What will happen to the big push to bring PC gaming into the living room now that Valve's delayed the Steam Controller that's oh-so-crucial for the Steam Machine vision? That was the question on everyone's lips leading up to E3, and Alienware — whose Steam Machine has been called "a console that encapsulates the full potential of what a Steam Machine should be" by Valve boss Gabe Newell — answered the question by fully unveiling the $550 Alienware Alpha, a sleek-looking Steam Machine that will still launch in 2014 — but without SteamOS.
That's not to say the Alienware Alpha will launch without Steam, however. While the first-generation Alienware Alpha will ship with Windows 8.1 preinstalled, it'll also feature a customized, living room-ready "console mode" interface built to let you open Steam Big Picture, media, and other programs using a gamepad alone. Valve helped Alienware tweak the Alpha's Steam Big Picture installation to include graphical elements that tie into the console's glowing lights and overall design aesthetic, according to Alienware general manager Frank Azor.
"Steam Big Picture mode is a great solution already," says Azor. "It's been shipping for over a year, so it's a mature solution."
You can install any PC program on the Alpha, though third-party programs may require a mouse or keyboard to function properly, or even boot to the traditional Windows 8.1 interface if you'd prefer. When Valve does finally make SteamOS available, early buyers will be able to switch to that operating system without fear of voiding their warranty, though it won't be required.
Under the hood
Unlike some of the fire-breathing Steam Machines announced to date, the Alienware Alpha largely mimics traditional consoles, from its $550 price point to its small footprint to its bundled gamepad. The latter is an Xbox 360 controller in lieu of the delayed Steam Controller, though Azor says the Alpha also supports the PlayStation 3 controller, and others that Alienware's peripheral partners will announce in due time. Alienware's also considering releasing an Alpha variant that ships without a gamepad, to bring the console's cost down even more.
Here's what you'll find under the hood of the base $550 Alienware Alpha console:
- Intel Core i3 Haswell processor
- Custom Nvidia "Maxwell"-based GPU with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory
- 500GB SATA 3 HDD
- 4GB of 1600MHz memory
- Dual-band Wireless-AC 1x1 with Bluetooth 4.0
- HDMI-out, HDMI-in (with pass-through), Gigabit Ethernet, optical audio out, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports
That's pretty competitive for $550, especially considering the console's unique design and included gamepad. It's no wonder Azor recently said that this will be Alienware's least profitable computer ever. You'll also be able to configure the Alpha with options including Core i5 and i7 processors, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB or 2TB hard drives.
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