The Steam Machine delay into 2015 imposed a set-back for hardware manufacturers hoping to license Valve's official branding and software, but hasn't stopped the release of systems under new names. With to-be Steam Machines like Gigabyte's Brix, Alienware's now-renamed Alpha, and Zotac's now-renamed mini-PC, hardware vendors have already invested resources heavily into HTPC platforms for gaming. The companies were originally expecting a holiday 2014 release, but recent delays by Valve pushed that into 2015; with resources tied-up in platform development, a few of these vendors have decided to release ahead of time with new names and Windows.
Alienware, a subsidiary of Dell, announced the "Alpha Console" at $550 starting, with various configuration and upgrade options for purchasers.
Alienware Alpha Console Specs
|Stock AW Alpha
|Unspecified Intel Gen4 i3
|Unspecified Maxwell 2GB
|500GB HDD, no RPM spec
The stock $550 unit ships with an Xbox 360 controller -- a bit of a slap to Valve's face for the Steam controller delay -- and Windows 8.1 64-bit pre-installed. The model hosts an unnamed Intel Gen4 i3 CPU (Haswell), an unnamed Maxwell-based GPU (likely mobile 860) with 2GB VRAM, 4GB RAM at 1600MHz, and a 500GB unspecified hard drive.
An i3 is fairly weak for some games that are more core-hungry, though depending on which i3 it is, the CPU should be enough for most living room gaming endeavors. Without being told specifically which GPU the unit will house, it's impossible to determine whether this system will be any good for the price.
I'd wager that the 500GB HDD is likely 5400RPM, though we haven't been told about that yet either.
4GB of RAM might be enough for most games right now (aside from Watch Dogs, which has memory leaks), but it really doesn't allow much breathing room for running background applications or venturing into professional applications. 1600MHz is a reasonable speed given the discrete GPU.
As always with Alienware, the company is offering options to upgrade hardware for added cost. Unspecified i5 and i7 CPUs are on the table for upgrades, as is a 4GB boost to RAM (8GB total) and HDD upgrade to 1TB or 2TB.
Networking includes wireless AC, Bluetooth 4.0, and gigabit ethernet. I/O includes 2xUSB3.0 and 2xUSB2.0; we do not believe an optical drive will be present natively, given the enclosure's lack of an ODD bay. Direct HDMI pass-through and uncompressed HDMI output are both available for video.
Alienware notes that it has built a custom UI atop Windows 8 for easier living room / TV usage. Given Dell's shift to software over the last few years, this isn't entirely surprising.
Dell and Alienware have announced that the unit should be shipping in 4Q14, just in time for the holidays.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.