Before the year is out, a slew of steam machines – compact, console-esque gaming PCs designed to run Valve’s Debian-based Linux operating system, SteamOS – will be vying with the BB-8 branded Sphero to become the top Christmas gift of 2015. More than 15 models from as many manufacturers have been announced, but the Alienware Steam Machine will be the first to market on November 10. Thanks to the Alienware Steam Machine First Look program placing retail systems in the hands of reviewers before they hit store shelves, we’re getting some hands-on time with the Alienware Steam Machine. We’re also getting to test out the bundled Steam controller, Valve’s attempt to combine the functionality of a keyboard and mouse with the form factor of a gamepad.
You’ll have to wait for the review to learn whether we think the Alienware Steam Machine lives up to the hype, but in the meantime – to simultaneously sate and whet your appetite – we’ve put together this unboxing guide. And by “guide” I mean “gratuitous gadget porn” with a few facts thrown in, to keep things classy. In fact, I encourage you to skip ahead; you can always come back and skim the text while you’re basking in that sweet, sweet product photography afterglow.
Welcome back, you barbarian. Let’s table your impulse control issues for now to talk about the care Alienware has put into the design – in both the packaging and the hardware – of their steam machine. Removing the slip cover reveals a sleek, black box branded with the company’s signature alien head. And inside that box, sturdy foam padding to protect the contents: 1x Alienware Steam Machine, 1x HDMI cable, 1x power cord, 1x Valve Steam Controller, 2x AA batteries, 1x micro USB cable, 1x controller dongle cradle (which, when combined with the USB cable and controller dongle, will extend the range of the wireless controller, in case you wanted play from the outside looking in through your living room window?) and 1x controller dongle (which actually comes already “installed” in a secret USB port, located behind a removable panel on the bottom of the system, and supports up to four controllers). My package took a bit of a beating from FedEx, but its precious cargo was none the worse for wear.
In the past, I’ve been turned off by some of Alienware’s more extravagant, elaborate PC chassis designs. But the Alienware Steam Machine’s aesthetic is conservative, with a matte-black top and glossy-black sides adorned only with glowing Alienware and Steam logos, which you change color or disable entirely. It simply looks like a console, perfectly at home next to its current-gen counterparts – the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – while occupying a significantly smaller footprint. The system is only 8″ wide by 8″ long by 2.3″ high. It’s about the size of a Nintendo Wii, but with a wee more going on inside.
The Alienware Steam Machine comes in four configurations. The $449 base model has 4GB of system RAM, a 500GB hard drive, a 1×1 802.11 AC wireless card, a dual-core Intel Core i3 CPU and a NVIDIA GTX GPU with 2GB of video memory. For another $100 you can double the system memory and the hard drive (this is the configuration we received for review). For yet another $100, you can bump up to the quad-core Intel Core i5 and an additional wireless antenna. And for yet another $100 you can get the crème de la crème of processors – the Intel core i7 – turning your little black box into a forward-thinking, game-playing powerhouse. Of course, you can easily handle upgrades yourself; the processor and memory are standard desktop size, and the hard drive a standard thin laptop size. The only thing you can’t change is the graphics card, which is actually a custom NVIDIA graphics chip based on the GeForce 860M card, and the LGA 1150 CPU socket, which is compatible with Haswell and select Broadwell processors.
As for connections, the Alienware Steam Machine has plenty. In addition to the hidden USB 2.0 port on the bottom of the system, there are two USB 2.0 ports on the front, two USB 3.0 ports on the back, ethernet, optical audio output and HDMI output. There’s also an HDMI input for passing cable through your steam machine, though sadly the current system setup doesn’t allow you to capture video or stream to Twitch. Fingers crossed that functionality gets added in a (near) future SteamOS update.
Alienware Steam Machine
We’ll dive into how it plays in the upcoming review, but how is looks is striking. Alienware’s steam machine looks just as good – if not better – than the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, whose living room ranks it now joins. And Valve’s steam controller looks and feels just enough like the Xbox 360 controller to ease console and PC gamers alike into its more innovative design features.
UPDATE: The Alienware Steam Machine is now officially available for purchase via Dell.com.
ThatVideoGameBlog does not accept payment in exchange for coverage, but does accept games, gear or products toprovide honest opinions from a gamer’s perspective. The Alienware Steam Machine was sent to us for review purposes. All opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not reflect those of Dell or Alienware. This post may contain affiliate/referral links.