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Dell/Alienware release Ubuntu gaming desktop (alienware.com)
195 points by onosendai on Apr 5, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments

This seems like the sort of thing where they don't really care whether they sell any or not. Gaming on Ubuntu is a hot blog topic right now, so they took an existing product and put Ubuntu on it. Probably cost a couple thousand to do all the paperwork surrounding a new SKU, and they'll probably sell enough of these to make cover that. Boom, Free marketing and some cred with the indie gaming & Linux community. And if Steam on Linux does take off, they've already got their foot in the door.

It's kind of awesome that we're at a place where releasing a Ubuntu desktop is a matter of "why not?" Rather than "why?"

Agreed, this probably was a minimal cost compared to the positive publicity among the tech crowd. I hope Dell is going to be more innovative in the future and tries a few things as they are no public company anymore, i guess this can only help in the long term.

In my oppinion Ubuntu give Dell the opportunity to differentiate from the market. A good idea would be exklusive Ubuntu machines.

Sort of.. We begged Dell for Linux/Ubuntu for years, and they finally give it to us.... Right after Ubuntu drove away a huge portion of their users with the Unity/Precise fiasco. Big corporations, always a lap behind.

>drove away a huge portion of their users

We have any actual data or even reasonable estimates about just what proportion they drove away?

Surely it would make sense to at least offer a dual boot option?

I can't really think of a solid reason for buying this, Steam on Linux is great and all but when your marketing is saying "With over 25 gaming titles available"..

Not sure why they say 25. There seem to be 165 now, which is 65 more than Steam for Linux had at launch:


Most game consoles launch with far fewer than 165 titles at launch, and with far fewer third-party players in the market than Steam has.

But for consoles, there is an expectation that the number will grow exponentially in the next 2-3 years, and that cycle has been validated many times over, over the span of multiple decades.

This is gen.1 for Linux gaming, and I think consumers have the right to be apprehensive about the future growth of the platform. Catch 22 I guess.

This really isn't anything like Gen 1 for Linux gaming. People have been buying and playing games on Linux using Wine for years. That's been a pretty small market, but it has existed for a while.

Another thing is that Linux is a significant contender in the developer workstation market. I'm typing this right now on a Linux machine that I use for just about everything, including as a development server and a television. The only reason I haven't played any games from Steam on it is they haven't released Portal yet.

Oh don't get me wrong, I'd absolutely love to have gaming become mainstream on Linux. I just built my first Linux box this week after 20+ years on Windows and Mac OS and I'm loving the amount of control I have (being a newbie I have my fair share of hair-pull moments, but that's part of the fun imo). I'm just a little bit apprehensive about dev studio adoption.

Linux has far more games than "25" or "165".

Linux has far, far, far more developers than it has "game development studios", currently writing software for it. The Independent Gaming scene is ripe with great stuff that will run on Linux from day one - and it doesn't just need 'mainstream studios' to get the industry kicked off.

This is a ripe as any other boom market.

As an Open Pandora user, I'm amused at this whole fuss about whether "its acceptable" for mainstream companies to produce stuff for the Linux market. Of course its wonderful, there is no downside whatsoever to the rising star of Linux gaming, whether it comes from Steam or somewhere else (http://repo.openpandora.org/).

The only possible downside is that an expanding and flourishing Linux gaming market will reveal the fragility of Microsoft in this scene. You don't need Windows technology to game awesome; you only need Windows technology because you've been told you need it by higher powers. Technologically: no.

So why the apprehension, really? Is it really something you've got concern about, or is this some sort of groupthink/kneejerk thing going on?

You've got a valid point there, but with Unity 3D being ported over to Linux (granted, it was back in June '12), it should kick off Linux adoption among game devs sooner rather than later.

Game consoles that launch in 2013 with the lowest-priced version having no Bluray support at $599?

Game consoles these days don't really need _any_ disc drive anymore. As long as you have at least a 6k or 10k connection you can get anything via steam, from indie devs (and... Origin) and so on in no time. I've been gaming for a long time and I didn't use my DVD drive for 3 years now.

Wine can run most popular games surprisingly well these days. Many even run better than they do under Windows.

Wine requires knowledge of what you're doing and a fair amount of fiddling for most things - this raises the bar too high for general consumers, probably more in terms of effort than skill required.

There are only 141 applications in Wine's 'platinum' list, and a heap of those are multiple entries for variants or DLC of the one game. Things not on the 'platinum' list require further configuration.

