The Power of 300 Steam Machines
Last week Valve made 3 announcements about their push into the living room. Steam Machines were some of the things announced together with hardware beta for 300 people. Today Valve has shared some information on what hardware we can expect to see inside those 300 machines.
While Valve constantly mentions that there is no one size that fits all, the first testing prototypes will aim at higher performance hardware. They say that such class of configurations are the most preferred way to play games among Steam users. The specifications were mentioned as following:
GPU: some units with Nvidia Titan, some GTX780, some GTX770, and some GTX660
CPU: some boxes with Intel i7-4770, some i5-4570, and some i3
RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)
Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD
Power Supply: Internal 450w 80Plus Gold
Dimensions: approx. 12 x 12.4 x 2.9 in high (30.5 x 31.5 x 7.1 cm)
All prototype units are using Nvidia's GPUs, likely due to the better state of their binary drivers on Linux, as these prototypes will be running SteamOS. The weakest of the bunch, GTX 660 has a similar performance to HD 7850, which is the level we can expect from the most powerful next-gen console – PS4. While at the highest end we are looking at the current pricey monster of GTX Titan. There is mention of 3 GB VRAM in specifications as well, but that likely applies only to GTX 780 and possibly GTX 660, as GTX 770 can have either 2 GB or 4 GB VRAM, while GTX Titan does not come in less than 6 GB VRAM.
On CPU side, it seems that all prototypes will come with Intel Haswell CPUs. Intel's lead in manufacturing technology and thus less power hungry CPUs may be a good idea for size-constrained scenarios than what AMD offers at the moment. Quad core i7-4770 and i5-4570 are very good consumer CPUs and will definitely outperform octa-core Jaguars in PS4 and Xbox One. The precise model of i3 used is not mentioned, but all of those are dual-core CPUs with hyper-threading, which can still handle most tasks, but considerably less powerful than their bigger brothers in highly threaded workloads.
For storage there is a hybrid drive, which should offer fast boot for the OS and most important tasks, while having enough space to install a lot of games. DDR3-1600 is good enough as system RAM, while 16 GB of it is twice as much as in next-gen consoles and thus will be more than enough for all multiplatform games in the near future. The power supply also seems to apply only to some of the possible configurations, as it will be enough to power GTX 760, but lack juice for i7-4770 and GTX Titan combination, for which a good 550-600W PSU is a minimal requirement. Finally, the dimensions of these Steam Machine prototypes are slimmer than standard mid-tower PCs and are similar to the size of Xbox One.
There are no photos of those prototypes yet, but they will show them before shipping begins. Also, just as Valve have mentioned previously, they will look at ideas from other people. The prototypes will be fully upgradable, using standard parts inside the custom enclosure. Valve is looking for a feedback both in terms of the specifications and the design of the case. Valve wants to test what gamers want from Steam Machines and also how well the hardware will perform with size and thermal constraints. The information gathered will be shared to encourage different hardware manufacturers to build and sell their own Steam Machines.
Valve says that they do not plan for these prototypes to compete against powerful gaming PCs. They think that Steam streaming solution should complement powerful PCs for the task of playing games in the living room. This statement and the specifications suggest that prototypes are being prepared to compete against next-gen consoles. The range of first specifications starts at their level and goes up, as well as offering a more open platform, both in terms of software, as well as hardware upgradeability. Valve also plans to introduce some new ways to communicate to customers how powerful their hardware is and what could be upgraded if needed.
So far the things we know about Steam Machines predict an interesting future for them. It is getting quite clear that Valve wants to compete against Xbox One and PS4 with their new initiative. It is hard to be sure how good Valve's chances are at the moment. The quality of Steam performance evaluation, the adoption of Linux among game developers and the price manufacturers will be able produce hardware at will be among the most important factors. As the retail machines should launch in 2014, there are reasons to be optimistic about the price. On the other factors, we will have to wait and see for ourselves.