Last week we analyzed Valve’s announcement of their forthcoming SteamOS, Steam Machines, and Steam Controller. There are still a lot of unknowns, but today Valve released the details for their prototype Steam Machine. When the actual Steam Machines begin shipping next year, it will be up to various system builders to decide exactly what configurations they want to ship, but the prototype system will give us a good idea of what to expect in terms of pricing and performance. Here’s what Valve will be shipping to the 300 beta testers in the next month or two – and note that there are going to be multiple CPU and GPU configurations:

Valve Steam Machine Prototype Specifications
Processors< Intel Core i7-4770 (4x3.5-3.9GHz, 8MB L3, 22nm, 84W)
Intel Core i5-4570 (4x3.2-3.6GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 84W)
Intel Core i3 (Not specified – i3-4130, i3-4330, or i3-4340?)
Motherboard Unknown
Memory 2x8GB DDR3-1600
3GB (?) GDDR5 (GPU)
Graphics GeForce GTX Titan (2688 CUDA cores, 837-876MHz, 6GHz GDDR5)
GeForce GTX 780 (2304 CUDA cores, 863-900MHz, 6GHz GDDR5)
GeForce GTX 760 (1152 CUDA cores, 980-1033MHz, 6GHz GDDR5)
GeForce GTX 660 (960 CUDA cores, 980-1033MHz, 6GHz GDDR5)
Storage 1TB/8GB SSHD
Power Supply 450W 80 Plus Gold

Valve is covering a decent range of performance, from basic Core i3 processors up through the latest Haswell i5-4570 and i7-4770. Valve doesn’t specify the model of the Core i3 CPU, but assuming they’re using the same platform in all prototypes it stands to reason that it will be one of the i3 Haswell models listed in the table above. The only differences between the i3-4130 and i3-4340 are the clock speed (3.4 to 3.6GHz) and the iGPU (the 4310 has HD 4400 while the other two have HD 4600, but since they use GT2 and the max clock is 1.15GHz I’m not sure why Intel uses different model numbers). Unlike the i5 and i7, the Core i3 is also dual-core, so on titles that successfully leverage multiple threads (beyond two), it may be a bit slower.

The bigger differences come on the GPU side of things. At the top of the ladder sits NVIDIA’s Titan GPUs, which is more horsepower than the vast majority of gaming PCs out there and arguably overkill. Even the GTX 780 is more than most of our readers likely have, but the GTX 760 and GTX 660 are far more reasonable. Valve also lists 3GB of VRAM for the GPUs, but Titan normally has 6GB while the other GPUs have 2GB-4GB; either Valve is getting a custom Titan, or more likely it's "3GB+" and they're going with the 3GB GTX 660/760. Assuming all cards will be at least 3GB, that's a bold move as well, as it enables developers targeting Steam Machines to plan on having more VRAM than many typical desktop cards currenlty in the wild.

It’s worth pointing out that NVIDIA gets a universal pick over AMD GPUs, at least for now, but we’ll have to see if Radeon GPUs make it into shipping Steam Machines. NVIDIA has traditionally had better binary drivers for Linux, but with Valve now pushing the OS that could change. It's a bit early to declare any winner in the GPU (or CPU) areas for the Steam Machines, as the prototype is simply one possible set of hardware.

Let’s quickly talk about pricing. Note that Valve’s statement mentions, “The hardware specs of [the retail Steam Machines] will differ, in many cases substantially, from our prototype.” There will be some Steam Machines likely priced close to $500, while others will probably cost $2000 or more. There’s a lot of wiggle room, but with a basic case and H81 motherboard the Core i3 + GTX 660 Steam Machine has a hardware cost of approximately $675 retail. Just the CPU and GPU alone at the high-end will set you back $1300+, with the total cost coming in around $1650. Ouch. And that’s not including a controller of any form.

Obviously the hardware manufacturers aren’t going to be paying retail prices for bulk orders, but even so there’s a long way to go before Valve’s Steam Machines would be even close to the pricing of the PS4 ($400) and Xbox One ($500). Okay, maybe the Xbox One is at least in reach, but only for the least expensive prototype Valve is sending out.

For what’s essentially a full-blown gaming PC, $600 is reasonable, but we have yet to see what the actual SteamOS experience will be like. There are rumors Valve will be building off Ubuntu (nothing confirmed that I know of), and just having a Linux kernel means it’s possible to run other Linux applications. Add a keyboard and mouse and if you’re willing to learn a new OS you should be able to do just about anything you need.

As noted in our original analysis, the bigger obstacle to overcome is the lack of native versions of so many games. Streaming means you would have to have a second Windows gaming PC elsewhere in the house, and if you already have that I’m not sure even a $400 Steam Machine would be all that big a draw – you could just connect your Windows PC to the HDTV at that point. Still, we haven’t been able to actually try out SteamOS yet, so we’ll withhold any judgment until it starts shipping.

Source: Steam Universe Group

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  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Except, we DO use StarCraft II, and even though it's poorly threaded and heavily CPU limited even on laptops, it does illustrate the problem with just grabbing any old CPU and calling it a day. Of course AMD's Mantle is an attempt to fix this (basically removing CPU overhead by going direct to the GPU), but whether or not we'll really see that adopted by a lot of games remains to be seen.
  • splatter85 - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    I was running Final Fantasy 14 Online with a core 2 and my gtx470. It ran like garbage. I bought a new motherboard for my old Core i7 system, and with the same card it runs like a charm. After that I realized how heavily MMOs actually use the CPU. The core 2 system was maxing out, my i7 system is sitting healthy at 50% usage w/ FFXIV running. So "any old CPU" won't cut it, especially moving into the future.
  • augiem - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    It's interesting that Steam didn't go for AMD GPUs because Mantle would have eliminated any real or perceived advantages the new consoles have over the SteamBox.
  • tipoo - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    SteamOS doesn't seem to have a Mantle like low level API, right? That's probably why these consoles are getting away with weak CPU cores, not so much CPU overhead. SInce SteamOS is a more traditional full OS, it may require more CPU power on its graphics API.
  • Sttm - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Bold move going all Nvidia. If Mantle gets widespread adoption AMD will handily win the GPU War for this whole console cycle.
  • silenceisgolden - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    That means they need to get it out the door first and show that it is worth using.
  • rocketscience315 - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Depends if it is CUDA optimized. If not then less of a loss by making it generic x86/OpenGL... perhaps nVidia just cut them a deal for being the reference spec.
  • Wreckage - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Mantle is not going anywhere. A lot of hype and that's all.
  • HisDivineOrder - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Mantle is AMD's attempt to get out of having to keep their drivers up to date and save money. To get HUMA embraced by PC gaming. To make that purchase of ATI pay off.

    Alas, I agree with you. It's going nowhere. AMD should have worked together with Intel and nVidia if they wanted a new spec that fixed what was wrong with DirectX/OpenGL. Instead, they went their own way and so now they'll be all by themselves when it goes kablooey.

    Meanwhile, the low level API's that Sony and MS custom built for their respective consoles will remain the low level API's of choice over Mantle. It'll fail everywhere.
  • Sttm - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Well we'll see if it's hype or not in a couple months when BF4 is patched over. Then we can have this argument for real.

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