Huh: Alienware Steam Machines Can Be Upgraded After All

By Nathan Grayson on January 24th, 2014 at 4:00 pm.

Remember when Alienware said you won’t be able to upgrade or customize its Steam Machine just a few days ago? Yeah, well it didn’t really mean that. Not entirely, anyway. Dell’s mighty squad of moon men have explained that you’ll technically be able to worm around in its pristine innards – for instance, by cracking its shell with a large mallet – but don’t expect to have an easy time of it.

In a statement to Eurogamer, Alienware boss Frank Azor clarified his previous stance on the matter:

“The Alienware Steam Machine, announced at CES, is designed to deliver a great gaming experience in the living room and we will enable customers to upgrade components. Considering we’ve purposefully designed the Alienware Steam Machine to be smaller than the latest generation consoles, upgrading the internal components will not be as easy as compared to other platforms, such as the Alienware X51, but we will not prevent a customer from upgrading.”

He did, however, reiterate that Alienware’s itsy bitsy X51 behemoth is a far better choice for those who want to upgrade without undue muss or fuss. “Enabling easy upgradeability was a critical design requirement for the X51,” he said. “It includes features such as single screw access to all internal components, and easy-to-remove ODD, HDD, graphics, etc.”

So basically, it’s a second verse to what we already knew. I never figured that Alienware’s Steam Machine was, like, wired to explode if somebody attempted to replace its insides with better parts or hamsters or cyber-kitties. Rather, the problem here is that Alienware clearly isn’t facilitating the upgrade process. You can try if you want, but expect a struggle unless you’re some kind of machine whisperer.

As I outlined a couple days ago, that’s really unfortunate. Early Steam Machines will basically be ticking time bombs of obsolescence. They need to be easily upgradable if Alienware, Valve, and co don’t want a large portion of PC gamers to write them off before they get their footing. As is, however, I know I certainly won’t be purchasing Alienware’s Steam Machine. How about you? Is there anything this misguided piece of tech has going for it aside from a pretty box?

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31 Comments »

  1. coburnAlpha says:

    I’d love an Alienware machine. They is so pretty. But I’m sorry Dell, I’m afraid I’d rather stick an alien sticker on my current rig case than pay your prices!!

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      airknots says:

      I used to think that Alienware systems are pretty too, that was until I saw one in person. They kinda look flimsy and easy to smudge.

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    Wowbagger says:

    pretty, pretty, pretty…a linux box that has no easy gut wrangling? Heresy!

  3. Jeremy says:

    Well, I feel like in this case, it kind of makes sense. At first I was sort of skeptical about it, and kind of put off.. but the reality is that people who want to upgrade hardware and build computers(me) are just going to build a computer. A form factor piece of hardware designed to work with SteamOS is going to be great for people who don’t want to fiddle with hardware, and I don’t really think this is designed with people like myself in mind. Even IF this was easy to upgrade, I still wouldn’t buy it.

    • Baines says:

      I’ve been wondering how many people buy an Alienware PC and then perform more than a basic upgrade on them.

      From my time with pre-built (non-Alienware) machines, I’ve added memory, swapped hard drives (after the originals crashed), swapped DVD drives, added DVD drives (that could have as easily have been done as swaps), added a graphics card, and added a power supply (because of the graphics card needed more power). None of that was particularly major, and half was replacing existing parts.

      I didn’t do serious upgrades, because by that point I’d might as well buy a new machine. New CPUs need new motherboards. New motherboards call for new RAM. Etc… I’d just run my existing machine past its time and then buy a new machine, because there was no point in dealing with anything more than a minor do-it-yourself job.

      And if I was spending money on Alienware, I’d be even more likely to just buy a new machine when necessary.

  4. Buffer117 says:

    Am I the only one starting to see the argument that if you want an upgradeable steam box just build your own?

    If you want a small form factor PC design not possible to build yourself, that is presumably(!) well designed, cooled and a quality product, then buy this.

    If Alienware just made effectively a PC that runs steam with a prettier case no one raging here would buy it as they could just build their own cheaper, where would the business sense in that be?

    It’s like buying a gaming laptop, generally speaking you can only realistically add more ram or a different hard drive to them because of the way they are designed to be smaller and more compact, does that cause the level of outrage I’ve seen on various sites over this?

