mobile, the FX5051 is a godsend. Think about it... most modern laptops don't have 5.1 sound capability built in, and if you want to add that capability you're probably looking at a USB soundcard anyway. So why not skip the middleman and get the Altec Lansing soundcard / 5.1 surround system combo? Take your laptop to work, come home, plug a single USB cable in and you have an instant 5.1 sound system. I think that application is very slick.
The Altec Lansing's speakers are wired traditionally, and if that's not a problem for your room the system will work just fine. This traditional method might actually work better in some rooms than the Logitech 5450s or Creative 550s, in that no AC power is needed at the rear of the room to drive the wireless receivers or speakers.
In fact, the Altec Lansing FX5051s were the easiest system to set up for testing purposes. Unlike the other systems, the FX5051's speaker wires are permanently attached to the satellites, and plug into the subwoofer with color-coded RCA style jacks. While this doesn't allow the option of easily replacing the speaker wires with a heavier gauge, it does make everything much simpler and tidier.