Dell has officially announced it is dipping its toes into the waters of Linux gaming, launching an Alienware-branded mini gaming PC running Canonical's Ubuntu Linux.
Available exclusively in the US at present, the Alienware X51 is, to all intents and purposes, an Alienware-branded Steam Box console. Based on the company's existing small form factor X51, which launched with Windows, the new model includes the same hardware as before: that means a choice of Intel Core i3-3220, Core i5-3330 or Core i7-3770 processors, 6GB to 8GB of DDR3 memory, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 645 1GB or GeForce GTX 660 1.5GB graphics card, and 1TB of spinning-rust storage.
Where the system differs is in its software: shipping with Canonical's Ubuntu in place of Microsoft's Windows, the new X51s are designed to be 100 per cent Linux compatible - and the company is still pushing the gaming focus of its Alienware brand even under the open-source platform. In fact, Dell is making much of the system's compatibility with Valve's Steam for Linux client: while the device won't ship with Steam pre-installed, it is being listed as fully compatible with Dell pushing gamers towards using its Big Picture mode to get a pre-Steam Box Steam Box-like experience.
Dell is also pushing Ubuntu as being suitable for general-purpose computing, listing a wealth of applications - LibreOffice, Rythmbox, Empathy, F-Spot, Firefox, and the Ubuntu One cloud storage service - that come pre-installed on the system, while also offering access to the Ubuntu Software Centre to quickly download and install open source and proprietary commercial packages.
While the X51 isn't Dell's first Linux-based system - the company has long supported Linux on its server products, while its first consumer-oriented Ubuntu-based devices were announced back in 2007
only to be dropped in 2010
and revived last year
- it is the first to be aimed at enthusiasts and gamers. With Valve pushing Ubuntu heavily as the future of gaming, Dell's decision to forge ahead with an unofficial Steam Box of its own may prove a great success - or, if Valve fails to get the third-party support it needs for gaming on Linux, could go the way of Dell's previous Ubuntu efforts.
Either way, Dell's adding of Ubuntu to its Alienware line - even in a limited, US-exclusive release - is a clear indication that gaming on Linux is starting to be taken increasingly seriously.
More details are available on the Alienware website
, while a blog detailing a user's first attempts at using Ubuntu on the X51 can be found on the Direct2Dell site