Dell flips its Steam Machine into the Windows-only Alienware Alpha

 

Valve's Steam Machine platform has been delayed, at least until 2015, but one headlining Steam Machine maker isn't going to wait for the famously slow gaming company to get its act together. Dell's Alienware division has announced that the small form factor Steam Machine it introduced at CES 2014 (pictured above) is getting a makeover and going on sale later this year as the Alienware Alpha.

Rather than Steam OS and the still-experimental Steam controller, the Alpha will include Windows 8 and a wireless Xbox 360 controller, which is still the PC gamepad standard.

Steam Machine, the PC-alternative platform from Valve, was going to be the big PC gaming story of E3, if not of the year. A large lineup of living room-friendly devices were introduced at CES, with promises of more details to come around mid-year. Now, it looks as if the platform has been pushed back, with Valve saying it needs more time to work on the unique controller.

Most of the Steam Machines already announced from PC makers such as Falcon Northwest and Origin PC were dual-boot variations on existing designs, offering Steam OS and Windows, along with a standard collection of high-end PC gaming hardware.

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The original Steam Machine version of the Alienware Alpha. Sarah Tew/CNET
That made the Alienware Steam Machine a standout, as a Steam OS-only small form factor box, targeting a price around the same as current living room game consoles. Back at CES 2014, we liked the compact design, and that the hardware was designed to allow for 1080p gaming in a living room 10-foot environment while keeping the price around $500.

The new Windows 8 version, the Alpha, looks and feels much like the Steam Machine version. The hardware is similarly selected to offer decent gaming at reasonable prices, with Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors, 4GB of RAM, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi paired with a custom Nvidia GPU codenamed Maxwell. Both HDMI input and output jacks are included, as well as optical audio out.

Despite running Windows 8, Dell is including its own custom software interface, designed for 10-foot living room navigation, and one that should seamlessly transition to the "big picture" mode available in Valve's Steam desktop software (which acts as a storefront for game purchases and a content library for PC games). The company says the entire custom interface can be driven from the included wireless controller, without the need for a keyboard or mouse (neither of which is included).

The Alienware Alpha will be on sale before the end of the year, according to Dell, and will start at $549, with upgrades for CPU and storage topping out at a Core i7 and 2TB, while still staying under $1,000.

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Alienware Alpha

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