    • Jambe says:

      I don’t think Nathan’s expressing “outrage” and I haven’t seen “outrage” myself. Perhaps I misread you? Are other people expressing outrage?

      He is making a hasty generalization, though. He personally wants any HTPC he buys to be upgradeable, therefore he thinks 1) other people think similarly and 2) those other people are the only ones who would have considered buying a Steam Machine (that or they’re the only demographic which can make Steam Machines economically viable).

      He knows Valve have said they’re targeting PC gaming enthusiasts, yet apparently he doesn’t appreciate that one of the things PC gamers have in common is, well, owning gaming PCs (from which we can stream via a Steam Machine). That’s the potential appeal to a person like myself. I wouldn’t replace my gaming PC with a prebuilt Steam Machine but I’d sure as hell stick one by the TV to schlurp pixels over the network.

      As to the “can’t DIY” suggestion: Silverstone has announced Steam Machine-type chassis which are 14 liters and can fit full-size dual-slot GPUs. I think more companies will get into that market eventually (maybe they already have; I didn’t follow CES).

      I’m not sure how big Alienware’s design will be. Since they’re using “an Nvdia GPU” it’ll probably be something like ten liters, eight if they really strip it down. They won’t be able to use a big full-size GPU because they want to price it similarly to the consoles, so I figure it’ll use a diminutive single-slot affair on a short PCB or an entirely custom design.

      • Uboa Noticed You says:

        Well I mean I’m a PC gaming enthusiast and I don’t own a gaming PC. I own a shitty Dell Inspiron 15R that I got for my 17th birthday that I manipulate to my will to the best of my ability. I’m not in a financial situation where I can afford a gaming laptop (and for my purposes it /needs/ to be a laptop, since I’m in music and sound design and would appreciate being able to carry my machine with me), but the machine doesn’t necessarily make the gamer.
        So a Steam Machine COULD appeal to someone like me, especially if life is cruel enough to subject me to this computer for a few more years. But that’s only if it remains cheap.

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    AngelTear says:

    Please provide a link for legally purchasing some cyber-kitties.

  6. dahools says:

    You think this is small and not very upgradable wait until you see scan’s steam box. Its abasically a gaming laptop with the screen removed. Being from over the pond you may have never heard of them but in the UK they are a well respected pc component reseller. I have bought many bits from them over the years. http://www.scan.co.uk/info/steam
    I regularly check out their “today only” deals over the weekend see if anything catches my eye.

    You can initially configure you box in that link but good luck buying a new processor or laptop gfx card with ease later on down the line.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I’m guessing an intel NUC board with a normal HDD in the front, so not the usual space saving but expensive SSD the NUCs get.

      Ah, just seen the measurements. Nope, they could fit a full Intel, possibly AMD mini itx board in there and a low profile (sideways mounted off a riser or custom Motherboard) GPU board in there. Else just the ITX board and HDDs in the extra space.

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      Andy_Panthro says:

      They seem to have two Steamboxes on offer, the very small N10 and larger (and more powerful) N5. The larger one is still relatively small (compared to my current tower, which I got from Scan) so perhaps that’s the one to go for if you’re considering it.

      I’m still not sure if it’s worth getting a steambox at all, but I am tempted. I may just wait and get one of these smaller PCs when my current one can’t hack it any more. The prices and selection might have improved a bit in a year or two also.

  7. DanMan says:

    “How about you? Is there anything this misguided piece of tech has going for it aside from a pretty box?”

    - Well, the price hopefully.

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    Amatyr says:

    Repeat same comments from last time… form factor slimmer than you can build yourself, if you want to upgrade build your own PC as you already do, etc, etc.

    At this point, I’m going to buy an Alienware box as my choice of Steam Machine just because of all the bloody articles complaining about it!

  9. C0llic says:

    I know alienware are a big manufacturer, but I’m finding myself less than shocked that upgrading is going to be a hassle. They’ve always sold very overpriced kit for what it is, and have only really been an option for exceptionally lazy people with more money than sense and a fetish for neon lights.

    So their steam box is going to be overpriced and with other issues that mark it less than ideal? No surprise there, luckily im sure there will be many more sensible options around. If you set the bar at alienware, that’s really quite low.

    Besides, I don’t think you’re being very realistic if you think an ultra small form factor box is going to be easy to upgrade in the first place. If you want that, then either build your own as small as you can or wait for other options that are a little less compact.

