All kinds of big tech companies were swinging their bits around at CES 2020, trying to show off and impress all the tech nerds. It’s not only a time for big announcements, but it’s for looking to the future. Sure, Sony’s Jack Ryan officially unveiled the PlayStation 5 (logo), but that wasn’t the only big gaming news at 2020’s show. Alienware, the ruling king of gaudy gaming PC hardware, seems to be looking at throwing hands with Nintendo. At CES 2020, Alienware revealed a concept for a device called the UFO, which is… well, it’s a Switch but a Windows 10 PC. I’ve already seen some “Switch Killer” headlines and well, this ain’t it, chief.
If the UFO was a YouTube video, Nintendo’s algorithm would copyright claim it. Seriously, just look at those photos. It’s a device comprising a central screen, with two halves of a controller on either side. They attach with magnets, but can also detach and be used separately or with another hunk of plastic making up a normal-looking pad. Meanwhile, the central part of the mothership can also display to a TV. Familiar, isn’t it? In theory, Alienware’s UFO is an awesome device. After all, fidelity and power aren’t the Switch’s best features. So what’s holding this thing back?
What’s holding the UFO back is the same thing that holds back current portable PC/gaming handheld hybrids. It’s too much. Just running a Windows OS on a handheld requires a lot of power, which inevitably compromises what you can actually run on these things. Obviously, the UFO is much more of a beast than anything available now, and it was running titles like Rocket League quite well at CES. But also, look at the cooling on it. There’s just a giant, gaping opening on the back for the fan’s vent, and reports from the show include how much noise the UFO makes. It’s rad, but it needs a lot of juice to function.
What that means to me is that, despite this device on paper being capable of so much, it’s that openness that’s ultimately its downfall. Sure, the Nintendo Switch has some bad ports on it, but that’s the minority. Many of the bigger console ports on the Switch are praised as demonic blood magic due to how impressive they are. Developers work to make those games run on the Switch with code and design, but with a portable PC, it’s just a portable PC. It either meets the requirements or it doesn’t. You also have to deal with things like OS compatibility, controller compatibility, drivers, OS updates, and more. PC is an inherently unstable platform, giving the UFO a bunch of red tape to push through.
The Switch isn’t without its problems of course. The original model feels a bit flimsy, its feature set is bizarrely limited, and it’s definitely underpowered even within the realm of Tegra-based devices. It has no internet browsing due to things like piracy fears, and doesn’t support Bluetooth devices with an adapter. Also, the freakin’ charge port is on the bottom, so you can’t charge and use most stands at the same time! The battery life ain’t great (although I doubt the UFO is much better), and there are other big issues I probably can’t see through my Nintendo fanboy blinders.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not stupid and am thoroughly aware the UFO is just a proof of concept at the moment. This is one of those looking to the future sorts of devices, one of the fun parts about CES. It’s more of an attempt to show off what sort of things Alienware is thinking about and tinkering with. There’s no guarantee the UFO is a thing Alienware will try to sell, and frankly I seriously doubt it will be any time soon.
There’s a lot more that needs to happen with portable computing tech before a real competitor to the Switch can happen in PC form. Until then, Nintendo is still the gaming company that understands portables the best, with its focus on original software, affordable parts, and appealing technological gimmicks. But if the UFO does happen in a form that makes market, I’m almost afraid of what it’ll be capable of.