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Saturday | December 10, 2016
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Alienware Steam Machine Review

Alienware Steam Machine Review

Earlier this year we saw a few manufacturers bring systems based on the Steam Machine idea to market. They lacked a few things though, some basic like official branding and others more significant such as the final version of the Steam controller. Times are changing though and today we look at one of the final retail models in our Alienware Steam Machine Review.

Alienware Steam Machine Review – Packaging and Bundle

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The Alienware Steam Machine arrives in a fairly standard box, a logo, an information sticker and thats about it. Inside the system and bundled items are all held in protective foam with the machine also wrapped in protective material. The key bundled items are the mains cable, 130w PSU, HDMI cable and of course the Steam Controller… more on that shortly.

Alienware Steam Machine Review – The New Steam Machine

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The New Steam Machine is a very compact system measuring 200x200x55mm and Alienware have opted for a plastic shell, mixing matt and glossy panels. It weighs 1.81KG and on the front panel we have the Alien Head as a power button/LED and two USB ports.

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Flipping the system over we can see that there are four rubber feet on the base of the system to keep it steady on our desk and that the front corner is angled with the Steam logo present. There is also a removable panel on the base which reveals a USB port which can be used for the wireless receiver used with the Steam Controller.

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Turning round to the back of the system we find the two main exhaust vents for the system. The beneath them is the power input, HDMI in and out, Optical Audio, GB LAN port and two USB 3.0 ports.

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What’s going on inside the New Alienware Steam Machine? We start with two dedicated coolers, one for the CPU and one for the GPU. The CPU used in our sample is a Haswell based Core i7-4765T, a 4 core CPU with hyperthreading which runs as 2.0Ghz as standard, turboing up to 3.0Ghz as required. The platform uses DDR3, 8GB of 1600MHz Crucial sticks (2x4GB) are present here. I3 and I5 configurations with other memory capacities are also available.

Naming the GPU is a little more difficult. As with another Steam Machine we reviewed recently this isnt your standard desktop part. In their notes Alienware don’t even give it a name… we’re going to go with it being a GTX 750Ti based part. Which is also similar to the GTX 950M/860M. That means 640 CUDA cores, 16 ROPs and 40 TMUs. Our memory bus is 128bit and Alienware provide 2GB of GDDR5.  Core speed is 1020GHz and memory 1253MHz. All the standard GeForce features are supported.

Finally we have Wireless-AC Wi-Fi, dual band Intel 4765 with Bluetooth 4.0 and a 1TB, 7200RPM drive.

Alienware Steam Machine Review – The Controller

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This is the retail Steam Controller and its wireless receiver, a small device which fits nicely in the internal port of the Steam Machine. The controller itself is a mix of glossy and textured surfaces and of course we get those two touch sensitive pads in the top right and left. These also act as buttons when pressed in. The thumb stick and four action buttons will be familiar to most gamers and the function buttons top centre, the same. A USB connector can be found on the top of the unit, ideal for when battery power runs low, or to update the firmware.

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Flipping the steam controller over we find two shoulder buttons and two triggers. This trigger section can actually be removed by sliding the switch on the base of the controller. That reveals the space in each side of the controller for our batteries.

Alienware Steam Machine Review – Software/Steam OS/BIOS

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When we turn on the Steam Machine it boots into Steam OS in seconds and on first boot that also means a setup wizard. Nothing too fancy, just the usual creation of accounts etc. SteamOS is Linux based and while we can move to the desktop, Valve’s intention is for us to spend our time in the Steam app, essentially Steam’s Big Picture Mode from the PC version. We can view basic details on our system, change key options, even update the controller firmware and all of this functions fairly well using the Steam Controller. Valve have also tried to implement a keyboard tailored to it, the left side using the left touch pad and the right side using the right.

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Really though the Steam Machine is very much a standard desktop PC, so we can for example access a normal BIOS and even install Windows before running the PC version of Steam as normal. Standard drivers from Intel and NVIDIA work just fine, no need to worry about that.

Alienware Steam Machine Review – Performance

Testing was completed on the New Alienware Steam Machine with its default configuration as stated above, Windows 10 64bit and the latest drivers/patches at the time of writing.

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Alienware Steam Machine Review – Conclusion

Before we get on to the hardware, lets just take a moment to revisit our experience with Steam OS and the Steam Controller… it doesn’t vary from Steam Machine to Steam Machine…

Overall, Steam OS isn’t quite there yet for daily use. It does boot quickly and it is fairly simple to use but it does occasionally error in ways we wouldn’t expect. For example when trying to access the Steam Store. Out of the box the functionality is limited and as it is Linux based, the games available are limited when compared to the PC version of Steam too. It has potential as an OS but really any serious gamer will want to get a copy of Windows on there right away and it’s great that standard desktop drivers from the component manufacturers to allow this.

The Steam Controller was much like the OS. It has potential but its not quite the finished article. We like the idea of the touch sensitive pads and using them to move pointers instead of a mouse works well. That said when you hover over a letter on the virtual keyboard and then push the touch sensitive pad to action the click/select it can bump you on to the next letter which is frustrating.

Not all games support its features too, though profiles should become available in the future and we found the shape to be too large. For an adult it is probably fine however kids will find the thumb and main action buttons a stretch. It would also be fair to say that this controller has very much the same feel as 3rd party Xbox and Playstation controllers, not quite that same quality feel as the official Sony and Microsoft versions.

Using the controller in Windows was also not an ideal experience. Again limited use of the touch pads was evident and we even found a few odd bugs. Fallout 4 for example wouldn’t allow any interaction on its main menu, from any device, when the Steam Controller was connected. All in all, we see no current reason why anyone would use the Steam Controller over the Xbox 360 controller (if they have access to one).

So we’ve established that the first thing you need to do on the Steam Machine is install Windows, enable Steam Big Picture mode and then connect a Xbox controller (which Alienware offer as an optional extra at checkout…along with throwing in some free games.). From there on we can focus on the Alienware hardware. Overall, our experience with that was positive. Good CPU, decent amount of hard drive space. More than enough memory for most uses and a mainstream GPU. We also very much like the styling of the system, compact looks cool and the chassis combined with the dual cooler inside runs pretty quiet and at decent temperatures too.

Would we like to see any design changes? A few… firstly the option to gain easy access to the inside via a removable bottom panel would be ideal. From there, the ability to add in a second drive (M.2), or easily change the stock one. And upgrade memory in future too. It is possible to get to the inside but it should be easier.

As far as gaming performance goes, all in all, good. The CPU is more than enough to run the latest games and our GPU is ideal for most at 1080/HD resolution with a mix of medium/high detail. In older titles, such as League of Legends or Counter Strike it will breeze through with higher framerates. The system is also capable of outputting at 4K for desktop, productivity and media use which makes this an ideal hub for those tasks too.

Recommended Award

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Alienware Steam Machine
Author Rating
4

About Author

Stuart Davidson

1 Comment

  1. Chris Martin

    “Out of the box the functionality is limited and as it is Linux based”

    In what way is it limited?

    “It has potential as an OS but really any serious gamer will want to
    get a copy of Windows on there right away and it’s great that standard
    desktop drivers”

    *Hulk-double-handed-face-palm-slap.

    Yep, because crappy AAA console ports to Windows, licensing issues, third party launchers (Uplay,GFWL…), DLC bait, pre-purchase content robbery, broken games on launch, publisher online-only DRM is the way to continue folks!

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