I agree with you that there is a level of experience required for using wine on the command-line and tuning it to work for certain games. However, the PlayOnLinux project abstracts the details of setting up wine and configuring wine for games by having a list of popular games with predefined wine configurations and an intuitive GUI for installing and running games. While there are compatibility issues and performance issues with wine that are a legitimate issue, tools like PlayOnLinux allow anyone to play wine games to the best that wine can. I've had some luck with it in the past, but I personally don't mind just using wine on the command-line (if I have to).


Cool, thanks for the info. Previously when I've seen 'just run it under wine', the hand-waving casualness of the comment didn't gel with my experience in actually using it. Having a library of canned configs is a step forward. I don't mean to disparage wine at all, just that it's not been 'general-public' ready.

I would say that you are wrong: its definitely ready for the general public, when that general public is using a modern, decent distribution, and not trying to fiddle so much. Less fiddling, more playing: thats the current state of the art with Wine.

>Wine requires knowledge of what you're doing and a fair amount of fiddling for most things - this raises the bar too high for general consumers, probably more in terms of effort than skill required.

I've been running games in WINE for years and years, and I can now say that as of today, with my WINE setup being maintained entirely by my distribution (Ubuntu), I don't even think about WINE when I use it. So I don't really think its as difficult as you infer; this is a huge generality, like saying "MS Word requires knowledge of what you're doing and a fair amount of fiddling for most things". Its true, but fascetious, because obviously, in spite of the massive investment required, users are able to produce documents ..

>There are only 141 applications in Wine's 'platinum' list, and a heap of those are multiple entries for variants or DLC of the one game. Things not on the 'platinum' list require further configuration.

This only means that the list is incomplete. It doesn't mean there are 'only 141 applications'. Those are just the ones that have made it to the list so far .. but it doesn't, in any way, reflect the current state of the art. Lists get stale.

There's still plenty of popular games that don't run well under WINE and it's a PITA to set up not to mention having 2 versions of Steam installed.

Not really something you can sell as an easy games experience.

Everyone I say to myself "Gosh darn it I'm switching my main desktop so that it boots Linux by default today!" it never ends well. Example: I like to play LoL, I got it to run under wine (though nowhere near Windows performance) and just say screw it and go back to Windows. That and the fact that patches like to break things a lot. I am really hoping that Steam for Linux pushes a lot more companies to port their games to Linux so that I can finally switch over.

I play LoL through Wine on Lubuntu. It runs perfectly without any configuration. It was the first thing I tried after 'apt-get install wine'

In fact, it runs better than it does under Windows 7, probably because Lubuntu uses 2GB less RAM and considerably less CPU than Windows 7.

That's interesting, I didn't know that! That makes the option of using an HTPC as a 'true' gaming platform (in addition to being a media center) a lot more likely.

Do most of the recent games (Need for Speed, Counter Strike : Source, Far Cry 3, Assassin's Creed 3) run well, or is it mostly older games?

CS:S has a native Linux version that runs very well! Assassins creed 3 has "garbage" rating on WineHQ (http://appdb.winehq.org/) and Far Cry 3 has "silver". So the answer for those is probably no.

Not sure about NFS, guess it depends which one.

@jiggy2011 Thanks, that's very helpful! I meant NFS: Most Wanted, which came out in 2012.

CS:S on Linux is definitely awesome news, and makes me more confident of Linux gaming becoming viable in the near-term. I think the Steambox/Steam Linux, Ouya and other such systems are definitely helping improve adoption.

To be honest, I wouldn't spend much time trying to get something running under Wine unless it had a very high probability of success, and a moderate number of (easy) steps. After all, I already have the game running under Windows, and gaming's meant to be a casual activity I undertake after work :)

It's awesome that the option is available for Linux enthusiasts, however!

Edit: Ah, damn it, I meant CS:GO, not CS:S! I see that it's running fine under Wine, however!

FYI, CSS isn't recent :P CSS even runs natively on through Steam for Linux :) You can check how specific titles run under wine here: http://appdb.winehq.org/

This is interesting, but not compelling.

I want:

1) Better video drivers.

2) An option to Dual-boot with another OS.

3) To remove the painful Unity interface.

4) More titles to play.

And then I would buy this without a second thought.

With just Ubuntu, with very little games with mediocre Graphic card drivers and a painful interface like unity (try hiding/unhiding/switching between hidden windows for example) it's hard to convince myself to buy this..

