Alienware's Steam machine switches to Windows, starts at $549

Last month, Valve revealed that the first official Steam Machines would be delayed until 2015. The custom Steam controller is being tweaked, and Valve doesn't expect to have it finished in time for a launch this year. That's not stopping Alienware, though. The gaming-focused division of PC giant Dell still intends to bring its "Alpha" system to living rooms this year. Instead of running SteamOS and shipping with Valve's controller, the console-like rig will come loaded with Windows 8.1 and include an Xbox 360 gamepad.

According to VentureBeat, which spoke with Alienware executive director Frank Azor, the Alpha will start at $549 and ship before Christmas. The base price is higher than planned due to the cost of the Windows license, but Alienware seems to be making efforts to keep the machine affordable. Azor told the Wall Street Journal last month that the system would be Alienware's "least profitable" yet. Speaking to VentureBeat, he added, "it will be hard to buy a machine that meets or beats this price."

The Alpha uses a Haswell-based Core i3 backed by 4GB of RAM and 500GB of mechanical storage. Surprisingly, the GPU is a "custom-built" solution based on Nvidia's Maxwell architecture. The graphics chip has "a hybrid of desktop and mobile functions," VentureBeat says, and it's paired with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. There's no word on clock speeds or unit counts, though.

Customers will be able to upgrade the Alpha's CPU, memory, and storage. I don't see any mention of GPU upgrades, so you might be stuck with that custom chip. Other built-in perks include 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and dual GigE jacks. Alienware also plans to offer its own graphical user interface tuned for operation from the couch, but that software hasn't been revealed yet.

Azor says Alienware wants to "bring PC gaming to the living room," and it certainly doesn't need SteamOS or a custom controller to do so. Steam's Windows client already has a Big Picture UI tuned for the living room. The game library is a lot deeper than what you get on Linux, too, and lots of titles already have native support for the Xbox 360 controller. At least right now, Windows-based gaming rigs certainly look like better console alternatives than anything based on SteamOS.

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