Alienware Alpha R2 Review: Big Screen Gaming In A Little Package

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Introducing Dell's Alienware Alpha R2

As much as we like piecing together formidable desktop systems crammed full of high end hardware, the future of PC gaming for many mainstream users may lie in more compact setups. Certainly there's been a push to get PC players out of a dank basement and into the living room with Steam Machines and similar console-sized PCs. However, Dell's Alienware division is hoping to take things to the next level with its pint sized Alpha R2 system, an ultra small form factor (SFF) gaming desktop.

We have to use the world "desktop" carefully here because the Alpha R2, like its predecessor, is more of a "shelf-top" or "set-top" system. It's only slightly larger than one of Intel's square-shaped Next Unit of Computing (NUC) boxes, but instead of Iris Pro graphics as found on the more rectangular Skull Canyon NUC6i7KYK, the Alpha R2 packs considerable more gaming muscle with a GeForce GTX 960 desktop GPU strapped down inside.

Alienware Alpha R2 Scorpion

A system of this size and strength is what the market has been reaching towards for the past several years, and thanks to continued advancements in CPU and GPU design, Full HD 1080p gaming from a PC that can be hidden inconspicuously in your home theater rack is now a reality, not a promise of things to come. And of course, the Alpha R2 supports Alienware's Graphic Amplifier (AMP), an optional accessory for plugging in desktop graphics cards like the Pascal-based GeForce GTX 1080. That gives you an upgrade path to 4K and/or VR gaming, though admittedly with a bit more bolted on bulk.

The obvious catch here is cost. Pricing for an Alpha R2 starts at a rather reasonable $500, but if you want one equipped with a GTX 960, cost of entry jumps to $800. What we have in for review is the $950 setup, Alienware's flagship model with an Intel Core i7-6700T processor, GeForce GTX 960 graphics, 8GB of DDR4-2133 RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. Is it worth it? Let's take a closer look.

Alienware Alpha R2
Specifications & Features
 Processor 
6th Gen Intel Core i7-6700T (8MB Cache, 2.8GHz - 3.6GHz)
 Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 w/ 4GB GDDR5
 Memory 8GB DDR4-2133 (1 DIMM)
 Storage 1TB (64MB Cache) 7200 RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD
 Optical N/A
 Ethernet Gigabit LAN
 Connectivity Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 1x1, Bluetooth 4.2
 Ports (Front)
2 x USB 3.0
 Ports (Rear)
2 x USB 3.0, GbE LAN, HDMI 2.0 output, HDMI 2.0 input, Optical audio output (Toslink), DC in, Alienware Graphics Amplifier port
 Ports (Bottom)
1 x USB 2.0 (hidden for wireless dongles)
 Operating System
Windows 10 Home 64-bit
 Dimensions
2.17 x 7.87 x 7.87 inches / 55 x 200 x 200mm (H x W x D)
 Weight
4 pounds (1.81kg)
 Warranty 1-Year Limited Hardware
 Price $949.99 (As configured, base model $499)

Alienware Alpha R2 Angled Stock

You can build a burly desktop for the same price as Alienware's top-end Alpha R2, there's no disputing that. But part of what you're paying for here is the form factor. At 2.17 x 7.87 x 7.87 inches (H x W x D), the Alpha R2 is a fairly impressive work of engineering, one with multiple applications. We already mentioned the home theater angle, but the Alpha R2's size also makes it suitable for a college student living in cramped dorm room or anyone with a space constraint. Though it's not VESA mountable, a missed opportunity for Alienware to pitch the Alpha R2 as a potential gaming kiosk setup, but it's small enough that you can place it atop your desk and still have ample real estate available.

Before moving on, we should note available configurations. There are four baseline Alpha R2 systems to choose from, none of which come standard with a solid state drive. That's a buzz kill when you opt for the flagship model, though at least it's an upgrade option. For an extra $100, Alienware will swap out the 1TB HDD for a 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD, and for $200 you can have both. There's also 512GB and 1TB SSD options.

The second thing to note is the RAM. Only the $500 configuration has two DDR3 SODIMM sockets, each of the other four models use just a single DDR4 SODIMM socket, which you can upgrade from 8GB to 16GB DDR4-2133 for a $100 premium.

Let's take a look at the Alpha R2's design and then we'll open up the chassis so you can see all this tech in action... 

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