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Alienware Alpha Review: A shockingly good tiny PC and console complement

Gordon Mah Ung | Nov. 25, 2014
Hardware has a shelf life like a gallon of milk. If it sits on the store shelf too long, it ends up getting poured down the drain.

The texture detail on the Xbox One is simply atrocious next to the Alpha's. The resolution may have been 1080p coming out of the HDMI port on the Xbone, but it had been clearly upsampled and stomped on so much that Nino Brown would bust a cap in you if he knew you'd stepped on his product this much.

So score one for the Alpha: Its image quality definitely puts the hurt on at least one of the next-gen consoles. It wasn't just my admitted PC-gaming bias either: I asked another editor and another resident console gamer, and both gave the big thumbs-up to the Alpha in visual quality.

(I would have preferred to do a frame capture on the Xbox One as well, but the unit doesn't let you do so at 1080p. I could have captured video and snapped a cap, but doing so would also induce image quality reductions, and I didn't want to be accused of handicapping the Xbox One. Just believe me, it looks far better on the Alpha.)

One could argue that I should've used a game that's optimized for the Xbox One's architecture and its esoteric ESRAM to help put its best graphics foot forward. Without going too far down the console architecture rabbit hole, more memory bandwidth generally improves graphics performance.

The Xbox One uses pedestrian DDR3 for graphics memory in combination with 32MB of super-fast embedded SRAM to improve bandwidth. But 32MB isn't much, and developers apparently aren't stopping to tune their games for the ESRAM. It's just easier to lower the resolution or texture quality to get frame rates higher.

The hard truth is that for a lot of games, the Alpha is going to look sharper with textures you can bite on, versus the soft-upsampled games. And no, I didn't have a PS4 to compare to the Alpha, so this isn't a conspiracy to put the Alpha only against the lesser of the two consoles.

What it costs

That brings us to cost. The unit I touched came in at $550 including a wireless Xbox 360 controller. Today, you can get the Sony PlayStation 4 for $400 and the Xbox One for $400 without its Kinect. That's a long way from $550. Clearly the consoles have the price advantage.

Alienware argues that you can easily close that gap buying games on Steam. That's not always going to be true — new games on Steam are just as pricey as the new console game releases — but older Steam titles are a different story. You could spend $65 on a Steam sale and play games for the next eight months without getting bored.


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