Unity is probably the most intuitive system for somebody switching from Win7.

What else would you install by default? Gnome2/MATE/Xfce are showing their age. Gnome3 is even stranger. The only other plausible choice would be KDE.

Unity is actually pretty good as an entertainment oriented interface. The ability to search games, apps, music and movies all from the main menu is very nice.

I have tried getting used to Unity, but I just can't.

It all comes down to the fact that the Unity launcher is forcibly placed on the right hand side and I always accidentally click on it when trying to click somewhere in the region. No other OS I use forces such a thing, which is why I will never get used to it.

I tried changing my mouse sensitivity to compensate for the bar, but it makes everything else harder. There used to be a hack that would let you move the bar to the bottom of the screen, but it has not worked in the 12.x versions.

I use KDE these days. The worse thing they force their users to look at is the Cashew, which can be made transparent by installing a third party widget.

"It all comes down to the fact that the Unity launcher is forcibly placed on the right hand side and I always accidentally click on it when trying to click somewhere in the region."

Just hide the thing and press the Windows key and type? I used dwm/dmenu for a year or so and never missed having a panel at all!

Very unscientific trials of my own suggest Win7 users relate to KDE slightly better than Unity.

I simply hand my thinkpad to students in class and get them to start a Web browser and log into the Moodle instance.

KDE mostly ok, Unity getting into browser easy, but most try to close the window by clicking on the System Settings icon on the right top ('cog wheel'). They also find the global menu strange at the start.

It only takes two minutes to explain how Unity works though...

Gnome 3 is awesome; what are you talking about?

I'm not saying it isn't, but first time I booted it up it took me a good 20 mins to figure out how basic things worked and I'm used to using weird Linux DEs.

I don't think it would leave a great first impression on your average ADHD alienware target customer.

You do need to learn a few keyboard shortcuts before you can work effectively with Gnome 3. I think these ones get you 80% of the way there, though (and they work the same as they do on Windows): 1. WinKey and type a name to open programs 2. WinKey + arrows to snap windows 3. Alt+Tab to switch between open windows

I think having to know any keyboard shortcuts to do basic operations is a huge lose for an entertainment computer.

It's really a shame, because it really takes almost no time to learn. And basically the point is that the desktop disappears and the only thing left is your work. Edit: Or entertainment ;). Point is application is whats important.

Keep in mind that these entertainment computers may be plugged in to living room TVs, which will often not be used with a keyboard and mouse, but perhaps with a game pad or remote.

>The only other plausible choice would be KDE.

Not the only one. There is also Cinnamon. And hopefully, Enlightenment will soon be stable enough, and even included in a popular distro.

1. I actually get comparable performance with the proprietary Nvidia driver in Windows and Linux. All of these systems seem to have Nvidia chipsets. If you can't even choose your driver (at the least with jockey), I wouldn't consider buying this.

2. What would stop you from installing your own OS pair? I'd think you could do it at the very least through a network boot, and probably USB.

3. As with 3, what would stop you? Even if you're stuck with Ubuntu, changing Xsessions shouldn't be a problem. The only way this should happen to be a problem is if there is no access to a shell with root privileges. And if it that's the case, almost no serious Linux user would consider buying such an un-free system.

4. With Steam an Humble now supporting Linux, there are quite a few more choices than there were just a couple of years ago, and I'm sure we'll see more in the years to come.

> 3) To remove the painful Unity interface.

I find it quite pleasant. What is it that bothers you about Unity?

I'm too used to the 'one icon per window' paradigm which is why even on windows I do not combine icons. To open a program that has multiple windows on unity, one needs to click the relevant icon, and then select the window you want, which is two mouse clicks (well, one mouse click, mouse move, then click again) as compared to a single mouse click. And I somehow prefer a horizontal longer taskbar as compared to a vertical one even though a horizontal taskbar would rob be of vertical space.

You're using Unity wrong. Super+w will display all open windows to you.

Okay. But as a newbie, I still think I shouldn't need to Win+W then click on the window I need when the previous option was just clicking on the relevant icon in the taskbar directly. This is backward UI (just like the Android Jellybean which takes two taps to select an app to run just once).

It's a happy medium between user friendliness and a UI that gets out of your way like xmonad. You only need two shortcuts to use Unity effectively. Super+w to switch windows and Super+s to switch screens.

Lack of support for unix beards.

