High-end gaming PC vendor Alienware says it will still put out a Steam Machine console this year, even if it can't ship it with Valve's vaunted mega-controller – and it won't arrive running SteamOS.
The Dell division's console, now officially dubbed the Alienware Alpha, still looks very much like the design that was revealed in Valve's Steam Machine brochure from this year's CES, but what ships under the hood will be a very different beast from what was previously announced.
It will still be based on Steam; that much hasn't changed. But rather than running SteamOS, Valve's custom Linux variant, the Alpha will now come preloaded with – drumroll, please – Windows 8.1. And instead of a sci-fi controller from Valve, it will ship with a humble Xbox 360 controller.
Layered on top of the Windows Steam client will be "a custom software interface exclusive to Alienware" that the company says will make the system's UI fully navigable without a keyboard or mouse (although there are two USB ports on the front if you need alternative input).
The move comes after a lead Valve developer said last month not to expect any Steam Machines until 2015, owing to problems the company was having implementing its high-tech controller design – deftly sidestepping the fact that SteamOS, too, is still under development.
That news is sure to have disappointed the 14 hardware makers that had already announced Steam Machines and were planning to ship them by mid-2014. Now Dell's Alienware division seems so miffed about it that it's prepared to deal Valve a major kick in the pants.
Oh, you'll still be able to install SteamOS on your Alienware Alpha when it arrives. And the company says the console will "easily integrate" with the Steam Controller when and if Valve can get it built. Everybody's still friends!
But consider this: SteamOS is a Linux-based platform. There are more than 3,200 games available on Steam right now, but only around 500 of them currently run on Linux. Valve founder Gabe Newell may not be a Windows fan, but most gamers probably know which side their bread is buttered on.
The Steam Controller, on the other hand, might still be a draw – especially if Valve succeeds in creating something that can be used to play mouse-and-keyboard games, too. But between the design's multiple buttons, onboard LCD screens, haptic feedback, and wireless connectivity, Valve – a software company – may have bitten off more than it can chew.
Alienware says it will ship the Windows-powered Alpha in time for the 2014 holiday shopping season. How many takers it will get, however, is anybody's guess. The company says the console will have a list price starting at $549; by comparison, Microsoft's and Sony's latest, top-selling consoles can each be had for $399. ®