The Alienware Steam Machine, the evolution of last year's Windows-based Alpha, was first conceived almost three years ago when Dell and Valve executives sat down to discuss the future of PC gaming, said Christopher Sutphen, product marketing manager at Dell.
The two companies today announced the release date, specs and pricing of the Alienware Steam Machine, the first official Steam Machine to hit the market.
"In partnership with [Valve's] Gabe Newell, some executives sat down and talked with Valve about the evolving gaming ecosystem," Sutphen said. "Almost three years ago the two teams sat down and talked about how we can expand that gaming ecosystem beyond what it is today."
The solution, they believe, was a system that runs Valve's Steam storefront and community on Linux: The Steam Machine.
"We worked hand in hand on developing the Alienware Steam Machine," Sutphen said. "They helped us design some of the engineering specs."
For Valve, the system is essentially a gaming console designed to run Steam service on your television, delivering the depth of PC games to a system designed to be as easy to use as a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
For Dell, the Steam Machine is a new piece of innovation, but not one that cannibalizes standard PC gaming.
"Alienware as a brand is always looking at new ways to deliver interesting experiences," Sutphen said. "I fundamentally see the Steam OS and Steam Machine as an additive piece for PC gaming."
And this is Dell's second run at this sort of system.
Last November, Dell launched the Alienware Alpha, a sort of half-step between regular gaming rig and Steam Machine.
When it launched, the system sold for $550 to $900, depending on the configuration, sported both Steam's Big Picture mode and Windows 8.1 and included an Xbox 360 controller. When it was unveiled at E3 last year, we were impressed with its clever design.
The Steam Machine, Sutphen said, is the "true culmination" of the concepts delivered with the Alpha. The Steam Machine, in fact, has the same specs, with a few small tweaks.
The Alienware Steam Machine will cost between $449 and $749, will run on Linux and won't include the option to boot-up on Windows. It will ship with a Steam Controller instead of an Xbox 360 controller, and the hard drive received a slight upgrade.
"One thing we heard loud and clear was that the hard drive was a bit painful," Sutphen said. "The Steam Machine config we will be putting in customers hands will be a 7,200 RPM hard drive."
The Windows-based Alpha shipped with a slower 5,400 RPM hard drive.
Currently the Alpha sells for $499.99 up to $849.99, depending on the specs. The Alienware Steam Machine will sell for $449 and top off at $749.
Both systems are fully upgradeable, with one pretty important exception: The GPU, custom made by Nvidia, is built into the motherboard and can't be upgraded. The custom built chips perform at the same level as a GeForce GTX 860M or better, according to Dell.
Sutphen calls the Alpha a double-edged sword.
"It was an experiment getting into that market," he said. "It gave the consumer the ability to treat PC gaming more like a console and navigate with just a controller. But it shipped with the Windows operating system."
Once the Alienware Steam Machine launches, the Alpha will become simply a desktop gaming PC, he said.
Alienware will be hosting an online question and answer session today at 7 p.m. ET on Twitch to talk about its Steam Machine and answer your questions.