iBuyPower’s Steam Machines
Valve's plan for Steam Machines is quite decentralised. Valve will provide SteamOS for free and share their controller design, while hardware manufacturers will build and configure their own devices as they see fit. Valve has also started their test of 300 prototypes as the reference for the powerful Steam Machine designs. Other companies are also joining the game, just as Valve has expected.
The custom PC maker iBuyPower was the first 3rd party manufacturer to announce a SteamOS based Steam Machine. The company has shown their prototypes to The Verge. These prototypes have code-names "Gordon" and "Freeman" and only differ in external design. They both have a simple design, with a light bar in the middle, somewhat resembling an enlarged and straightened PS4. There is also a large Steam logo on the top. The internal configuration was not provided in detail, but the 500 GB HDD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AMD CPU and AMD Radeon R9 270 were mentioned. This Steam Machine will come with SteamOS preinstalled and bundled with a Steam Controller for $500.
The specifications and the price seem decent, but it is hard to be sure before the full details become known. The preinstalled SteamOS and bundled controller, as well as Wi-Fi connectivity will be nice for people who buy consoles because of ease of setup and use. Radeon R9 270 has the performance extremely similar to older HD 7870, but with lower power consumption and will perform better than HD 7850 level of performance in PS4.
While getting and installing Windows on it for a large gaming library will not be a problem for tech-savvy PC gamers, these powerful Steam Machines seem to be mostly aimed at the console crowd. The selection of Linux titles is still quite limited, especially among the latest big releases. While there are definitely many nice indie titles available, only a few games on Linux can show the full capabilities of the hardware inside iBuyPower's offering in its full glory. Another current problem for couch Linux gaming is the lack of games that play well with gamepads. While Steam Controller works better with those titles than classical gamepads of other 8th generation consoles, it still remains a compromise. While the launch of these Steam machines is still months away, they are likely to take a slower start and ramp up later on when more games become available.
That is all we know so far and things are starting to look interesting. During the CES 2013 last January, the ideas of "Steam Boxes" were fuzzy and floating in the air. Xi3 used that to market their expensive small underpowered Piston, but it falls short of gamers' expectations for Steam based console. It is very likely that we will hear a lot more about Steam Machines during the upcoming CES 2014 in January, so stay tuned.