First things, first; what the heck is an Alienware Steam Machine? Glad I asked. Alienware’s Steam Machine is a gaming PC that was born out of the need to bring PC gaming out from behind the desk and into the living room. It’s a tiny, yet powerful PC that’s capable of playing all the latest games and starts at $449.
Since this is a First Impressions post, I won’t go into too much detail about the system, as I’ll leave that for my full review. But I’d like to give you an overall sense of Alienware’s Steam Machine after I’ve had a few hours of playtime.
Check out my Unboxing video below for a quick look at the hardware before diving in:
At its core, the Steam Machine is a PC that runs Vavle’s Steam gaming platform, which has been packaged into an operating system called SteamOS. It’s a Linux-based operating system that is almost identical to Steam’s Big Picture Mode on a PC or Mac. SteamOS allows you to browse the Steam game store, your game library, play games (of course), check out the Steam Community section, use a web browser, and more.
The biggest downfall to the Linux-based SteamOS is that it’s limited to only being able to play games that are compatible with Linux. And honestly, there’s a dearth of Linux compatible Triple-A games on Steam. Fallout 3 or the upcoming Fallout 4? Nope. Grand Theft Auto? Nope. The Witcher 3? Nope. While there are lots of fun games to play on SteamOS, major game releases are conspicuously absent. Even my recent personal favorite, Rocket League, is not yet compatible with Linux and therefore, SteamOS. While Alienware and Valve will claim that the Steam Machines have “more games than any other platform,” there should be an asterisk somewhere in that statement.
Steam wants this to be a non-issue, however, so they’ve come up with Steam In-Home Streaming so that you can play Steam games from your Windows-based PC but stream them to your SteamOS Steam Machine over your home’s network. I tried it a few times playing Rocket League, with mixed results. I was using a wired connection and still had some stuttering and lag issues. While In-Home Streaming may be used for casual gameplay, I wouldn’t recommend it for online multiplayer games.
So far, however, I’ve found SteamOS very easy to use, as it’s menu system is fairly intuitive. It’s meant to be a console for PC games, and it does that quite well. I’m just struggling to accept the fact that even though it’s a PC, it’s really only meant to act like a gaming console and not do the million other things that PCs typically do. You are able to access the Linux desktop, however, through the system settings, but I haven’t played around with that too much. I’ve encountered some bugs that kicked me out of games I was playing, but I’ll chalk that up to SteamOS not yet being out of beta.
When I first opened the box, I was amazed at how SMALL the Steam Machine was. It’s not much larger than my hand stretched out … and my hands aren’t that big. It’s made to be placed in your living room’s media center, to complement the cable box, stereo, and not draw too much attention to itself while it’s powered off. When it’s on, however, you’ll absolutely notice the colored LED lit Steam logo and Alienware alien hear logo that’s also a power button. You can change those colors within the system settings, which is a nice touch.
The Alienware Steam Machine that I’ve been given as part of The Alienware Steam Machine First Look Program is the $549 version, which includes an Intel 4th generation Core i3 Processor, 8GB RAM, and a 7,200 RPM 1TB hard drive.
The Alienware Steam Machine is upgradable as well, so you can replace the CPU, RAM, hard drive, and wireless adapter. It has 5 built-in USB jacks with one hidden underneath the console that’s used as a parking spot for the Steam Controller USB dongle. Surprisingly, there are no heat issues due to its small form factor. This is because Alienware and NVIDIA came up with a truly custom-built GPU that’s soldered down to the board and cooled by a heatsink and fan with minimal heat and noise.
Alienware’s Steam Machine doesn’t come with a keyboard or a mouse. That’s because the included Steam Controller, made by Valve, has two built-in clickable track pads that can replace both the mouse and a keyboard, using an on-screen keyboard and each of your thumbs to click the virtual keys. It works surprisingly well once you get used to it. In addition to the two trackpads, there are 4 buttons on the front that mimic an Xbox or Playstation controller, bumpers and dual-stage triggers on top, with two additional buttons on the back of the controllers where the rest of your fingers land. The track pads are fitted with beautiful haptic feedback that give you a physical sense of the track pads without having to look down. The Steam Controller also has a gyroscope built-in so it can be used similar to a Wii remote if desired.
The best thing about the Steam Controller is it’s customizability. You can map any keyboard command onto the Steam Controller using SteamOS’s menu system and save custom key maps for each game. What’s great about the Steam community is that you can also share your custom controller maps for each game and share them with your peers.
The most difficult part of using the Steam Controller is it’s steep learning curve. It’s completely unlike any gaming controller you’ve ever used, so it takes a lot of time to get used to. When you pick it up, you can understand the potential, but it takes hours of gameplay to learn how to use it and where your fingers need to go.
Alienware’s Steam Machine is not meant to replace the gaming rig you’ve spent years building, upgrading, and maintaining. It’s meant to sit in your living room, on the same shelf as your Xbox or Playstation and complement your gaming experience. It’s meant to enhance multiplayer gaming by allowing you and your friends to sit on the couch together rather than crowding around your desk.
I’ve been enjoying my time with the Alienware Steam Machine, with it’s ups and minor downs, and am excited for what it could mean for the PC gaming industry. The Alienware Steam Machine has, so far, been up to the task to play any game I threw at it without stuttering or frame rate issues and the Steam Controller really is an innovative way to provide gaming input. This is a brand new way to game with a PC and I hope that it opens up PC gaming to the masses and removes a bit of the “nerdy” stigma that comes from PC gaming. It absolutely has that potential.
Stay tuned to Gear Diary for coverage of our upcoming Steam Machine Living Room Gaming Party as well as our full review coming later this month!
Finally, be sure to check out Alienware Arena, which is Alienware’s gaming community, for all sorts of Steam Machine videos and gaming content.
Source: The Alienware Steam Machine and Steam Controller has been provided to me as a review unit by the manufacturer.