E3 2014: Alienware's Dipping It's Toes Into The Console Space With The Alienware Alpha Steam Machine

Yet another hardware manufacturer has jumped on the Steam Machine bus. This time, though, they've a rather mighty pedigree behind them as gaming's concerned. Alienware announced today at the Electronic Entertainment Expo's pre-show - for those of you who don't know, E3 is the biggest trade show in video games - that it's going to be releasing a Steam Machine. The Alienware Alpha will start at $549, and should hit the market sometime before the 2014 holiday season.

Now, for a time, the Alpha's going to be a Steam Machine in name only. The Steam OS still isn't quite ready for prime-time, meaning that at launch the Alpha's going to be shipping instead with a special, custom-tooled version of Windows 8.1, equipped with a GUI developed specifically by Dell. This interface will allow players to skip through Windows view and dive straight into Steam's Big Picture mode. 

Of course, the machine's also ready to install the Steam OS at the drop of a hat. Even though it ships with Windows, users can choose to install the Steam OS Beta; once the full operating system officially rolls out, Alienware will release instructions to its users on how to go through the update process - which it claims isn't particularly complicated, and shouldn't offer its users much difficulty. Of course, that isn't to say anyone's obligated to update at all.

"We don't want to force people [to update]," explained Alienware's Frank Azor, continuing to explain that "the fact that it's based on Windows naturally means it ends up more expensive. When we release SteamOS, the price point will go down."

The Alpha - which is roughly the size of a Wii U  (not very big, in other words) - will include a controller port for the Steam Controller, though it will at launch ship with an Xbox 360 controller. According to Azor, Dell did consider designing a gamepad themselves, but ultimately opted to go with Valve's instead, adding that Dell wanted to leverage game-pads that were already on the market so they didn't have to force their users to reinvest. 

Enough babbling. You want to know how this thing looks under the hood, right?  The specs of the Alienware Alpha are as follows:

  • 2 USB 3.0 Ports and 2 USB 2.0 Ports
  • Optical Audio Out
  •  An Intel Core i5 or i7 "Haswell" based processor.
  • Either 4 GB DDR3 dual-channel memory of 8 GB DDR3 dual-channel memory. 
  • A custom-made Nvidia "Maxwell" GPU, with 2 GB of dedicated GDD5 high-speed video memory.
  • A 500GB, 1 TB, or 2 TB SATA 3 HDD.
  • Dual-band Wireless-AC 2x2 with Bluetooth 4.0
  • DMI Out with support for 4K Content.
  • HDMI In: Direct HDMI Passthrough and Gigabit Ethernet.

The Alienware Alpha will initially retail at a starting price of $549 (though as I've already said, that price will drop when Steam OS releases). According to the company, it intends to price the Alpha "competitively" with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The goal with the Alpha was to create a machine small enough to disappear in the living room without sacrificing any performance. 

"We are definitely getting into the console business," explained Azor to Polygon. "We are bringing you a different type of game - we are not trying to build another box to play Call of Duty or Battlefield; there are great solutions out there to play those games already. We're aiming for something different." 

As to what they're aiming for, well...we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?