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Final versions of Valve’s highly anticipated Steam OS (officially written "SteamOS") and Steam Machines that run it aren’t even out but the misinformation and the company’s legendary opaqueness have created perhaps one of the most misunderstood tech projects in recent memory. There’s simply been so much misinformation that even we can’t keep up with what’s actually fact and what’s fiction at this point. So to help you keep up on current events, we’ve tried to cull all of the relevant SteamOS and Steam Machine information into one single in-depth FAQ.
Alienware's Steam Machine is one of 13 different Steam Machines
Answer: You can actually hear Valve’s CEO, Gabe Newell, layout the reasons here but it boils down to an increasingly closed and controlled world. Whether tablet, console, phone or—even the desktop, the open world of the PC is being stepped on by closed systems.
“Now, a couple of years ago, we started to get pretty worried that maybe that openness was going to be challenged—that there was success in proprietary platforms in the living room and in mobile, and that that was going to cause our entire industry to step away from the opportunity of openness,” Newell says. “We started to think, "What can we do? There are lots of people who can take on this challenge, but what are some of the pieces that Valve could try to help with?"
Although this is conjecture, we’d also guess that the threat of Microsoft going full iOS and mandating app installations through only the Windows store was also a big motivator.
And don’t think we’re paranoid either. Why, for example, did Microsoft only release the Windows 8.1 update through its Windows store rather than a standard Windows update?
By making Steam OS and helping vendors make Steam Machines, We think Valve ensures that it has an escape hatch should Microsoft actually go full-closed and only allow applications to be installed through the Windows Store. By using its own Linux operating system, Valve ensures it has control of the OS and that Steam has a place to exist outside of Microsoft, Apple and other large companies.
A: No. Absolutely not. You can forgive yourself for thinking that as a combination of bad reporting and rumor and innuendo on the Internet had us believing the Xi3 was Valve’s “SteamBox.” And why not? The Internet said Valve had sunk money into Xi3 so it could make The Piston “The Steam Box."
Contrary to initial belief, Xi3's Piston PC is not an official Steam Machine.
It is true that the Xi3 Piston was indeed being shown in Valve’s invite-only booth on the floor of CES 2013. But it’s also a fact that other machines were there too. Valve had indeed talked to Xi3 about building a “Steam Box” sometime in 2012 but after the hype blew up and Xi3 didn’t exactly dissuade the press from believing it, the relationship seems to have cooled off. Valve spokesman Doug Lombardi confirmed to Eurogamer that “Valve began some exploratory work with Xi3 last year, but currently has no involvement in any product of theirs."
How on the outs is Xi3? When Valve unveiled 13 hardware vendors—large and small—at its 2014 CES press conference, no Xi3 Piston was present.
It’s all good, says Xi3 spokesman David Politis who told PC Gamer: “We believe, and I think the market’s very clear about this, that the biggest concentration today is in the Windows marketplace,” Politis dished to PCG. “So we’ve gone separate directions today—that doesn’t mean we’re not supporting Valve.”
The Piston will, in fact, run where the games are—on Windows for now and also run Origin too.
A: It is officially Steam Machine and, in fact, Valve told us at last year’s CES that the whole Steam Box nomenclature wasn’t even theirs but some creation of the media which in a New York Post-manner decided to name it Steam Box. It could have been worse. The mainstream tech media could have called it the Little Bellevue Lolita or Windows Slasher. So dude, please use the proper nomenclature.
A: It’s basically a PC running a Linux-OS (based on the Debian distro) to let you run Steam games on your television or a monitor with an HDMI input.
A: There are none. Valve is trying to essentially replicate the openness of the PC but running SteamOS instead of Windows. Of the 13 Steam Machines shown at CES, they're varied in sizes from large to small. Powerful and not so powerful. Mobile and desktop parts. Discrete and higher-end integrated. Single GPU and multi-GPU. Intel and AMD. ATI and Nvidia. Basically there are no hard official specs but since the platform is meant for gaming, the GPU will be important in any Steam Machine, but Valve isn’t setting, recommending or mandating any specs.
A: At the moment, there are 13 official hardware partners which include: Alienware, Alternate, CyberPowerPC, Digital Storm (Bolt II), Falcon Northwest (Tiki), Gigabyte (Brix Pro), iBuyPower, Material.Net, Next Spa, Origins PC (Chronos), Scan (NC10), Webhallen, Zotac, and Maingear.
In terms of pricing, we’re seeing systems that range from $500 (CyberPower, iBuyPower) to PCs that cost upwards of $6,000 (Falcon Northwest Tiki). For Steam Machine specs, see image below:
Click the image above for a larger view of the Steam Machine specs and pricing
A: That is unclear at this point. It’s a fact that Valve has made 300 prototype Steam Machines that it gave to 300 very lucky Steam users. The prototypes Valve sent came in a variety of different configurations that included everything from an Nvidia GTX 660 to a GeForce Titan. Will Valve sell the hardware eventually? Valve’s CEO Gabe Newell said that’s undecided at this point. “We're going to continue to make that decision as we go along. We've been happy with results during the hardware development. We have plans to build more machines as our customers demand. We also expect people to be really happy with the range of offerings coming from these hardware manufacturers,” Newell said (thanks to youtube user Dietrich Ginocchio for transcribing our video of the press conference and Q&A.)
Our take is that Valve has the money and capability to contract out with vendors to build machines if it wanted to sell them but ultimately won’t. Remember: Valve is trying to replicate the PC’s openness. If it’s trying to do that, why would it get into competition with its hardware partners? We saw how happy Microsoft made its hardware partners with Surface RT and Surface Pro so we believe Valve won’t get into the hardware game unless it’s forced to.
Click the next page to read more about the Steam Machine controller, to find out when SteamOS will release, and more.