SteamOS and Machines in the Wild
Last Friday 13th, Valve has sent out their Steam Machine prototypes to 300 lucky testers in USA and released first version of SteamOS for everybody to try. Some of those machines have already arrived to people willing to share their experiences. Meanwhile, many technically minded people all around the world have looked closely at SteamOS. Let's take a look at information about Valve's tech shared with the world.
Corey Nelson was one of the first recipients of the Steam machine. He has posted several videos, showcasing unboxing gameplay and the internal configuration of the device, which you can see in the top video. Valve's solution to the problem of high-end component packing in a small package is quite elegant – compartmentalisation. CPU and GPU are completely separated from each other inside and their coolers blow straight out of the machine. While PSU is not completely isolated from CPU, it also blows air outside. Valve shaved an inch with storage drives by using 2.5" laptop HDD. While it is a performance trade-off compared to desktops, other consoles use 2.5" HDDs as well.
Nelson's other videos showcase several games on Steam Machine as well as some benchmarks. By default SteamOS loads straight up into Steam's Big Picture mode, while access to desktop must be enabled in the Steam settings. As there is a space inside for a second storage drive, Windows can be installed on it and UEFI can take care of dual boot. There is a standard ASRock motherboard inside, thus there are no problems with drivers. When used with Windows, Steam Controller is detected automatically and can be used as mouse with some keyboard keys with no customisation.
Nelson's first video of unboxing showed a very nice wooden shipping package for Valve's Steam Machines. While he has received his shipping in perfect condition, at least one other recipient is very thankful for the good packing. Downlord received a box where shock sensor showed warning about 100g force being exceeded during transportation and visible external damage. While dense foam inside showed signs of damage as well, it has managed to protect the devices inside from the shock and they are in working conditions. Downlord has also shown some comparison photos between Steam and X360 controllers, showing that they have similar size.
While even more people will be receiving their units, one of them decided to track them all. Interestingly, Steam Machine design includes 300 holes in the vent at the top. So far each tester has got a different hole marked on their device. Cynagen has created a site, which tracks Steam Machines which appeared online with the links to Steam profiles, videos and images when available. It is the site to check for the testers' personal experiences with their Steam Machines.
Meanwhile, SteamOS is getting tested by a much wider audience. While there are official requirements and warnings against attempts to install it on your main PC, they only apply to the simple setup. The Debian Linux base of SteamOS is still there, so all the requirements can be bypassed with the appropriate knowledge. There are no hidden locks, just a simplified setup for the supported configurations. Using non-Nvidia GPU simply requires getting an appropriate Linux driver. HDD and RAM requirements are more of recommendation rather than a necessity. Even UEFI requirement can be overcome with a modified installer.
On the performance side, SteamOS shows good results. First tests by phoronix show that SteamOS 3D performance is on the similar level as Windows 8.1 and Ubuntu. While it does not seem to offer any clear advantage over Windows, matching its performance right away is a good sign – at least for Nvidia users. AMD's Linux drivers are still problematic, but there is a lot of interest for the situation to get fixed as soon as possible.