Dell could be angling for “Steam box” status with the Alienware X51, a living room-friendly, small form factor gaming desktop that is now available with the Ubuntu Linux operating system preinstalled.
Alienware has been selling Windows-sporting versions of the X51 for more than a year now at $699 and up, but only recently began offering a Ubuntu-powered variant. The Linux-based PC promises 1080p gaming at a base price of $599, in a compact tower design that can stand upright or lie flat. With Ubuntu installed, the basic X51 is $100 cheaper than a comparable Windows configuration.
Base specs for the Alienware X51 include a 3.3GHz Intel Core i3 processor, a 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 645 graphics card, 6 GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and a DVD drive.
More expensive configurations include up to an Intel Core i7 processor, a 1.5GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 660 graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and a 2TB hard drive, with the price maxing out at $1100. However, due to a current sale on higher-end Windows systems, the Ubuntu version is actually $50 more expensive for the high-end model with 2TB storage option.
Gaming on Linux gains Steam
Dell isn’t being shy about its love for Steam as a Linux gaming option. Valve’s gaming service is mentioned several times in a blog post on Dell’s Website, and Steam is also featured in the product shots for the X51. Alienware’s product site also talks up Steam’s Big Picture mode, a console-like interface for browsing and launching games on televisions.
Dell’s blog post also notes the big downside with Steam on Linux: Most PC games aren’t yet supported. While Steam on Linux’s title selection is indeed fairly limited at this point, the Windows version of Steam—and many of the games it offers—work like a charm on Ubuntu when run in the WINE emulator. Gaming on Linux isn’t the headache it used to be, and the Alienware X51 eliminates even more hassle by shipping with Nvidia graphics drivers preinstalled.
The timing of the Ubuntu X51’s release may not be coincidental. Valve has repeatedly talked about its plans to bring Steam to the living room—and not only with its own Steam Box hardware, but also with multiple boxes from PC makers. However, the company hasn’t yet announced specific hardware. And although Valve had invested in modular PC maker Xi3, the two companies are apparently not working together on the Piston, a diminutive $1000 gaming box. One sticking point seems to be Piston’s use of Windows, rather than Linux.
Is Dell trying to sweep in and get its Alienware X51 anointed as a Steam box? With a preinstalled version of Steam and Valve’s official stamp of approval, Dell could get a sales boost—and Valve could get a big-name brand ambassador for its Steam Box initiative. It sure looks like Dell is auditioning for the part.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.