The small 7x7x2-inch console's price will start at $549 (about £327, AU$588). Base specs include an Intel Core i3 Haswell based processor, 4GB DDR3 1600MHz memory, custom-built NVIDIA Maxwell based GPU, with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 high-speed memory, dual-band Wireless-AC 1x1 with Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI In and HDMI Out for uncompressed 8 channel audio & support for 4k content, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, 500GB SATA 3 HDD and Windows 8.1 64-bit.
The Alienware Alpha can also be configured with an Intel Core i5 or an i7 Haswell based processor, 8GB DDR3 1600MHz dual-channel memory, dual-band Wireless-AC 2x2 with Bluetooth 4.0 and 1TB and 2TB SATA 3 HDD. Pricing on higher specced machines will be announced at a later date.
UI still incomplete
During E3 2014, Alienware had working Alphas on hand and I stopped by to finally play on the machine.
That doesn't mean Alpha is ready just yet though. I was shown an early version of the Windows 8.1 based UI where the console uses Steam Big Picture to pull up your library of games. Since it's still being worked on, I wasn't allowed to photograph any images of the UI.
You won't see Windows when you boot up, unless you really want to in which case the Metro interface is accessible from the settings. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can also install the current version of the Linux-based SteamOS.
The Alienware UI I saw was simple, straightforward and branded with the company's familiar logo. The rep said it was set up to be "console-like" and "easy to navigate" which it definitely was.
It also reminded me of a semi-dynamic Blu-Ray movie menu where you can scroll left or right to pick an option. The background changed with each choice - which Alienware reps said could be changed to whatever image you want much like a desktop background.
Currently the only menu choices are Settings, Steam - which takes you to Steam Big Picture - and Launcher.
The Launcher option is still being tested out and doesn't have a specific feature yet. So far, the Alienware team is throwing around ideas like turning it into a Uplay launcher, or even opening apps like Netflix. Neither of these concepts are finalized but that's the general form we can expect Launcher to take later.
So how's it play?
Two of the games being demoed were Gauntlet and Broforce where the reps chose the latter to play with me. Though extremely fun, the 2D side-scroller is not the most graphically demanding game out there.
However, the reps were determined to show off another side of the Steam Machine: "the experience, versatility and affordability of PC gaming in the living room." In this case, the ability to hook up multiple controllers via HDMI in and out to then hook up to another console, a set-top box or PC allowing the "versatility" mentioned.
Though shipping with a 360 controller, Alienware previously told us that the machine will be compatible with a variety of gamepads. You'll even be able to connect different ones for simultaneous gameplay.
For what it's worth, the game did play smoothly for the three of us. I was told that the Alpha can indeed play at 1080p, 60 fps but didn't have demos on hand to show me. The rep mentioned that during testing, BioShock Infinite and Tomb Raider were played at the highest settings.
The final product is still being future-proofed for upcoming titles and Alienware plans on a direct launch of Alpha with no beta launch.
I'm disappointed I didn't get to really see the 1080p, 60 fps in action but I expect Alienware will have the Alpha out again, a bit more ready for PAX Prime considering the reps told me we'll hear more about an improved UI post-Comic-Con.
The pricing is still a bit steep but Alienware seems confident that its target demographic won't be the high-end PC gaming enthusiast. Rather, it'll be the console gamer who wants the larger PC gaming library and next-next gen graphics … I'm not sure how far this optimism will take sales though, considering the Alpha Steam Machine is already in the same pricing family as the PS4 and Xbox One - therefore, making it pretty unappealing to gamers in all camps.
Alienware's possible draw for the PC gaming crowd is the allowance of customization that Valve previously touted. With the exception of the "specially made" Nvidia Maxwell GPU, the RAM, SSD and CPU can be replaced and upgraded without restrictions - if it all fits within the box, of course.
But then again, you could just always upgrade your PC.
In spite of my doubts, I'm still anxious to see how well the Alienware Alpha really plays, and how Steam Machines in general will fit into the PC/console gaming paradigm. Is the Steam Box the ultimate white flag bridging the two sides? Or will it simply flop miserably at everything?
We'll find out when the Alpha launches later this year, though in the meantime we're bound to have a few more hands ons in between.