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PC £469

A fast and quiet mini PC from Dell.

Alienware is Dell’s brand name for gaming PCs and the Alpha Is the latest model in the range. It has plenty to recommend it, even if you have no interest in gaining. For starters, it’s approximately the size of two paperback books.

Many gaming PCs go for an ostentatious look, but not the Alpha.

Alienware Alpha

The only frills on Its plain black plastic casing are a lit-irp Alienware logo (which doubles as the power button) and a small triangular LED on one comer (see image). You can change the colour of these lights, or turn them off, using a pre-installed program. It’s sold without a keyboard, mouse and monitor so you’ll have to supply your own.

Unusually for a mini PC, the Alpha is

Fast performance in a compact quiet easy-to-upgrade design that's also very affordable.

easy to upgrade. You simply remove a few screws to prise off the top cover. Disconnect the two cooling fans and you can upgrade the memory (to a maximum of 16GB) and the processor, though the dedicated graphics chip is not removable. If you flip the PC over and remove the bottom panel, you can replace the 500GB hard drive with a larger model or an SSD without much fuss.

The Alpha is remarkably fast given its diminuitive size. The 2.9GHz Intel Core 13 4310T dual-core processor zipped through most of our benchmark tests. It only began to struggle somewhat when we ran multiple programs simultaneously, no doubt due to the relatively meagre 4GB of memory, but you can easily fit more yourself.

Unlike the vast majority of mini PCs, the Alpha has a dedicated graphics chip.

If s an Nvidia GeForce GTX, although neither Alienware nor Nvidia will confirm which model it is. Either way, it coped well with our 3D graphics tests. However, while it easily handles the vast majority of older 3D games, it will probably still struggle with the very latest, most graphically demanding titles. It will also speed up programs such as Nero and Roxio Creator. For comparison, this Nvidia GeForce GTX is faster than almost any dedicated graphics chips we’ve seen in laptops costing £1,000 or less.

Desktop PCS are often quite large and noisy because they require cooling fans to dissipate the heat generated by their fast components. The Alpha has two moderately large fans tucked inside, but we could barely hear them, even in a quiet room.

Alienware has included a few extras for gamers, so they can hook the Alpha up to a TV and use It as a games console. One pre-installed program adds a customised interface on top of Windows 8.1. Its simplified menus, large text and conspicuous icons are designed to be visible and easy to control when you're sat a few feet away on your sofa. The interface was a little buggy when we tested it, but it’s great for launching Steam games and changing the settings for the included Microsoft

SPECIFICATIONS

2.9GHz Inlet Core 13 4310T dual-core processor

4GB memory

500GB hard disk

Nvidia GeForce GTX dedicated graphics chip

802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Windows 8.1

S0x200x200mm (HxWxD)

One-year warranty

E-Value Code: D00ASM01

Oddly, the Alpha lacks a few common features. Although there is a second HDMI port, it’s not meant for connecting a second monitor, which is a shame. Instead, the idea is that you connect your PVR or satellite TV box to the second HDMI port when the Alpha is hooked up to your TV, so you can switch between the two more easily than if you used your TV’s remote control. An optical audio port is present for connecting a surround-sound system, but there’s neither a standard 3.5mm audio jack nor an SD card slot.

These are minor quibbles though, because otherwise the Alienware Alpha has everything we could want from a Windows mini PC - fast performance in a compact, quiet, easy-to-upgrade design that happens to be affordable too.

VERDICT: This mini PC has it all -performance, upgradeabtlity and a low price too

★★★★★

ALTERNATIVES:

Intel NUC

D54250WYK £280 An even smaller mini PC that you assemble yourself, but graphics performance is much slower Apple Mac Mini (2014) £569 Faster general-purpose performance, but slower 3D graphics and it can’t be upgraded.

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