Frankly, PCs have been "fast enough" for a while, and consumers are catching on that they don't need to upgrde to surf the web or type documents, hence the downturn in the PC sector. What many PC users might appreciate, however, are smaller, more attractive PCs that they can place anywhere. A few OEMs and case manufacturers are catching on, as we saw at CES this year.
Dell's Alienware Alpha Steam Machine
The Alienware platform is nothing new, and in fact systems using this exact case have been a big seller for Dell over the past year. What’s new is a system sporting Skylake processors, amazingly up to and including the ultra-high-end Core i7-6700. And of our, being a Steam Machine, this system runs Steam OS and comes with a Steam controller in the box. For the gaming enthusiast who isn’t quite ready to build their own ultra-compact PC, the Alpha represents a fantastic option. Both the memory and hard drive can be upgraded, but what’s really amazing is that Dell allows you to upgrade the processor as well!
The Alpha starts at $449.99 with the new Core i3-6100 dual-core processor, and will also be available with Windows 10. Availability is expected in early March 2016. Our only concern: Dell continues to equip these with hard drives as standard equipment, rather than much faster solid-state drives.
Corsair should be a well-known manufacturer to anyone even remotely familiar with the PC market, as its memory products are among the best-selling and best-performing on the market. But Corsair has branched into practically every other PC component market since establishing itself as the go-to memory vendor. In particular, it has some of the best-selling cases, power supplies, and liquid coolers on the market.
So it was only a matter of time before Corsair finally decided to put all its eggs in one basket and build out a barebones PC. That, in a word, is what the Bulldog is, but honestly, it’s so much more. Riding the wave of Steam Machines, but taking them in a different (larger) direction, the Bulldog is designed to be a turnkey solution for any PC builders looking to outfit a high-powered system that will fit in a media console.
Corsair was pretty blunt with us during our meeting: building a high-performance ITX-based machine isn’t easy, and there were plenty of delays along the road to Bulldog’s release. But that right there is a perfect reason for builders to welcome the Bulldog to the small form factor ranks, because what you’re getting is a system that has been fully-vetted by Corsair. You get Corsair’s custom SFX power supply with 92mm fan for quiet operation, an amazing one-of-a-kind low-profile liquid CPU cooler custom-engineered to fit within the slim confines of the Bulldog, and of course you get a sleek looking case designed to hold big liquid-cooled video cards as well. The case will not be sold separately due to potential conflicts with other power supplies and coolers – this is how concerned Corsair is with providing its customers with a positive user experience. And in our opinion, that’s exactly the right move. The complete kit including case, custom cooler, and custom PSU will ring in at $300, which is a very aggressive pricepoint given the small form factor competition.
Slightly more surprising is Corsair’s decision to push a second version of the Bulldog out with a bundled Gigabyte Z170M-WiFi motherboard. Corsair is able to provide a discount on the motherboard of nearly $50 (adding it to the Bulldog costs only $100), and Corsair’s view is that including the motherboard is what makes this a true barebones system, rather than just a collection of parts in a box. It also ensures that the motherboard actually fits in the case and works with the liquid cooler; some ITX models may have IO ports or daughterboards that would conflict with the cooler. Ironically, Corsair’s own high-profile Dominator RAM series is incompatible with the Bulldog’s cooler – Corsair recommends the use of its Vengeance LPX line.
In our opinion including the motherboard is a slightly risky move, because motherboards have among the highest RMA rates of any PC component, so Corsair may find itself fielding a lot of customer inquiries about a product that isn’t its own. Then again, Corsair does have some of the best customer service in the business, so prospective buyers may view the bundle as giving them an extra degree of confidence regarding their motherboard’s functionality.
Update: The Bulldog is available for pre-order from Amazon for $299.99.