Alienware Windows-based Alpha Steam Machine pictures and hands-on

Alienware has shown off its new Alpha Steam Machine at E3 2014 in Los Angeles, where Pocket-lint experienced a brief demo with the console and learned about a recent change in plans. Here's the big twist: Alienware's new Steam Machine actually runs Windows.

By now you're probably scratching your head, wondering how a Steam Machine could in fact be a Steam Machine if it's not based on Valve's open-source operating system. It's simple, kind of. Valve announced earlier this year that it would delay the Steam Machine platform until 2015, but that put the company's hardware partners into a tight spot. Alienware, for instance, had its own product roadmap that saw the release of a Steam Machine by the holiday season. Despite the delay on Valve's end, Alienware is sticking to the original plan by releasing the Alpha Steam Machine it debuted at CES 2014 in January.

However, because Valve's Linux-based SteamOS and highly-criticised Steam Controller won't actually launch for another year, Alienware's compact console will need to ship as a Windows 8.1-based console. For those of you who abhor Windows, don't worry too much. Alpha will boot to Alienware's custom interface. The new interface basically allows gamers to bypass the traditional desktop view and get direct access to core system functions and their Steam library through Big Picture mode. That's right. Gamers will still be able to use the Big Picture mode within Valve's Steam software to stream PC games on a television.

Big Picture mode is currently compatible with roughly 240 games, but Alpha Steam Machine gamers won't be able to play them with a Steam Controller. They'll instead need to use an Xbox 360 wireless controller. Alienware plans to package Alpha with one wireless controller and sell the entire bundle for $549. The company will start taking pre-orders during the third quarter and hopes to launch everything around Christmas. And when Valve finally rolls out its Steam Machine platform, Alpha will supposedly be ready. It is designed to "easily integrate" with SteamOS and the Steam Controller.

As far as technical specifications go, Alienware said Alpha features (base configuration) an Intel Core i3 Haswell-based processor, 4GB of RAM, 500 GB SATA 3 drive, and a custom-built GPU based on NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture. The Alpha will also have spec options for Intel Core i5 and i7 Haswell processors. During our brief hands-on at Nvidia's E3 booth, we weren't allowed to photograph Alienware's custom interface, though we did play some Bro Force and other cool games. We thought the Alpha looked extremely sleek, especially with its Steam-inspired blue illumination, and it ran just as nicely too.

That said, we couldn't help but think of Alienware's Alpha as more of a boxed-up PC for gaming rather than a real Steam Machine. Speaking of Steam Machine, we have to admit things are starting to get a bit confusing. And that's not a good thing, considering the platform was initially supposed to streamline PC gaming.