Alienware's Concept UFO is basically a Nintendo Switch for PC games

Dell pulls a handheld gaming switch with this PC prototype, which turns tablets into instant gaming devices.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
2 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

The  Nintendo Switch has become something like the platonic ideal of gaming hardware. But what would happen if we could combine the Switch's format with the power and versatility of PC gaming?  Dell 's Alienware Concept UFO prototype appears to be doing just that. 

The basic idea is this: You start with a handheld  Windows 10  tablet, essentially a smaller version of a  Microsoft Surface , or any other Windows slate. But then you slide two paddle-like controllers onto the side and suddenly you have something that looks and feels a lot like a Nintendo Switch. 

The very fact that it's being shown off at the CES trade show here in Las Vegas makes it unusual. Some companies like to come to CES with a truckload of concept pieces and prototypes, showing off exotic experiments that may or may not ever reach store shelves. Dell has long stayed away from such showmanship, instead relying on a steady stream of updated and upgraded XPS, Inspiron, Latitude and Alienware laptops , desktops and displays to fill CES with. 

This year, however, all bets are off, and Dell is showing off a series of prototypes, including-flexible screen and dual-screen laptops, and this handheld, dockable gaming PC. 

There's a lot we don't know about the Concept UFO, and it may never be an actual for-sale product. But, compared to a lot of other prototypes we've seen, this hardware looks and feels finished, with a high degree of polish. So who knows? 

Alienware Concept UFO gaming device turns tablets into consoles

See all photos

Except, instead of Switch games, it runs Windows games. That gives you access to a much larger library, with titles from different developers, and available at non-Nintendo prices. During a hands-on gaming session before the start of CES 2020, I played the (frankly not very good) World War Z PC game, and found it to be surprisingly playable on this hardware. 

The Concept UFO can stand up on a kickstand (yes, also like the Switch). Its paddle controllers can attach to a small central unit to make a standard-looking gamepad. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can also output the signal to a bigger display and use the UFO as a small desktop. 

What exactly is inside the Concept UFO? How much will it cost? When will it be available? We don't have answers to any of these questions, but that's par for the course with a concept piece or prototype. 

So yes, there are unanswered questions. But in an era when alternative forms of gaming -- from subscription services like Apple Arcade to streaming platforms like Google Stadia -- are challenging the supremacy of game consoles and traditional gaming PCs, it's important that we all break out of our comfort zones and try new things.

The best laptops from CES 2020

See all photos

Originally published earlier this week.