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Alienware's Alpha Gaming Console: What is it?

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 14 comments

Everybody wants a piece of the living room pie.

The Alienware division of Dell has announced its new Alpha console in time for E3. The Alienware Alpha is a new gaming console built for home entertainment, with the ability to play PC titles.

The console will pack an Intel Core i3 processor based on the Haswell platform, along with 4 GB of memory and a custom Nvidia GPU based on the Maxwell micro-architecture. The Maxwell choice is probably quite simple: While power consumption itself might not be all that relevant, the lower heat output from a more efficient chip certainly does matter, especially in a small form factor case where cooling capacity is limited. Built into the system is also a 500 GB hard drive, onto which users will find Windows 8.1 installed with an Alienware overlay focused on the gaming experience. Going along with the gaming experience, the console ships with a wireless Xbox 360 controller.

If you have a bit more dough, and want slightly higher specifications, doing so will certainly be possible. The Alienware Alpha can also be configured with up to Intel Core i7 processors along with 8 GB of DDR3 memory and up to 2 TB hard drives. 

Rear I/O connectivity is dealt with by a single HDMI output, a single HDMI input for a pass-through signal, Gigabit Ethernet (probably Intel-NIC driven), dual USB 3.0, dual USB 2.0, and TOSLINK optical audio out.

Enough with raw specifications though, let's line the Alienware Alpha up against the competition, namely the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One. Pricing for the Alpha is set at just a notch above those. What do you get for the extra cash? In terms of raw performance we cannot really compare these devices. The Xbox One and Playstation 4 will certainly be more powerful, with a sealed hardware platform for which developers can also optimize games to provide smoother operation and faster performance.

So who should be looking at this console? Folks who want access to PC-exclusive titles without the hassle of a gaming PC. Earlier this year we offered our thoughts on what Valve should do to beat the Xbox and Playstation with its Steam Machine, and the Alienware Alpha seems to address some of our concerns, even if the effort comes from Alienware and not Valve. Alienware has set a base level hardware platform that is sufficient for a smooth gaming experience, given us room to upgrade if desired, and priced the unit almost in-line with the competing consoles.

Best of all though, the Alienware Alpha will run Windows 8.1. Assuming that Alienware gets the overlay right and really builds a console-like environment, the company might have just hit the nail on the head. It would be great to see more games running on Linux for the upcoming Steam Machine, but we'd be missing out on too many DirectX-only titles.

Alienware doesn't want us to confuse this device with the Steam Machine though, and we wouldn't. It also wouldn't surprise us one bit if the Steam Machine from Alienware that's coming in 2015 will be based on an identical or similar hardware platform, and that this is a first step for Alienware to test out the market. Maybe that's why the device is called "Alpha," a reference to the development cycle with Alpha as the beginning stage. For now, though, this is a well-masked entry-level gaming PC, and a step in the right direction for bringing the PC into the living room.

Pricing is set to start at $549 with availability targeted for the 2014 holiday season. 

Follow Niels Broekhuijsen @NBroekhuijsen. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 6 Hide
    whiteodian , June 10, 2014 9:13 AM
    It's the Steam machine! They probably have to get rid of the inventory due to Valve's postponement. Looks cool. Not a terrible price, but $499 would have been a better starting point.
  • 1 Hide
    antilycus , June 10, 2014 9:25 AM
    steam really kicked themselves in the face by offering streaming from 1 PC to any other PC in the house. I could run AMD X4 w/ no GPU and stream the highest graphic game to my living room from my computer. I do it now and it works great.
  • -4 Hide
    Doug Lord , June 10, 2014 9:52 AM
    "In terms of raw performance we cannot really compare these devices. The Xbox One and Playstation 4 will certainly be more powerful"

    Actually I doubt it. Intel crushes AMD and the chips in Xbone and PS4 are pretty low end. And the GPUS they use are like 3-4 generations old. A 750ti probably has 2x the power.
  • Display all 14 comments.
  • -6 Hide
    Doug Lord , June 10, 2014 10:01 AM
    Ok I'm a bit off. 750ti is 1.73 gflops vs PS4 at 1.84. PS4 probably has less OS overhead then Windows and can be programmed closer to the metal. An I3 is probably not much different than Jaguar. But a 4 core hypertheaded i5 would crush it on Watchdogs.
  • 7 Hide
    Blazer1985 , June 10, 2014 10:06 AM
    Since no one knows which gpu is in the box it is kinda hard to judge if the ps4 and the xbone are more powerful.
  • 3 Hide
    MrGulio , June 10, 2014 10:11 AM
    Quote:
    Since no one knows which gpu is in the box it is kinda hard to judge if the ps4 and the xbone are more powerful.


    I don't think reviewing specs will give you a 1 to 1 comparison between this machine and a console.
  • 3 Hide
    BranFlake5 , June 10, 2014 3:43 PM
    Quote:
    steam really kicked themselves in the face by offering streaming from 1 PC to any other PC in the house. I could run AMD X4 w/ no GPU and stream the highest graphic game to my living room from my computer. I do it now and it works great.


