Alienware Alpha Intel-Powered SFF Gaming PC: Consoles Beware

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Software and Experience

The Alienware Alpha is meant to be managed by a controller (it comes with a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller), so it’s set by default to launch straight into the Dell Alpha UI, which in turn, can send you to Steam Big Picture. In fact, you’ll probably only see the Alpha UI briefly before you launch steam, most of the time.

alphaUI 01
This is the page you'll see when the Alpha boots up.

alphaUI 02
You can pick any color you want for the Alpha's lighting.

When you do use Alpha UI for more than launching Steam Big Picture, you’ll like it. Alpha UI is a simple, but stylish interface that is easy to see and navigate from your couch. It has as settings section that lets you change certain hotkeys for your controller and even change the colors on your Alpha’s chassis lights, including the power button lights and the triangle on the corner of the system. You can reach video, audio and network settings from the interface, too.

Alpha UI also handles power options. You can restart the console, shut it down, or switch to HDMI-In to access a different device. You can also exit to the Windows 8.1 desktop from here. Helpfully, you can bring up the Alpha UI while in game by pressing a particular key combination. That’s handy if you want to shut down directly from a game or need to access settings.

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Steam Big Picture is a version of Steam designed for the 10-foot experience. When you’re on your couch, you don’t want to mess with a mouse and keyboard, so Big Picture gives you a Steam interface that’s easy to control with your Xbox 360 controller.

apha desktop
Slick background, distinct lack of clutter - not a bad deal.
Where the gaming-playing experience with Alpha UI and Steam Big Picture is solid, the Windows 8.1 experience is merely adequate. The Alpha is perfectly stable, but it’s not as snappy as we're used to when it comes to normal Windows 8.1 activities. I found that I would often click something a second time because I thought my first command hadn’t been received and both windows and programs seemed to take a bit longer than expected when opening.  The lag isn’t a deal-breaker for someone who wants to game, though, but this system is absolutely begging for a solid state drive.
Tags:  Dell, SFF, Gaming, PC, Alpha, Alienware

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