Alienware Alpha updates its custom gaming PC with improved 'HiveMind' interface

A new custom Windows 8 overlay called HiveMind makes this unique gaming PC more useful and easier to navigate.

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

Watch this: Alienware Alpha updates its custom PC interface with HiveMind

Dell is hitting reset on the software bundled with its Alienware Alpha gaming desktop . The console-like desktop is ditching its Alpha UI user interface for a new version, called HiveMind, which adds extra multimedia functionality and many more customization options.

Packing gaming components into a small square box for around $500 in the US, the Alienware Alpha hardware originally shipped with a custom software layer on top of Windows 8, allowing gamers to boot it up and launch right into a menu for playing games.

The new HiveMind menu. Dell
The Alpha UI, as it was originally called, let you change some settings, connect to networks and displays, or exit to the Windows 8 desktop, but its primary purpose was to funnel gamers to the built-in Steam software, which is an online game store and library created by game publisher Valve. Both the Alpha UI and Steam were set up to be controlled with a Microsoft Xbox 360 game controller, without requiring a keyboard or mouse.

The original Alpha UI, which is about to be replaced. Sarah Tew

While the "big picture mode" version of Steam, designed for use on television screens from 10 feet away, worked well, the Alpha UI was a different matter. In our original review of the Alpha hardware, we said if its custom UI : "The Alpha interface is clearly first-generation stuff. Its heart is in the right place, but it's also clunky and awkward. For example, only the small directional pad on the game controller can navigate the UI, not the analog sticks, and you need a mouse plugged in to even access the traditional Windows 8 desktop view."

In contrast, HiveMind was easier to use and responded quicker to user input during our brief hands-on test session at E3 2015.

The Alienware Alpha hardware. Sarah Tew

It adds many features that previously required booting into the traditional Windows 8 desktop to find. A new start menu adds icons for videos, music and software apps, and the games menu can now directly access games, rather than simply forcing you into the Steam software interface. It's built on the Kodi open-source home theater software package (formerly known as XBMC), so you can add icons for many media apps and services, and the video and music sections automatically add content from the relevant Windows libraries.

Background images, colors, fonts, and even controller mapping for the supported Xbox 360 controller will also be included in the new settings menu, as well as tutorial videos for advanced setup tweaks.

Controller mapping in HiveMind. Dell

Current Alienware Alpha owners should see the new interface as a free automatic system software download sometime in the next several weeks. Dell says that future updates will add support for games from services beyond Steam, such and GOG and EA's Origin.

Dell is also releasing a version of the same hardware but with Valve's own Steam OS as the Alienware Steam Machine . That system, which will use Steam as its primary interface, will be available in November of this year.