It's Not Clear Who Alienware's Steam Machine Is For

It's Not Clear Who Alienware's Steam Machine Is For

Alienware's Steam Machine is on the right track, but it's not quite there yet.

I've been playing around with Alienware's Steam Machine for the better part of a week, and I really like what it tries to do. Since time immemorial, PC gaming has been regarded as a walled garden, a tree fort palace that only those with the hottest tech toys (and a masochistic love of complication) dare infiltrate. That reputation is, of course, overblown, but a seed of truth is what allowed it to take root in the collective consciousness.

Alienware's Steam Machine took me 15 minutes to set up. I removed it from the box, plugged it in, and had it fully updated in the time it took me to think about making a sandwich but then — at the last second — reconsider. It was, frankly, a more console-like experience than modern consoles offer. I was impressed as hell.

Problem is, the experience doesn't stay that way. Alienware's Steam Machine has an clean front porch with a welcome mat that doubles as the only existent image of Gabe Newell smiling, but once you get inside things are a bit... hairier. Here are some issues I've encountered:

  • The game library is limited. Remember, Steam Machines run Steam OS, which is a modified version of Linux. If the game you want to play doesn't have a Linux version, no dice. There are currently over 1,000 Linux games on Steam, but a lot of heavy hitters aren't on the list. I tried to install The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and Metal Gear Solid V, all to no avail.

  • Some games that should work with it still don't. I tried playing Trine 3, only to get stuck at the "choose resolution/graphics/etc" screen because my Steam controller didn't work with it. Even the Steam button — which should have let me exit and go back to Steam — did nothing. I ended up having to restart my entire machine.

  • In-home streaming is a little laggy. The potential solution to both of the above problems is to simply stream games to your Steam Machine from a Windows-enabled PC, but I've now used the feature in two different houses with high-speed Internet, and I've still encountered noticeable framerate drops and stutters. Using Valve's Steam Link produced a noticeable improvement, but at that point why buy a Steam Machine at all?

  • The interface is still kinda clunky. Valve isn't fully done giving Steam OS/Steam Big Picture Mode a makeover, but even in The Streamlined Regions there's a bit of clunk in Steam's trunk. I could see newcomers being overwhelmed, especially when it comes to finding the games they want to play, figuring out if they're Steam OS compatible, or — hell — understanding the difference between regular Steam and Steam OS. The store and library still need big improvements.

  • Figuring out good controller configurations takes a lot of work. I already went into this in my piece about the Steam controller, but this is a big part of the overall Steam Machine equation. Fiddling with controller configurations is a big barrier to entry — another tedious trudge in the already (sometimes) intimidating process that is starting a new game. I'm glad the controller is so customisable, but it can be overwhelming. Until users have created a bunch of optimal settings we can all pick from (and possibly even then, since it's on a per-game basis), it will hold the Steam Machine back from being a truly plug-and-play experience.

All that said, it's still a solid mid-range gaming PC for $US450. So far, my Steam Machine hasn't had trouble with any of the games I've thrown at it, including a few on Ultra graphic settings. If you're in the market for something pre-assembled, easy (ish) to use, and basically portable, that's a tempting deal.

Frankly, though, I can't wholeheartedly recommend this thing to anybody yet. If you're a PC gaming newcomer, I'd say the barrier to entry here is still too high; in the process of trying to simplify some things (especially controls), Valve actually made them more complicated. Also, it's limited by technically being a Linux machine. On the other hand, if you've been using Steam since the service (and possibly also you) was in diapers, you're better off just grabbing a Steam Link and streaming to your living room from your PC. Unless your current computer is ancient — more hamster wheel than machine — there's just not a great reason to also own an Alienware Steam Machine.

Granted, all of this is subject to change. The Alienware Steam Machine isn't out yet, and Valve has said that some big changes are inbound before its launch in early November. I imagine the experience will evolve quite a bit after people start getting their hands on Steam Machines, too. That is, after all, The Valve Way (for better or worse).


Comments

    Meanwhile... I love my Windows 10 Steam Machine w/ 360 controller. Can't wait for the Xbox One Controller dongle.

    This is not going to win over console gamers, and most PC gamers will sneer at it.

    so like most Alienware tech it's expensive and kind of useless...

      Not really Alienware's fault to be honest. It's the whole idea of Steam Machine.

      It's fun to rag on Alienware and all but I don't think it's really an Alienware issue, the limitations seem to be caused by Valve's SteamOS and the majority of games not having support for it and bugs with controller support doesn't it?

      far from it actually... i bought an alienware alpha (pictured) for $625... i basically wantted a small compact machine that i can use for emulation, and pc couch coop games. instead ive been using it for running games like Ryse: Son of rome, Watch Dogs, WWE 2K15, BF4, and even the Battlefront Beta, at Full HD on high settings.

      my version of it is the Windows 10 version

    Ok, Nathan, I quote (in reference to In-Home Streaming):

    "I’ve now used the feature in two different houses with high-speed Internet, and I’ve still encountered noticeable framerate drops and stutters."

    In-Home Streaming doesn't use the internet, so either you fuck up in this article, or you have no idea how In-Home Streaming works and because of this, you don't know how to set it up properly and so have encounter problems.

    I use In-Home Streaming with a Intel Compte Stick, a device that is SUBSTANTIALLY less powerful then this device and I have zero issues with maximum quality settings.

    This device is for In-Home Streaming and Home Theatre usage, you can install Kodi or a browser and even a VPN and get all the content you like, you can Stream your Steam games (and non-Steam games) to it, etc, etc. That's what it is for.

    P.S. You can Stream Windows games to a Linux based device.

    Last edited 16/10/15 1:29 pm

      Yeah I'm not sure if Nathan meant it uses the internet (that line is removed in the US version of the article). I think maybe he meant different networks/routers/house layouts?

      This device is for In-Home Streaming and Home Theatre usage.

      Do you mean your compute stick, or the steam box. Because that's not really true of the steam box. The landing page for the steam machine is pretty clear that this is a "gaming machine". It's primary use, according to the alienware site is "PC gaming console".

    Who was the Xbox for when it first launched? Or the Playstation?

    The started in the same circumstances.

    It seems like the problem here isn't the hardware, it's SteamOS.

    Chuck Windows 10 on the thing and it would fix pretty much all these complaints except maybe Big Picture Mode still being clunky.

      Agree, except it has a custom GPU. I imagine that would be a headache if you installed windows.

        no issue whatsoever. it uses the same drivers as the geforce 800 series notebook drivers.

          That's good to know, thanks.

            just for reference: http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/04/product-support/product/alienware-alpha/drivers/advanced

            cli the find it myself button. full driversets for windows 8.1 and 10

    Its a limitation of the OS, far from it actually... i bought an alienware alpha (pictured) for $625. except i bought the W10 version. i basically wantted a small compact machine that i can use for emulation, and pc couch coop games. instead ive been using it for running games like Ryse: Son of rome, Watch Dogs, WWE 2K15, BF4, and even the Battlefront Beta, at Full HD on high settings.

    there is no way i would have gotten the same hardware value for money really.... especially considering its size.

    Last edited 16/10/15 2:02 pm

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now