    • Enkinan says:

      Exceptionally lazy guy chiming in here:

      I have been building my own rigs for around 30 years until last month when I got myself an X51 for Christmas (i5 with a 790, middle/upper of the models). If you take what your time is worth for purchasing and performing the actual build, it really isn’t THAT much more expensive than building your own.

      I also do not have a single complaint with the machine at all. It’s blazing fast, almost dead silent, and I have yet to have it falter on any game I’ve thrown at it at max settings. I also ran an HDMI cable over to my big screen in the living room and use a 360 Wireless to use steam big picture in there. It’s pretty fantastic. I just need to find a way to have a one button means of switching audio and main screen to the TV when I want to move over there for ultra-exceptional laziness. Xpadder has been nice for when I want to use the computer on the TV from the controller.

      Changing the neon colors from the desktop is a fun little touch. I wouldn’t call it a fetish though.

  10. SuicideKing says:

    In other news, Steam Streaming is live in Beta.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Oh my, now that is newsworthy. How is it going along? Are there any articles around about it?

      • iainl says:

        It’s very dependent on your network – over wireless here it was utterly unusable, sadly. But from an interface point of view it’s already looking very nicely set up – sign into Steam on both machines, and when you look at the library page for a title you can choose to play it directly on the local machine or stream from the other one, if it’s installed on both, defaulting to stream when it’s only on the remote.

  11. Geebs says:

    Of course you can upgrade the Alienware Steam Box. If you install Windows on it, you’ve instantly upgraded to actually being able to play all of your games!

    *ducks*

    (Also re: the argument about whether a Steam Box must/must not have upgradeable hardware: Nathan, look up the word “orthogonal” some time)

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    FriendlyFire says:

    I think the real question that’s been unanswered is just how much upgrading you can actually do.

    So they won’t prevent people from opening the box? Good. Some computer manufacturers actually have seals on all panels saying the warranty is void if the seal is broken, so that shouldn’t be the case here.

    But even then: is the RAM soldered? CPU? Is the GPU a specially designed shorter card, or is it just low-end enough to fit? Is there a limit to the size? How many PCI-E slots, RAM slots, SATA ports?

    This whole thing doesn’t really say much. If the RAM and CPU are all soldered on, there’s only one SATA port and one PCI-E slot, upgrades are going to be pretty damn limited anyway.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I kind of assumed that the GPU would be a laptop style card-on-a-chip sort of deal. Replaceable, but nearly impossible to find.

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        FriendlyFire says:

        Depends. Some Steam Machines use desktop parts, others use mobile parts. You can easily tell from the model number.

  13. Synesthesia says:

    I think the whole steambox thing is being misinterpreted. Both console and pc users are getting super defensive about it when it tries to replace neither of them.

    The big YES for me with steamboxes are streaming to the living room. That’s it. Having it done via a linux os is just a (quite big) plus. I really want to play legend of dungeon, samurai gunn, and mortal kombat over a few beers, without hunching in front of a monitor. Also the big list of console ports which i havent played yet, which translate quite well to big screens. Hitman, Revengeance, the cave, the list goes for quite a while. If one would use the box primarily for this purpose, upgradeability becomes a non issue. Also, when a stable version is released, you won need to buy a box, just build a perfectly modular one, maybe with a mini-atx mobo. A silent one, too.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I’m a PC and console gamer, I don’t discriminate. I don’t get defensive about this at all, as I think there’s 0 chance of either being replaced. I just think it’s a silly idea. If you want to play a PC game on your TV, just buy a $5-10 HDMI cable and hook your PC up to your TV. If you wanna get really fancy, buy a wireless keyboard and mouse or use your USB controller, and you’ve just saved yourself ~$500.

      I don’t hold the decision to buy against anyone, I just sort of roll my eyes the same way I do when my gf sees a new purse that looks exactly the same as the one she already has except for some clasp or bow on it, and let her spend her money the way she wants.

      • Synesthesia says:

        I did the hdmi thing for a while, it was clumsy and the windows interface is a nightmare on an hdtv, to the point where the awkward hdmi cable broke down and killed my video card’s hdmi output. So that put an end to that. I already have my wireless keyboard and mouse. Can i have my low latency, HD-streaming purse now?

  14. Shooop says:

    Even if they aren’t, nothing of value would be lost. Alienware is just overpriced bullshit with colored lights attached.

