The good: Hardware upgradeable to a degree; sleek design; easy to bring Steam into the living room.
The bad: Majority of games have to be streamed from PC; PC games don’t always translate well; controller is imperfect.
Who should purchase it: PC gamers who mostly use Steam and would like a console experience.
The bottom line: A good living room PC with some significant limitations.
In general, gamers have been split into two camps: console gamers and PC gamers.
Each one has its advantages. For example, PC gamers can update their hardware whenever they can afford to (or whenever they wish) instead of waiting for a manufacturer to launch a new console. They generally enjoy a better degree of precision thanks to a keyboard and mouse over a console controller. However, consoles are more convenient for gaming in the living room and are made to run smoothly. They need less fiddling than gaming PCs and are cheaper in general.
Valve, which runs the popular PC gaming platform Steam, doesn’t think these two worlds have to be separate. The company has teamed up with hardware manufacturers to produce console-like boxes called Steam Machines that can usher in the platform’s library of games to your TV screen. The Alienware Steam Machine is one of the first of these devices to emerge on the market.
Starting at $449, the Alienware Steam Machine is a slim device roughly the size of a cable box that runs on Valve’s SteamOS software. It is a compact console that comes with its own controller, but can be upgraded often the same way a PC would. This means gamers won’t have to wait years for the next generation Alienware Steam Machine in order to get improved performance. It also means gamers with a lot of PC games can play them on their living room televisions.
The user interface on the Alienware Steam Machine is familiar and basic. If you are used to using Steam’s Big Picture mode on your PC, you will immediately feel right at home with SteamOS because the interface is the same.
Even though Alienware Steam Machine is meant for gaming, it can perform some other tasks. Through SteamOS you can browse the web, but the experience isn’t flawless. The controller sometimes lags when you move the cursor around webpages. It also seems odd that you have to press one of the action buttons in order to click on a link. Seeing as the touchpad also clicks, it would be better to just press the touchpad to click on a link.
Pressing the Steam button in the middle of the controller while playing will pause the game and give you some information such as how many achievements you have unlocked, other friends that play the same game, whether or not it can be streamed to a PC, and any screenshots you’ve taken.
The main attraction of the Alienware Steam Machine is that it enables you to access games you would normally play on PC, through your TV from the comfort of your sofa.
However, there’s a possibility that a lot of the games you bought will have to be streamed from your PC. Only 1,500 of the 6,500 games available in Steam’s store are compatible with SteamOS. However, you can see if a game runs on SteamOS before you buy it. You’ll see a tiny Steam symbol if it works with SteamOS when you click on a title.
Alienware Steam Machine allows for a smooth console-like experience when playing games that work with SteamOS.
Making a gaming console that’s designed to target PC gamers is a trying and ambitious task. But the Alienware Steam Machine is a marker of the possibilities that exist for bringing the two worlds together.