Unveiled at E3 2014, the Alienware Alpha has the potential to be a lot of things. It could be the first really successful living room gaming PC. It could also become the only Nvidia-powered device in your living room. And it has the potential to be a great Steam Machine – just not yet.
Steampunk. Alienware wants to make a living room PC that runs SteamOS, but it seems Valve’s release timeline simply doesn’t match up with the PC maker’s. So when the Alienware Alpha launches this holiday, it will come with Windows 8.1 installed instead.
Then, when Valve gets its act together and actually releases SteamOS, Alienware will provide users with a “very simple, very easy upgrade path,” the company’s Technical Marketing Specialist Jonathan Troller told Digital Trends at E3. And those with the know-how will even be able to dual-boot, if they so desire.
“We are going to really push Steam OS,” Troller said. “We have a lot of faith in them. We’re completely behind Valve. We love the idea, we were all for it, and we agree with them: if it’s not 100-percent ready, then hold onto it and make sure.”
In the meantime Alienware won’t just slap Windows 8.1 on the Alpha instead and call it a day. Users will be able to boot the machine in desktop mode, yes, but the company has also created a custom overlay that can be navigated using a controller, just like SteamOS. And from day one you’ll be able to launch directly into Steam’s Big Picture mode, making it a sort of jury-rigged Steam Machine right at the get-go.
Two hands. Speaking of controllers, the Alienware Alpha will ship with one – a wireless Xbox 360 controller with a USB dongle. It can also use any controller that Windows has drivers for, including PlayStation 4ell and Xbox One pads. The Alpha will come with many of those drivers pre-installed, Troller said.
The Alpha base model will ship with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB of storage, and a custom Nvidia GPU built especially for Alienware. The chip is based on Nvidia’s Maxwell architecture and has 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 VRAM; it was designed to mesh well with the Alpha’s form and specs.
This configuration will launch at $549. There will be higher tiers, but Alienware hasn’t announced pricing for them yet. Even the base level should be able to output most anything at 1080p and 60 frames per second, Troller told us. “I’ve personally played that config, and yeah, actually it plays really, really well,” he said. “And a lot of that has to do with that custom Nvidia chip. It’s pretty nice, actually. It doesn’t get too hot, doesn’t even get too loud.”
Besides that on-board Nvidia chip, the Alpha is fully upgradeable. “You can change the CPU, you can change the memory and the hard drives. It’s actually very easy to do,” Troller said. “I have torn them apart many times.”
Match made in heaven. At Alienware’s E3 booth the company demoed the Alpha living room PC running Arrowhead Game Studios’ new Gauntlet reboot. It doesn’t look like the most taxing game, so it’s not exactly surprising, but it certainly ran well. And more importantly it helped demonstrate the Alpha’s ability to support multiplayer using multiple controllers and controller types, plus mouse-and-keyboard, simultaneously.
Troller said Alienware’s relationship with Nvidia has been “very symbiotic,” not least of which because the chip maker has been seeking inroads to the living room since Microsoft and Sony both put AMD graphics in their newest consoles.
“They were very excited to get a computer in the living room, and they really, really wanted to push this,” Troller said. “And since we have such a great relationship with them, we became the logical choice to take that vision, that SteamOS vision which is now this, and make this living room experience using their product.”
It’s impossible to know without a whole bunch of testing, but it sounds like the Alienware Alpha will be able to match the Xbox One and PS4 in power, even at its base launch configuration. It may well be that the only remaining variable is whether PC gamers actually want to migrate to their couches.