Alienware Steam Machine or Alpha?
The release of the Steam Machines has caught the attention of many Linux gamers, and one of the most prominent Steam Machines comes from Alienware. Reviews have started to appear of the Alienware Steam Machine. Is it worth buying or should you stick with the Windows-based Alienware Alpha instead?
The PCMag review of the Alienware Steam Machine
Jordan Minor at PCMag questions the choice of Linux as the operating system for the Alienware Steam Machine:
At its best, the Steam Machine's combination of PC-gaming openness and console-gaming ease of use trumps the experience you'll get on either platform. But the Achilles' heel that is SteamOS's reliance on Linux prevents you from having that experience with many of your games. And while future Steam Machines may perform better than Alienware's model, unless Valve convinces countless more developers to support Linux, that problem will plague all hardware that follows this blueprint.
If you want the Steam experience on your television, we recommend pairing your existing gaming PC with a Steam Link instead. And if you don't want to deal with the potential lag of streaming, or are enamored with the idea of having a compact gaming PC in your living room like a console, the Alienware Alpha offers an identical chassis and specs with exponentially more gaming choices due to its Windows OS.
The Alienware Steam Machine's wonderful dream of PC-gaming optimized for your television is undercut by the disappointing reality of a gaming PC that only supports Linux.
The PC World review of the Alienware Steam Machine
Hayden Dingman at PC World questioned the longevity of Alienware's Steam Machine:
Last year I bought an Xbox One. I expect to use it for the next seven years, and I will be able to play every single game released for it during that time. The Alienware Steam Machine? It’s already limited to playing modern games at 1920x1080 on Medium settings—I played BioShock Infinite, Metro 2033 Redux, and Spec Ops: The Line with those presets, and still saw the occasional frame rate dip. And none of those games are cutting-edge releases; they were simply the shiniest Linux-capable games I owned.
In two or three years? Expect the Alienware Steam Machine to be limited to low settings on big-budget games. Or you can stream the games from your more capable primary rig, but then why spend $450-plus on a full-fledged Steam Machine when you could just opt for the $50 Steam Link?
I’m not saying the Alienware Steam Machine is devoid of benefits. It hits 1080p natively, which the Xbox One still has problems doing consistently. It’s whisper-quiet, which is also more than I can say of the Xbox One. It’s plugged directly into your TV, so there’s no chance of significant input lag or image compression like you might see while streaming. And if your primary PC rig isn’t that great (or is a Mac)? Well, the Alienware Steam Machine is a surprisingly competent gaming machine for not-that-much money. It’s definitely a better investment than a gaming laptop, considering the internals are mostly identical.
But it’s packing hardware that’s already a generation behind current PCs, and the gap will only grow. The Alienware Steam Machine is a solid entry-level gaming PC, sure—but one lacking the upgrade path it needs to stay viable.
Destructoid's review of the Alienware Steam Machine
Chris Carter at Destructoid noted that SteamOS still has some growing to do:
The problem with the prospect of a Steam Machine in general is SteamOS itself. Compared to a typical PC with over 4,500 Steam titles to choose from, SteamOS supports roughly 1,500. Alienware notes that this is "not a PC-killer," but instead an add-on for the PC experience. I'm not entirely sold on that concept yet, mainly because of the efforts of Valve so far. Really, its OS has a long way to go. More publishers need to support it, and older games need to have supported added in -- support for Batman: Arkham Knight, for example, isn't being added until Spring 2016. There are a ton of games that I couldn't play as a result of this limitation, and publishers aren't exactly open as to whether or not some of the biggest upcoming titles will support it. You can thankfully sort SteamOS games on your local HDD, but when browsing the store on the Machine, it's hard to tell what will work. Throw me a bone, Valve.
During my tests, everything that was supported by SteamOS ran without issues from a performance standpoint. The machine seems to default to medium settings for a lot of games (like Dying Light for example), but it can usually be jacked up to high or ultra. The main issue I ran into was that some titles would freeze or not run at all despite their SteamOS status, but it turns out that by contacting the individual publishers, this is a problem on their end. Again -- a SteamOS-centric problem. Xbox 360 remotes will work without any issues, but Xbox One remotes are not fully supported yet in-house. You can also chat with friends on this particular Steam Machine, browse the community section of Steam and the web, access music, and run a few select apps like Netflix, mostly from the browser.
I think the Alienware Steam Machine is off to a good start based on what it's selling, provided that you don't want to go through the effort of creating your own PC and hooking it up to a TV. The concept is also great, as it stresses the convenience of a console and the customization and open platform of a PC -- I can see the appeal of a hybrid like this. Alienware is seriously being held back by Valve itself though, as SteamOS still needs a lot more support before it becomes a viable platform.
Additional reviews of Alienware's Steam Machine
I included three reviews in this roundup, but there are some other reviews that are worth checking out as well. Give them a read before you make a decision about buying the Alienware Steam Machine.
Did you miss a roundup? Check the Eye On Open home page to get caught up with the latest news about open source and Linux.
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