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Alienware's Alpha Gaming Console: What is it?

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. 

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Niels Broekhuijsen

Niels Broekhuijsen is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews cases, water cooling and pc builds.