The Alienware Alpha: a machine that runs Steam, but not a Steam Machine

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Source: Alienware

A long time ago (last January) at a CES far far away (Las Vegas), Alienware was one of thirteen companies to talk about their upcoming Steam Machines. Alienware expected to ship by the end of 2014 and later said it would be the least profitable system they'd ever sold.

Then Valve rained on everyone's parade by delaying the Steam Controller until 2015. With no controller there could be no Steam Machines.

The obvious response from Alienware would've been to delay their Steam Machine as well but instead they opted to rebrand the system to the Alienware Alpha, which would run Windows but with an Alienware-developed shell on top to make it controller friendly. Instead of the Steam Controller it would ship with a wireless Xbox controller. The target date was still the end of 2014.

Last week Alienware held an event in New York to show off the Alpha and response seems to have been somewhat mixed. Engadget called it "a weird gaming PC" while TheVerge is a bit more tactful but wonders "what kind of an audience the Alpha will find."

The problem (as I see it) is that the Alpha seems expensive for what you get when you compare it to an Xbox One or a Playstation 4, both of which sell for $400. The Alienware Alpha starts at $550 and that gets you an i3 system with a custom Nvidia graphics chip, 4 GB of RAM (and remember this is running Windows) and a 500 GB drive (you can pay more to upgrade the system). Alienware says the base model "should run virtually any game out there at least on medium graphics settings." A lot depends on how powerful the custom graphics chip is, I guess.

Then there is the Alpha UI that Alienware built and that only runs Steam. If you want to buy a PC game from Origin or Desura or straight from a developer you'll be back to connecting a mouse and keyboard and booting into Windows. Likewise it's not clear how you'd run Teamspeak or Rapt or GeForce Experience or any of a number of programs PC gamers tend to load while playing.

If you're interested in the Alpha I encourage you to click through and read both of the articles I've linked to (and to be clear, neither is a review...it's too early for that). I still can't help thinking that if you're already a PC gamer and just want to get your existing Steam games into the living room it would be cheaper to use a low-end laptop connected to the TV and use Steam's In-Home Streaming to put your high-end gaming PC to use remotely.

Of course you're still going to be faced with issues like gaming UIs designed to be used from 2 feet away becoming unreadable from 10 feet away, and swapping your perfectly usable wired headset for something wireless so you can stay connected from across the room. I have an Alienware X51 under my TV and honestly I rarely use it, preferring the hassle-free experience of flipping on the PS4 or Xbox One over trying to play Windows games on a TV. When I want to play a PC game I got an sit at my PC to do it. Simpler that way.

I'm looking forward to reading the full reviews of the Alienware Alpha around the time it ships in November.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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