Over the weekend, Dell started selling the Alienware Alpha, a mini-PC that decidedly looks like a console. It comes with a similar style as the Alienware-branded Steam Machine that is scheduled to launch next year, but features Windows 8.1 with a custom UI that is designed to have a console-like feel to it.
Dubbed Alpha-UI, the interface allows you to navigate using the bundled Xbox 360 controller. The custom interface is loaded by default in what Dell is calling a Console Mode, but there is also a full-fledged desktop mode if you’re more comfortable with a traditional layout. The desktop is disabled until you plug in a mouse and keyboard. There’s Steam Big Picture mode and compatibility with over 3,000 titles on the Steam store.
Although building your own rig has gotten significantly easier over the years, there are several users that want the convenience of a console combined with the prowess of a full-fledged gamin rig. This is the market Dell is looking to target with the Alpha. That being said, the hardware that is being offered leaves a lot to be desired for.
Hardware configurations for the Alienware Alpha start from $549, which includes a 2.9 GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-4130T CPU, 500 GB mechanical hard drive, 4 GB DDR3L RAM clocked at 1600 MHz and a 2 GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M GPU. Not the fastest machine in the world, but it is targeted at gamers looking to play recent titles at decent frame rates without breaking the bank.
There are configurations that offer better CPUs and more memory, with the $899 version giving you a 3 GHz Intel Core i7-4765T CPU, 8 GB DDR3L RAM (1600 MHz), 2 TB mechanical hard drive and the GeForce GTX 860M.
The hardware on offer sounds decent, but when you look at the system requirements of games like Assassin’s Creed Unity, it becomes clear that you would need a configuration that costs at least as much as $799 to be able to play the title. Seeing as how current-gen consoles like the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 cost half as much, for now, you’re better off with a console until a better alternative comes along.