Such people (if they really exist) will be able to change the UI to match their workflow. I managed it and I'm just an end user.

dwm/dmenu or similar, or xmonad for the adventurous. Sysadmin people might prefer icewm as it is tiny and can tile 12 terminal windows easily!

Ubuntu with default Unity is aiming at a wide market here. Having i7 small form factor PCs available with hardware chosen to run a GNU/Linux is good!

You can remove the painful Unity interface with great ease, once you have the machine in front of you. There is no requirement to use Unity as an interface shell by anyone other than Canonical. If you don't like it, switch to another interface when you log in; its that simple.

As for 'very little games', I have to say this: LOL! Linux has thousands and thousands of games, and this continues to grow day by day. Steam may not have everything (yet), but its only a matter of time before the floodgates open: on the other side of that "new thing called Steam on Liux" lays a massive horizon of gaming on Linux that is unrecognized, unseen, but will soon be utilized once the pipe is in place.

Linux has thousands of great games ready for the consumers; the veil of the 'mainstream groupthink' is just preventing a lot of smart people from seeing this fact, but I would wager that Steam and Alienware are indicators that in fact, some very smart people are entirely aware of the potential of whats to come once these lines of communication are open.

So this is nothing but positive. Even if you don't want to be an early-adopter for this line of communication, its the line of communication which has been deficient; not the lack of content. The content (Games for Linux) is well and truly out there, it is ripe for harvesting, and this is the beginning of that effort ..

As this device is aimed at the living room, i think Unity makes alot more sense than on the normal desktop. Video drivers have improved recently and Dual-booting is probably easy todo as its just a PC in a nice looking HTPC enclosure.

25 titles arent many but then again my Xbox360 had like 5 games available when it was released.

I can see the value to your other points, but which desktop environment would you suggest over Unity? I always thought it was a pretty good fit for these type of things but my experience with other Linux desktop environments is pretty limited.

Nice to see a big name company is doing this. It will surely help Linux adoption by a wider array of users.

On another note, anyone else get that floating ad? Horribly placed and very annoying.

Window 8 has really gotten the OEMs running scared.

Not my usecase at all, but really awesome for this to exist IMO.

like help get better video drivers to linux faster

I just hope they don't partner too closely with canonical.

Your concern is touching but unnecessary, Canonical has a rich history of interoperability and openness with the community.

like with mir, and amazon search... I get it, thanks.

Okay, I very much dislike them too, but being afraid of a partnership with a hardware monopoly based on two mistakes is a bit of a stretch.

Five years of Mir development and they are still working on maximize and minimize support.

I think Canonical has a point there.

Whats wrong with the existing drivers?

I don't know anything about gaming. But I assume that means it has a great GPU as well as a solid CPU... in which case this might be a good option for those of us doing scientific computing.

Well, the "Featured Systems" tab conveniently lists the GPU. It happens to be a GeForce GTX 645 on the cheap end and a GTX 660 on the high end. A 660 costs roughly $200. In addition, if your 'scientific computing' includes hashing or any of a number of other things, it will be orders of magnitude slower than an AMD card.

Overall, it's slightly overpriced. In addition, OEM hardware is invariably uncustomizable (no extra PCI-E slots, lowest end power supply possible). If you wanted to do scientific computing then there would be much more efficient options. This is no better an option (and probably worse) than other run of the mill OEM hardware. I especially like how your comment began with "I don't know anything about <related topic>. But...".

The Geforce 600-level cards are all terrible for scientific computing, which surprised no one as Nvidia has been slowly removing CUDA features from the Geforce cards since the 200s, trying to get everyone to upgrade to Teslas.

I have a hard time believing these will have much of a market.

Maybe Dell's just trying to get the jump on Valve's own Steambox?

I think it looks promising if you have an external monitor and considering to buy the box alone for your dev/day-to-day purpose, more like an alternative to desktop. You get 1 TB additional for 50 bucks as well.

It's a nifty form factor and a reasonable graphics card, I would consider getting one as a portable VR station for use with the Oculus Rift (whenever, uh, you know, Oculus release the linux SDK).

Too bad the hardware is overpriced... Reflects bad on Ubuntu.

It's actually pretty expensive to build that powerful of a system in that format.

This is the crucial point. For the performance specs, the X51 is somewhat overpriced, even if you take into the account usual cut of a distributor. However, given it's form factor (it's basically the size of a game console), it's actually amazingly priced.

