Hands-On: Alienware Alpha Intel-Powered Gaming PC Console

We first caught wind on the Alienware Alpha in the lead-up to Valve’s Steam Box announcements, prior to the Consumer Electronics Show. If you’re unfamiliar with the Alienware Alpha, it is a sleek, small form factor gaming PC, designed specifically for gamers. Valve is not quite ready with Steam OS or the Steam Controller, so the whole Steam Box angle is on hold for now, but that didn’t stop Alienware from re-tooling a bit and shipping the Alpha with Windows 8.1 instead.

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There are a number of Alpha configurations currently available. The machines have a starting price of $549 with the entry-level configuration featuring an Intel Core i3-4130T dual-core processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 500GB hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPU (this is the model we tested). A $799 model swaps out the Core i3 for an Intel Core i5-4590T quad-core processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 1TB hard drive, while the most expensive model lands at $899 and features an Intel Core i7-4765T quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 2TB hard drive. And all models included a wireless Xbox 360 game controller.  Here is a quick look at what the Core i3-based alpha, which is only $150 - $200 more expensive than current-generation game consoles, can do.

As you can see in the video, the Alienware Alpha has a very clean aesthetic and looks right at home in a home theater setup. When compared directly to either a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, the Alienware Alpha is much smaller and the Core i3-based model is quieter too. There is an audible fan in the device, that spins up when under load (i.e. when gaming), but during idle times or with less taxing workloads, the Alpha is mostly silent.
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Alienware made some good design decisions with the Alpha. It’s got wired Ethernet as well as integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi, plenty of USB ports for a device of this type, and the form factor is spot on in our opinion. On the software front, the combination of Windows 8.1, Steam Big Picture mode, and Alieneware’s own Alpha UI, make the device perfectly suitable for gaming from the couch, but it is not quite as intuitive or clean as a straight up game console. Long time PC gamers will have no trouble getting down to business with the Alienware Alpha, but it may not be the ideal system for converting console gamers. Of course, the beauty of the PC is that the software can evolve at a rapid pace and the system has access to a multitude of games in all genres, so opinions will vary here.

Our full review of the Alienware Alpha will be posted shortly, so stay tuned to HH for the full scoop. For now, the sneak peek above will give you a taste of what the Alienware Alpha has in store.