    How does this negatively affect Steam?
  • 0 Hide
    coolitic , June 10, 2014 4:41 PM
    This was obviously the steam machine.
  • 0 Hide
    helper800 , June 10, 2014 5:14 PM
    Quote:
    Since no one knows which gpu is in the box it is kinda hard to judge if the ps4 and the xbone are more powerful.

    Not to rain on any parades or anything but after having seen what came with the alienware x51 mini tower that my friend has, the gpu on something even smaller and more inexpensive is probably going to be more inline with some of the weak to mid level mobile gpus (performance wise) from nvidia. This is just my speculation though so take it with a grain of salt.
  • 2 Hide
    somebodyspecial , June 10, 2014 8:20 PM
    "In terms of raw performance we cannot really compare these devices. The Xbox One and Playstation 4 will certainly be more powerful"

    Is this April Fools? You certainly can compare the boxes. Will the new box here be able to run REAL 1080 or not like consoles. IF the answer is YES to full blown 1080p and no up-scaling crap EVER then I'd say mission accomplished. A custom maxwell is interesting also. There isn't much point in a 750 IMHO so I think they'll aim higher. That might be bottom rung, but you'll definitely want more to kill consoles for good (if android doesn't beat them to the punch anyway).

    "So who should be looking at this console? Folks who want access to PC-exclusive titles without the hassle of a gaming PC."

    Spoken like a console lover. What hassle is my gaming pc? Steam and now even gog will update patches for you, so not quite sure what the hassle is (and I have no trouble doing it on my own). Is it a terrible hassle that I can upgrade to anything I want? Is it a hassle that I can load 3-4 Operatings systems if desired (more even)? Is it a hassle to have a box that can do ANYTHING? ROFL. I don't understand how this box is any different than any other PC in any regard. Which to me proves my point, PC's are not a hassle any more than RROD 12 times in a year for xbox360 was. OR day one patches etc. It's all the same especially today with consoles being internet connected which means now consoles get BETA's too...LOL. Years ago the game had to work out of the box. Not so today.
  • 0 Hide
    doomtomb , June 11, 2014 4:46 AM
    Only 1 HDMI output. Man this thing only can be used a console. I don't think it will sell unless the price is right.
  • 0 Hide
    tobalaz , June 13, 2014 7:24 PM
    As someone with a Maxwell based GPU in their gaming rig, all I can say is good choice for low heat and minimum power draw with silky smooth 1080p graphics. Its perfect for a HTPC or streaming type box and still has enough horsepower to actually play local games if you bump up the CPU to an i5.
    I kinda sorta want one, but Win8 kills it for me.
    No offense MS, but I was ready to throw a new laptop out a window within an hour just because of the god awful Metro interface and Metro apps that wouldn't function correctly with a track pad, and my experience was so bad I'm not willing to try ANYTHING with an 8 attached to the OS.
  • 0 Hide
    somebodyspecial , June 13, 2014 10:38 PM
    Quote:
    As someone with a Maxwell based GPU in their gaming rig, all I can say is good choice for low heat and minimum power draw with silky smooth 1080p graphics. Its perfect for a HTPC or streaming type box and still has enough horsepower to actually play local games if you bump up the CPU to an i5.
    I kinda sorta want one, but Win8 kills it for me.
    No offense MS, but I was ready to throw a new laptop out a window within an hour just because of the god awful Metro interface and Metro apps that wouldn't function correctly with a track pad, and my experience was so bad I'm not willing to try ANYTHING with an 8 attached to the OS.


    Nothing stopping you from whacking it and putting on 7 I'd guess :)  I'm with you on win8, I'll whack whatever seconds after it gets in the door and slap on win7. Or just build my own htpc/tv game rig I guess if I find out you can do that to something like this unit they're talking here. They do mention a CUSTOM maxwell, so might need special drivers and can't just load up NV's own drivers (which might stick you on win8). But we'll have to wait to see how flexible this thing is in the OS regard ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    jasonelmore , August 12, 2014 7:21 PM
    Quote:
    Ok I'm a bit off. 750ti is 1.73 gflops vs PS4 at 1.84. PS4 probably has less OS overhead then Windows and can be programmed closer to the metal. An I3 is probably not much different than Jaguar. But a 4 core hypertheaded i5 would crush it on Watchdogs.


    a i3 core is twice if not, three times as fast as a jaguar core. Big L3 cache and waaay better single threaded performance.

    Quote:
    Ok I'm a bit off. 750ti is 1.73 gflops vs PS4 at 1.84. PS4 probably has less OS overhead then Windows and can be programmed closer to the metal. An I3 is probably not much different than Jaguar. But a 4 core hypertheaded i5 would crush it on Watchdogs.