Agreed. I would normally not consider purchasing a pre-made desktop, but this form factor does make it quite tempting. I would not feel ripped off, whereas historically I always felt Alienware machines were a little overpriced.

My thoughts exactly. I don't think it's even possible to beat this by yourself, and I'm certainly the demographic that would try.

I spent about the price of the low end to upgrade my desktop to a AMD's current top 8-core... that doesn't include re-using my video card, case and hard drives. It's not a bad option at all. May actually get a couple of the lower end ones, as both my grandmothers are due for an update, and one of them needs to get away from windows (too much crapware gets installed).

This is Alienware we're talking about.

Additionally this is Dell-acquired Alienware.

I would think cheap, "eMachines" boxes are what would reflect badly on Ubuntu.

Why should it. Premium OS -> Premium price. Ubuntu is about free as in freedom, not free as in beer. ;)

Actually I think, Dell has a real chance to get better margins with Ubuntu. They can position themself as the computer company for open-source users and maybe even as an Apple alternative is the mass market - impossible with Windows.

Just a note, I think Ubuntu is marketed as an open source OS, the OSI definition says it has to be freely distributed. Strangly enough it's free software that is free as in freedom, not as in free beer, open source is free as in free beer (according to OSI).

No, open source does not have to be free of charge, according to the OSI. The first clause clearly says:

"The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software"

Extremely sorry, now I feel really stupid.

Where do you see that in the open source definition (http://opensource.org/osd)?

That was not my point. My point was that an Ubuntu computer may have the same price as a Windows PC or maybe even more expensive, because you become a better value for your money.

Funny, I downloaded Ubuntu free of charge last month. I know you have to click differently, but given their failed attempts to monitize, who can blame them.

My statement about OSI was wrong, but Ubuntu is free of charge and will always be. Canonical can't charge for software they have only partly written.

If you do your research Dell/Alienware is actually very competitively priced. Most people discount the service, which is tech-onsite and parts for 1 year.

It's competitively priced compared to computers which are delivered with Windows and thus have that price included.

The shovelware on those systems actually offsets the cost of windows licenses, and sometimes to the point that they make more than windows licenses.. I'm assuming this doesn't come with that.

I don't recall seeing any shovelware or bundles on my Alienware, besides the "gamer" goodies which I'm sure appeal to some.

High price/low spec. No thanks.

The $300 Windows RT 32GB tab offer cracks me up, though.


> Equipped with the new NVIDIA® GTX 645 graphics card

Don't bother. They want you to use proprietary driver blobs without any source code for them.

What stops you from using nouveau drivers?

To do hardware accelerated 3D with nouveau, you need the to use the experimental nouveau mesa driver. It kind of works for some situations, but it still unstable and incomplete. You can find details here:


At present, nouveau is only working in a handful of linux distributions (with or without experimental hardware accelerated 3D support). All of the other UNIX-like systems are presently unable to run nouveau (e.g. all of the BSD's)

The most important issue is actually the wasted developer time. Countless hours of developer time have been wasted in the attempt to reverse engineer the proprietary binary nVidia drivers for the sake of recreating their functionality in the open source nouveau driver. If nVidia wants the business and support of open source developers and users, then they should provide all of the required specs and documentation for their hardware needed to write open source drivers.

In the meantime, is there any ideologically better proposition suitable for gaming?

Whether open source is a use-case or an ideology really depends on the requirements of the individual or organization. Some work in a world where security auditing of all source code is required, or source code is required to maintain compatibility, but of course, others are free from these restrictions and are willing to closed source binaries.

If you're under no requirement restrictions, then calling the insistence on open source code an ideology or preference is entirely fair.

If your only goal is to just play as many different games as possible, then using linux is a bad choice from the start, and you're obviously intending on running closed source code, so requirements and preferences make no difference to you.

If you hope to run as much open source as possible, then buying hardware from friendly vendors is your best bet. Your choices for both modern and supported graphics hardware with open source support are pretty much limited to Intel and AMD/ATI.

Intel HD4000 graphics integrated with some of their CPUs. The only major driver is open source, and Intel has been working with Valve to fix issues in their game ports to Linux.

However, to put it gently, the performance is not close to on-par with current generation Nvidia and AMD offerings.

The answer: nothing. His is a straw man argument. I thought this was a gaming machine, not a device-driver-development machine (why else would you need the source code?)

He follows RMS religion.

I wonder how loud it'll be.

I own an alienware in that config and it's dead quiet.

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