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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  • bigboy678 - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    im just confused as to why they chose nvidia for the steambox. amd gpus are going to be in all the next generation consoles so you would think valve would do the same so they have an even greater chance of 3rd party developers supporting steambox. also, hasnt nvidia's support for linux been less than stellar over the years compared to amd? im a little hesitant to trust this news
  • jwcalla - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    Unfortunately you have that switched. NVIDIA has the best Linux drivers and that's one of the primary reasons they were likely selected. AMD's Linux drivers are universally considered to be quite awful. Although AMD does have a separate open source driver that, by open source standards, isn't that bad, it's still subpar.
  • HollyDOL - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Umm... these seem to be nice machines, but pairing it with 450W PSU? 4770K+Titan? Honestly, at peak load you'll be getting not so nice voltage characteristics, giving the machine less stability and some extra heat, not to mention it will sound like an angry vacuum cleaner. Happy switching PSU after 1 year usage... if it doesn't damage something else along. That setup would be healthy with 600 or 650W, definitely not 450W. Also... how many 450W PSUs will have 8+6 PCIe connectors available? Really hope they mean 450W+ and actual 450 is just for the lowest setup.
  • Computer Bottleneck - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    "how many 450W PSUs will have 8+6 PCIe connectors available? "

    This one does....

    It also is 80+ Gold like the article says.

    P.S. Keep in mind the SteamOS Console is only ~7 liters in displacement, so they are probably using a very small PSU.
  • HollyDOL - Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - link

    Unfortunately that one puts you 5A short of minimal GTX780 recommended rating (12V@42A if I am not mistaken)... not counting in HDD/SSD and optical drive...
  • Th-z - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    If Valve's motivation is to expand PC gaming, it needs to have systems with comparable price with next gen consoles while produce similar visual and frame rate, and let the flexibility of PC (e.g. Steam Controller, keyboard/mouse, etc.) as the selling point. Having powerful but expensive PC systems (the ecosystem has been there done that) won't be enough. Price is still the deciding factor. If Valve's motivation is to expand their own business, then it's just an alternative to existing PC gaming market.

    I have more faith in AMD's initiative to cut down software overhead in PC gaming as a cost effective way to expand PC gaming market. Less overhead means cheaper systems to provide equal experience. When you level the playing field in that area, then you can market other advantages of PC gaming, which can drive PC and components sales to non-enthusiast crowd. When you need a CPU that alone costs as much as a whole console just to overcome the software inefficiency, something wasteful going on.
  • Jumangi - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    I still don't see how this is positive for PC gaming Valve is specifying what we should use as PC gamers? Why just Nvidia Valve? You got some sort of deal with them? I just see Valve trying to make their own closed console like platform. We already have that with the Xbox and PlayStation. I have no interest in a 3rd one.
  • ezridah - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Console players are going to be in for quite a shock when they get one of these and then try to play BF4 multiplayer with a controller. Since it's the PC version, they will be playing mostly against people with a keyboard and mouse, and the only way they'll get a kill is if the enemy is lagging out...
  • ironargonaut - Monday, October 14, 2013 - link

    if the desire is to make this like a console, will they have some way to play multiplayer using the same box?
    I don't own a console and the only reason I would consider it is that it allows multiplayer w/o out having to buy 4 game dvds at $60 a pop. $200+ just to play multiplayer is extreme. Not everyone has high speed internet for gaming. Also, multiplayer on the same screen can be annoying, screen peeking etc., even with a 1080p 10ft projector screen.
    I personally prefer to buy the old clearance games that allow lan play so me and the kids can play together.

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