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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.

I could build my own for $14!

Because there's always going to be the "why not build my own?" crowd that chimes in, I decided to try to build my own Alpha. In theory anyway. In the end, I came close but couldn't beat the Alpha's cost, and that's not counting a wireless controller and dongle too.

You're welcome to try to outdo me by going to PC Part Picker, but I think you'll be surprised (and yes, you have to pay for the OS, bubba). Keep in mind builders, this is a miniature 8-by-8-by-2-inch PC with a GPU capable of playing most of today's games at 1080p at medium settings, and some at high. It doesn't happen at this size for this much money. If a motherboard maker sold a thin-ITX version of this motherboard with an embedded GeForce GTX 860M, I'd be the first one in line for it.

And that's the real shocker: the Alienware Alpha is actually a pretty good deal even if you intend to use it mostly as a PC with some gaming capability.

The Zotac Zbox EN760 Plus that we reviewed in July has a quad-core Haswell chip and the same GeForce GTX860M as the Alpha. but it's sans OS for $640. With a controller and OS, you'd be pushing $800 for it. That quad-core is nice, but for a gaming box, I'd take the savings instead unless I was doing content creation.

The upshot

The Alienware Alpha should be viewed as a great console complement, rather than a replacement. The Alpha isn't smooth enough to be the hardcore console gamer's sole experience, especially if that gamer wants the carefully controlled environment of the consoles. If that console gamer, however, wanted to sail the vast ocean of PC gaming, where fantastic titles can be had for a pittance, the Alpha would be a wonderful addition to a shelf that already holds the Xbox One, PS4, Ouya and Wii.

The real killer application for the Alpha, though, is as a small gaming and general-use computer. A parent looking for a small desktop box capable of playing the little one's games could buy the Alpha, drop it on the kid's desk, and not look back. At $550, it'll outperform any budget laptop. The fact that you can also run Office, Photoshop, and other productivity apps make it far more useful as a first game "console."

It's not just for kids, either. Anyone looking for a nicely built tiny PC with actual gaming capability should seriously consider the Alpha. That, overall, is a win for the Alpha, even if it isn't the console killer some hoped it would be.


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