  15. Velko says:

    Uh… is this the place where we spam about Just Cause 2 in broken English?

  16. SirDeimos says:

    I recommend everyone read the linked article.  This guy absolutely nails it, and he succinctly accomplishes what my following ranting probably will not.
     
    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-01-11-valve-plays-the-long-game-again
     
     
    So… no.  Right now, Steam Machines don’t “need” to be anything other than what they are.  I can’t believe how misguided the many journalists and commenters have allowed themselves to become over the Steam Universe concept (SteamOS, Steam Machines, and Steam Owl Controller).  I’m glad to see a few voices of reason in the comments here because I’ve been saddened by the rage and impetuousness of the gaming community over the Steam Machines rollout.
     
    How many times have we heard Valve actually say that they are “entering the console wars” yet that’s what most of the headlines and opening statements from articles covering Steam Machines have purported.  I wanted to scream every time I read that “Valve is throwing its hat in the console ring with their new Steambox” (or something similar).  No they’re not!  Not now, anyway.  Even the term “Steambox” is something made up by the press and public, and it encourages people to think of Steam Machines as something more safe and tangible—like the consoles they already know—instead of what they actually are.  Many gaming sites and their community members are only assessing Steam Machines using models that are currently evident for consoles, so they are intrinsically unable to think of them as anything other than “Valve’s console” and they fail to see the long term goal of Steam Machines.  In turn, you end up with articles and commenters talking about what it needs to be and how it’s so obvious.  Thank you, random internet commenter who is getting a C- in Econ 101, you’re right.  Amazing!  You were able to see so clearly what that buffoon, Gabe Newell, and all of his untalented people (who have only managed to scrape together 1% of the world’s population into one service—Fail!) were too stupid to see.  I look forward to your digital distribution service, Vapor, and popular game, DOHTA 2.  Oh, and your VaporBox will be brilliant.
     
    Re-read what Valve actually posted about Steam Machines on the community page and pay attention to their interview responses.  Listen to talks from Gabe Newell.  He routinely stresses the relationship that Valve’s creators have with their customers.  They are a company that responds to customer demands and some of their customers have said they want their Steam library in the living room.  Not that crazy of a concept.  That’s the initial intent here.  Not some gauntlet throwing by Valve where they are trying to woo money towards their “console” instead of it going towards the offerings from MS and Sony.  Valve also want to keep their business (customers) away from any detrimental restrictions in the future (reliance on Windows).  So, being a software company, they developed Steam OS as the first step to help accomplish those tasks.  They also look at all of the stats they collect.  And guess what, even though we think everyone who games on Steam is just like us and builds PC’s and reads RPS, they actually don’t.  You have a vast portion of those 75 million users who are rocking a pre-built PC or laptop.  There’s also a huge amount of people using integrated graphics, and therefore a huge amount of non “hardcore” PC users.  It’s seems so obvious to those of us who build PC’s or already have an HTPC that Steam Machines are unnecessary.  But it’s like the person who can’t believe that Mrs. Generic von Candidate was elected because “nobody they knew” voted for her.  We all exclaim, “What’s the point?!” “Just build your own!” “No thanks, I’ll keep my mouse and keyboard.”  Fine.  This very early stage of Steam Machines isn’t aimed at you, and Valve has even addressed that in their Q&A. 
     
    The goal is to offer a device with living room industrial design to people who are looking to turn a device on, have it boot right into big picture mode, and have it be small-ish and quiet.  Is there a huge portion of people in the comments saying they are interested in the current Steam Machines?  No.  But, there is usually at least one person who states that they’ve already built plenty of PC’s over the last 10 years and they are looking for something pre-built and small.  I think that’s all Valve and the early hardware partners are looking for right now.  Even a small percentage of 75 million users showing interest in Steam Machines still represents hundreds of sales to boutique manufacturers who are used to moving smaller volumes anyway.  This is also a way for Valve to implement the OS—something that had to get a start somewhere.  Will there be growing pains (like there were for Steam)?  Yes.  Now, go read that linked article again. 

  17. uh20 says:

    that’s half of a shame.
    my biggest interest i started to realize is how the steam machines might push for great looking and build-friendly pc cases, wheras the market today cant make a easy-upgrade case without adding tons of bulk

    is the steam machines concept improving this? not really, especially with many of the cases not diverging much from normal design. but it might be a step in that direction