Alienware Alpha Review
Getting hands on a decent gaming PC at a reasonable rate is quite a tough job. Most of us usually prefers buying an assembled PC of our own. While the one’s available in markets are generally overpriced. But now there are many affordable gaming laptops and PCs available that can play games at high settings and able to play at 1080p resolution easily. Here comes the new Alienware Alpha priced at $549 to $899.
This gaming PC is more of a laptop considering its compact size and console like build. The $549 Alienware Alpha unit a dual-core 2.9GHz Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB of DDR3L RAM, a 500GB 5,400RPM hard drive and a custom NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 video memory. That’s the base configuration. Dell also offers a $699 version with twice as much HDD space and RAM; a $799 Alienware Alpha variant with a Core i5 CPU; and a high-end $899 model with a Core i7-4765T and 2TB of storage.
Booting for the first time in Alienware Alpha, you will be greeted with Steam Big Picture mode or even Alienware’s own Alpha interface with the Windows 8 profile setup screen. Seeting up your profile is quite cumbersome. After proper synchronization with the included Xbox 360 Controller, it works nice and this device is equipped with the basic joystick-to-mouse emulation.
After setting up Windows, the Alienware Alpha will reboot to run the user through its own UI’s setup, after that it will ask you to set up another password, select your TV’s resolution, scale the screen to fit that TV and to choose between HDMI or optical audio output. After that, things get extremely simple. The Alpha UI primarily exists to act as a buffer between Windows and the average user, limiting the machine’s functionality to things that can be managed with the gamepad alone. This makes for a very basic interface; the Alpha UI can launch Steam, dive into a settings menu look at a help prompt, restart the Alpha or drop to the Windows desktop.
Talking about the gaming performance, we tried some games on our $549 Alienware Alpha unit. The Alienware Alpha showed some pretty decent performance while playing heavy games like Crysis 3 and The Witcher 2 which runs at 31 and 39 fps on high specifications, respectively on this gaming PC. Both naturally locked in smoother frame rates with minor concessions. Battlefield 4 also gives a decent 36 fps on Ultra, and went as high as 41 and 70 on high and medium settings, respectively. While playing the futuristic warzone of Titanfall, it stuttered a little on maximum settings, but was fully playable on high (34 fps) and medium (42 fps) specs. BioShock Infinite also gives 64 frames per second at maximum fidelity, too. While the new Far Cry 4 runs at a steady 35 fps on high settings, and at 46 fps on medium settings which is not bad at all.
In pure benchmarks, the Alpha did better than expected, but counting frames only tells half the story. While it’s true that most games ran great “out of the box” and could often be configured to look a little better, some had problems. Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare both suffered from notable stuttering — momentary freezes and hangs bad enough to make me give up on playing the latter title altogether. Some games like Dragon Age: Inquisition won’t run at all which requires the latest NVIDIA drivers to run, but the most recent update isn’t yet available for the Alpha’s semi-custom GPU. These issues will probably be fixed in a future update, but they’re clear growing pains, and they aren’t pleasant.
The most impressive thing about Alienware Alpha is that, it manages to squeeze so much power in just a tiny package. This is surely a more powerful gaming device compared to any gaming console available in the market and is much more compact too.
Now let us have a look at the PROS and CONS of Alienware Alpha.
- Alpha UI creates a solid console illusion
- Custom gamepad drivers solve most mouse and keyboard problems
- Easier to play PC games on a TV
- Long load times
- Overprotective console mode blocks some games from running
- Driver issues can cause trouble with some titles
If you are absolutely in the mood of buying a Steam Machine right now, then Alienware Alpha is a very good choice right now. But this is just the beginning of Steam Machines and I would suggest you to wait for some more products to come in the market. And it’s not quite user-friendly enough for the average console gamer, but it’s still too limiting and simple to satisfy most PC gamers. If you’re somewhere in between, this is the product for you. Otherwise, wait for some more options to come in future.