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

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Alienware Alpha R2's Tiny Chassis

The Alpha R2 looks like Alienware borrowed the contraption Rick Moranis built in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and zapped a game console with it, then added its own bits of flair. Or if you prefer, remember that scene in Trainwreck when an incredulus John Cena tells a fellow moviegoer who calls him Mark Wahlberg that "I look like Mark Wahlberg ATE Mark Wahlberg!"? Well the Alpha R2 looks like a NUC ate a NUC—it's bulkier at 2.17 x 7.87 x 7.87 inches, and packed with more muscle.

Alienware Alpha R2 Angled

There's no mistaking the Alpha R2 for anything but an Alienware system. From its alien head logo with glowing eyes that serves as the power and reset button to its angled accents, the Alienware DNA is apparent. it's not an over-the-top design bordering on gaudy. Just the opposite, the Alpha R2 is a slick looking mini PC with a matte black finish on top and glossy sides, all made of plastic. The engraved lines on the top of the chassis are also glossy.

Two USB 3.0 ports on the front give the Alpha R2 away as a PC, otherwise your less tech savvy friends and family members might mistake it for a regular piece of A/V gear, such as a Blu-ray player or a streaming set-top box. Even with the USB ports, they might question its functionality at first sight.

It might be tempting to situate the Alpha R2 on its side to save space, but it's designed to lay down horizontally with rubber feet on the bottom to keep it from slipping. Even so, you could stand it up, just take care when reaching the length of any corded peripherals you have plugged in—the chassis itself isn't likely to crack or break from tipping over, but you don't want to be jostling around the mechanical HDD inside.

Alienware Alpha R2 Rear Ports

Around back from left to right is a DC-in port, proprietary Alienware Graphics Amplifier port, HDMI 2.0 in and output ports, RJ45 GbE LAN port, two vertically stacked USB 3.0 ports, and an optical audio output (Toslink). That adds up to a total of four USB 3.0 ports, enough to plug in a keyboard, mouse, and two game controllers for multiplayer action.

There's no DisplayPort or VGA connector, so the only way you're hooking the Alpha R2 up to your TV or monitor is with an HDMI cable. While you're at it, you might decide to connect a set-top box or some other accessory to the Alpha R2's HDMI input—it's a passthrough port for viewing content from other devices, in case your TV or receiver is short on HDMI ports. It's a nice touch and an acknowledgement that things is at home in the living room.

Two large vents sit above the various ports and inputs. Each one is attached to a blower that sits inside the Alpha R2, including one that expels hot hair from the CPU and another for the GPU. The two blowers working in tandem cause a bit of a ruckus when gaming or doing anything that stresses the core components, and it doesn't take much for them to kick on. That's a drag if you don't have loud enough speakers or headphones to drown them out, though it's also the price for having this amount of performance packed into such a small box.

Alienware Alpha R2 LEDs

Not only the alien head's eye sockets light up, so does a triangular corner section of the Alpha R2. You can adjust the color of the LED lighting through the included software, as well as add various effects or turn the lighting off altogether. It's bright enough to add character to the Alpha R2, but not so overdone as to become a distraction. Even when watching movies in the dark, the LED lighting seems natural and blends in with other lighted A/V gear.

Alienware Alpha R2 Peripherals

Alienware includes a glossy three button (counting the scroll wheel) mouse that's pretty basic and a matte black keyboard with a glossy top section. Both are wired USB devices so if you plan on plopping the Alpha R2 in your A/V rack, you'll need to sit fairly close to use the included accessories. Obviously there are wireless 3rd party alternatives to these, however.

Neither peripheral is overly fancy, though the keyboard stands out with its white lettering, bordered keycaps, and special alien characters on the all-important WASD keys that look like hieroglyphics from another planet. There's also media buttons on the top, though no dedicated macro keys, backlight, or any true gaming features.

The click action on the keyboard is surprisingly sturdy for a non-mechanical keyboard, and a somewhat low profile one at that. We won't be tossing our mechanical plank in the garbage, but if you don't already own a keyboard, this one will get you by until you shop for a true gaming board.

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