This isn't the first time that Dell has sold PCs with Ubuntu, a free computer operating system based on Linux. Not too long after it bought out Alienware, then an independent maker of gaming PCs, it started selling Ubuntu-powered desktop and laptop PCs, but only online, and only on a limited selection of models.
Recently, Dell launched its XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop, a MacBook Air-style ultrabook that's preloaded with Ubuntu and tools for developers. Its latest offering, however, is a little less "work" and a little more "play."
Pre-empting "Steambox" PCs like the Piston by several months, the Alienware X51 is a box roughly the size of a game console, but with actual PC hardware and a PC operating system inside. It comes in a variety of price points, depending on how powerful that hardware is, but the least expensive one starts at $599 -- $100 less than the identically-specced Windows 7 version.
What kind of specs does it have?
An Intel Core i3 processor clocked at 3.3 GHz, 6 GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM, a 1 TB 7200 RPM hard drive, and a 1 GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 645 are the highlights. More expensive configurations have more powerful hardware, and don't match the available Windows configurations 1:1, possibly due to driver issues.
Does it count as a Steambox?
Dell isn't advertising it as being such, although the promo shots show it running Valve's Steam digital distribution service. Since the grand opening of Steam on Linux, it's gotten "over 165" titles, including some of Valve's finest like Team Fortress 2. Most Humble Bundle games and many indie titles also run on Linux.
What about Windows-only games?
One option is to put Windows on the X51 after buying it. You'd need to buy your own copy, though, and you might have to pay the full retail price since a PC manufactured by Alienware might not qualify for OEM licensing (and the price discount that you get by foregoing Microsoft technical support).
Another option is the Wine compatibility layer, which can let you run some Windows games like World of Warcraft and StarCraft 2. This is unofficial, however, and may require some troubleshooting.
What other options are there for Linux gaming systems?
System76, a small PC vendor which has been making Ubuntu PCs for more than five years now, sells the 17-inch Bonobo Extreme gaming laptop for $1,499. Home-built gaming rigs can also be made to support Linux by checking sites like Phoronix for benchmarks and compatibility of hardware components.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
- Technology & Electronics