Excitement continues to build over Valve’s long-awaited Steam Machines -- PCs that will come preloaded with the SteamOS. Many fans, though, will have to wait a little longer for their own machines as the first line of pre-orders for Steam Controllers and Steam Links have already sold out. October 16 is the expected shipping date for Steam’s first public venture into hardware.
Valve is known for taking its time on projects. The “Steam Machine” was announced a couple of years ago as a joint hardware-software PC solution for living room set-top gaming with, perhaps more interestingly, promised inclusion of a haptic-enabled Steam controller. This controller would be the cause of many delays in the pipeline as Valve faced design unique design and usability challenges.
Having surpassed 125 million users, Steam is the largest digital distribution platform in gaming. Given that Steam offers 4500 games and 400 million pieces of user-created content -- such as skins and weapons for your Valve games -- the attraction is no surprise.
TDP has been on the minds of most the industry's major players lately, it seems. Lower TDP (watt draw) has advantages that extend beyond just lower power consumption (and a lower power bill), including lower thermals and thus a more comfortable fit in small form-factor builds. Between Intel's G3258 CPU (53W) and nVidia's GTX 750 Ti (60W), we're able to build an ultra-low TDP gaming system for home-theater use.
This $665 gaming HTPC uses budget gaming components to create a highly power-efficient, graphically-capable Steam Machine that can play most games at high settings (1080). You've got the option of installing Windows or SteamOS (or both), though SteamOS is promising for HTPC use considering the growing compatibility with game titles.
The delay of Valve's Steam Machine (or Steam Box) has forced the hand of systems manufacturers. Alienware, Gigabyte with the Brix, and now Zotac have all begun shipping their would-have-been Steam Machines as DIY mini-PCs. Steam has disallowed the shipment of officially branded Steam Machines until the completion of its haptic controller, leaving system manufacturers scrambling to untie the resources dedicated to machines that were originally slated for a 2014 launch.
In an official capacity, Gigabyte's BRIX Pro and Zotac's EN760 are not "Steam Machines" -- at least, not by branding -- but they might as well be. The EN760 (Newegg page) ships in two models: The EN760 and EN760 Plus. The base model ships without RAM or permanent storage at $540; the Plus edition includes a single 8GB stick of 1600MHz RAM and 1x1TB 5400RPM HDD. Both units are outfitted with an 860M mobile GPU, i5-4200U mobile CPU, and custom board design to fit in a 7.4" x 7.4" x 2" (188 x 188 x 51mm) shell.
Gigabyte first debuted its Brix Pro Steambox at CES 2014, where we got a powered-down hands-on with the device. Steam's recent delay in the SteamBox -- a result of a major controller redesign -- has caused manufacturers to reconsider branding of their pending devices. Because Steam has to give the green light on licensing its name for system makers, and because Steam machines have been delayed, manufacturers are stuck with products that can't be sold until an unset date. That's a huge risk, and so we're seeing these companies rebrand their products as "MiniPCs" and HTPCs. Case and point: Zotac's EN760 was originally slated to be a Steam Box of sorts, but ended up shipping as a mini gaming PC.
The Steam Machine delay into 2015 imposed a set-back for hardware manufacturers hoping to license Valve's official branding and software, but hasn't stopped the release of systems under new names. With to-be Steam Machines like Gigabyte's Brix, Alienware's now-renamed Alpha, and Zotac's now-renamed mini-PC, hardware vendors have already invested resources heavily into HTPC platforms for gaming. The companies were originally expecting a holiday 2014 release, but recent delays by Valve pushed that into 2015; with resources tied-up in platform development, a few of these vendors have decided to release ahead of time with new names and Windows.
Alienware, a subsidiary of Dell, announced the "Alpha Console" at $550 starting, with various configuration and upgrade options for purchasers.
We bring you good news from the Intel booth at CES – except instead of pure Intel content, it’s actually an update from Gigabyte in relation to Steam machines. Exhibited at Intel’s booth at CES 2014, Gigabyte’s new Steam machine is the next step in the evolution of what Intel references as the NUC (Next Unit of Computing) – which we first broke news on at PAX East 2012. Intel Product Marketing Engineer Mark Chang explained the relationship between Intel and its partners like this: Intel builds reference board designs like the NUC and then the manufacturers take the models and get creative. While this Gigabyte product, dubbed the “Brix Pro,” isn’t brand new, seeing it running SteamOS and DotA2 flawlessly was new to us.
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