Alienware Alpha review

The best case for Steam Machines yet

Alienware Alpha
The Alienware Alpha review

So, buy the Alienware Alpha if you or yours have never purchased a gaming PC before. It will ease you into what's possible in PC gaming and lure you into getting more involved. I doubt it will be long before Alpha owners start expressing interest in building gaming PCs, or at least upgrading the systems they just picked up.

That said, how is Alpha as a product right now? That's a tougher question to answer, because by the numbers, you will always easily build a PC for not much more and eke better performance out of it. Of course, it wouldn't be nearly as compact, stylish or come with the support and convenience that a company like Alienware provides, all things that the major vendors manage far better than DIY PCs.

We liked

As much as I hate to say it, whether you should buy this gorgeous little box depends on the type of gamer you are. Think what you will, but the Alpha serves a very specific demographic extremely well, and was designed for that purpose from the start. Alienware understands what Steam Machines are about, and the Alpha is proof.

From its design to the way in which it creates a console-like experience (without Valve's help), the Alpha pushes the concept harder than anyone yet. Like I said, a kid could open up the Alpha, connect it to the TV and sync the included Xbox 360 controller. Almost immediately, he or she would be logged into your Steam account without ever setting foot into Windows. It's pretty brilliant, really.

We disliked

Sure, it's software is rough around the edges and not that flashy – it gets you into Big Picture Mode and handles the major factors: Internet, updates and installations. Design is a big deal these days, and it's tough to look past the shoddiness of the software or its lack of features.

Major UI updates are needed and are hopefully on the horizon. However, there are other problems that are tougher to fix, like the awkward way in which you must access Origin and Uplay, both increasingly unavoidable services. So, let's hope someone on either end of that problem has picked up the phone.

Final verdict

Not quite a desktop gaming PC and not quite a console, the Alienware Alpha bravely straddles a strange, tense middle ground in the gaming world. And in doing so, the company may well have built something with the potential to subvert some of the console gaming crowd over to the side of gaming righteousness.

Even a few months out, it's tough to predict not only how well the Alienware Alpha will do – it's priced OK for a set-it-and-forget-it, Steam-based gaming console. (Especially right now at $499, as of this writing – US only, sorry.) But don't mistake: building your own gaming PC, especially something aimed directly at edging out the consoles, will always be more cost effective.

If you haven't bought an Alpha yet, it might be worth waiting out for a hopeful GTX 900M series model – though that certainly won't go for 500 smackers. But ultimately, the Alienware Alpha is a kick-ass way to ease yourself (or a loved one) into PC gaming.