Alienware Alpha R2 Review: Big Screen Gaming In A Little Package
Final Thoughts On The Alpha R2
Performance Summary: Alienware's Alpha R2 delivers a level of performance well beyond its size and stereotype for a mini PC. Compared to other similar sized PCs, including Intel's Skull Canyon NUC, the Alpha R2 separated itself from the pack with far superior gaming performance, a credit to Alienware's ability to cram a desktop-class GeForce GTX 960 into such a small chassis. It was a around 100 frames per second faster than the aforementioned NUC in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor where it averaged over 137 fps at 1920x1080, and managed over 85 fps in the more demanding Thief benchmark. Granted, these were at the Medium and Normal quality presets, so there's headroom here for higher image quality with the Alpha R2 as well.
Alpha—namely its size and gaming capability—and made it even better with the Alpha R2, an upgraded version of its predecessor that trades mobile graphics for a true desktop-class GPU. Sure, it's only a GeForce GTX 960, which is far from top of the line with NVIDIA cranking out Pascal GPUs like the GeForce GTX 1080 and a new Titan X. But it's a GeForce GTX 960 that's been shoehorned into a mini PC chassis that looks more like a bulkier NUC with a bit more bling.
For 1080p gaming, whether it's in the living room on your big screen TV or a dedicated PC space with a computer monitor, the Alpha R2 brings the requisite horsepower so you can spend more time actually playing games and not worry about fiddling with settings. As far as integrated graphics have come in the past several years, there's still a large divide between Intel's NUC lineup and most other mini PCs versus the Alpha R2. Just like car buffs often say, "there's no replacement for displacement," when it comes to PC gaming, at least not yet.
Despite its small size, Alienware made it easy for users to access and service the internal build. The chassis opens up with little effort once you remove the four screws holding it together, and once inside, it's a cinch to replace or upgrade the storage drive, RAM, and Wi-Fi card. It's also a good idea to get in there and clean out any dust that might have accumulated over a period of time, so kudos to Alienware for trusting its users to work on the build themselves.
We reviewed the flagship configuration, which carries a price tag of $950. We can hear the groans from gamers eager to point out what kind of superior configurations they can assemble for the same price. And there's merit to that—a budget of $950 can build an pretty nice gaming system these days. However, you're not just paying for the core components here, you're also paying for the luxury and convenience of being able to game from a mini PC with an HDMI passthrough thoughtfully thrown into the mix. If you look at what the competition has to offer in this space, the price isn't too far off the mark.
If we're to find fault here, it's not because of the price alone, but that even the flagship model comes standard with a mechanical hard drive instead of a much faster solid state drive. The price of flash storage continues to decline and Alienware could have increased the value proposition by swapping out the 1TB HDD for a 256GB SSD as a standard option, rather than a $100 upgrade.
Even without an SSD, the Alienware Alpha R2 is a very spunky system that's ready for big screen gaming at 1080p. And if you want to make the jump to 4K or VR gaming, the Alpha R2 supports the Alienware Graphics Amplifier for added graphics performance. All things considered, there isn't another mini PC out there right now with this much potential upside.