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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  • A5 - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    You're really close to the right answer.

    Valve wants to cut out Windows, but it isn't to make our PCs $100 cheaper.

    It's so they don't have to pay a 30% cut of every sale IF (and this is a huuuuge if) Microsoft locks down program installs and suddenly everything you buy on Steam is an "in-app purchase".

    The other stuff about being able to implement a lot of game focused optimizations is a side benefit, and I'm curious to see how much mileage they can get from that.
  • A5 - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Also, if you look up any of Gabe Newell's comments about Windows 8 or many Apple dev's comments about the OS X App Store you can see why they feel they have to go this direction.

    I don't know if I 100% agree with how Gabe sees it playing out, but I have to admit that it's possible.
  • Computer Bottleneck - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    "The other stuff about being able to implement a lot of game focused optimizations is a side benefit, and I'm curious to see how much mileage they can get from that."

    Yes, that is interesting.

    How much performance can Valve get with atom/jaguar on their optimized Linux vs. Windows?

    Maybe the can get enough steam (no pun intended) with their atom/jaguar/ARM thin client boxes they end up playing games better than we expect?
  • Computer Bottleneck - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    In other words, maybe at some point the SteamOS thin clients become developed enough to begin playing more games natively rather than being used mostly (or purely) for streaming.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    They better be used for more than just streaming, or anything more than an Intel iGPU is going to be wasted! Putting Titan in some of the prototypes suggests Valve is really hoping to spur native SteamOS (Linux) titles. That or they're planning on some sort of emulation in the future, a la WINE. Otherwise there's no real point in a $1000 or even a $300 GPU.
  • Wolfpup - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    Yep, I can't imagine that this streaming thing is anything more than a stopgap.
  • Wolfpup - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    I seriously doubt it. I'd expect the other way around actually. Windows is highly optimized, and games are going to be optimized for it. Maybe in the long run this will help Linux get up to speed, but mid term expect Windows to perform better, if anything.

    And you're saying "thin client boxes they end up playing games better than we expect?" Well if it's just streaming the game, then the performance is entirely on the Windows PC that's actually running the game. The only part the "thin client" plays is whether it's powerful enough to decode the audio/video and send back the controller inputs.
  • bountygiver - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    I doubt desktop apps is going away anytime soon. And as long as desktop apps lives, steam will work as it should. Since games are still made as desktop apps only these years, it is a guarantee that desktop app will not go away for at least 3 other windows versions.
  • Wolfpup - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    If Microsoft kills control of your PC, they're dead, at least for desktop OSes. Having their own store, well unfortunately at this point that makes sense for them. REQUIRING their own store? To me that's no longer a PC, and would instantly drive gigantic swaths of marketshare to OS X and Linux.

    Of course the irony of all this is Steam itself IS just such a closed, activation laden store, no better from that perspective than Apple or Microsoft's. (even if I do view it as better at least because you can back up programs/games and it's somewhat cross platform).
  • nikon133 - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    What I see wrong with this logic is, eliminating Windows from (gaming) PC is dumbing down that PC to a console level in terms of functionality. My gaming machine is also my workhorse, being the most powerful machine in my house - I edit my RAM photos, my videos, everything else pretty much. Some of that I could do on my laptop, but with limitations of small screen, less RAM, CPU power... but some, I probably could not do at all without making it a self-punishment.

    So... if Valve's proposition is to dump Windows and make gaming PC on SteamOS, what I get here is machine with heavily limited functionality - basically a console - but, while more powerful, also more expensive. But with level of games' optimization that goes into console's single hardware platform, I fear that actual, real life performance difference here will not vindicate price difference.

    Regardless... I just cannot justify spending that sort of money on gaming box, so my PC gaming will remain Windows for unforeseen time.

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