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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  • Da W - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    What's a 100$ in a 3000$ rig?
  • brucek2 - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    "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."

    It's a big draw for me. My big powerful desktop is in my office. My big screen TV and favorite couch are in my living room. And my bed is in, you guessed it, the bedroom. I enjoy games (and videos, etc) in all 3 rooms and I'd much rather pay for & maintain one full power machine vs. three. Hopefully Steam Boxes meant chiefly as streaming clients can not only be affordable, but also be mostly self-maintaining. I've enjoyed my various HTPCs, but sometimes I feel like I spend more time tinkering with them than I do watching content on them.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    The prototypes aren't anywhere near being thin clients, though, which is what I'm getting at. For streaming, if NVIDIA can do it on a $25 SoC in SHIELD, you could do something similar with just about any current x86 CPU. It remains to be seen how low down the food chain Steam Machines will go; as a streaming only system, I think pricing would have to be south of $300.
  • EnzoFX - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Did they not promise small streaming-only "clients"? That is the draw.
  • ezridah - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    I would personally like to see some sort of streaming client that is similar to an AppleTV or Roku. Use a Tegra 4 or other SOC, keep it under $100, and allow me to stream anything (not just games) from my computer. It would also be great if it worked with Android apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, WatchESPN, and games (since you'd obviously have a controller to play your Steam games from your PC). As far as streaming from the PC, I'd probably only use it to stream games like Bastion, Limbo, etc. - casual games like a lot of the Humble Bundle offerings. It would be good for watching Flash only video that only PC's can stream like last night's stream of Sunday Night Football (which rendered my iPad and AppleTV useless). The NBC Live Extra iOS app just redirected me to Safari which couldn't play it. What a joke.
  • Impulses - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    I think these prototypes are like their "best" alternative in the good/better/best scenario that Gabe described... And they're just using them to test out the OS. I imagine it'd be harder to prototype a thin client so early on. Although they're offering a bewildering amount of choices for something that isn't even supposed to be their mainstream option, kinda confusing tbh but maybe the press is just reading too much into it. Personally I'd love a thin client that streams decently from my desktop, I've never bothered with HTPCs and I'd still rather play most games with a kb/mouse and a high res display (or 3) but certain games would definitely be fun on the couch.
  • ThomasS31 - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Is it possible that the technology behind nVidia's SHIELD is the reason of choice for GPUs?
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    No, because SHIELD needs the nVidia GPU in the PC doing the streaming, and the SteamOS Machines aren't doing the streaming, they are on the receiving end of it. The stream is nothing more than h264 encoded video which can be decoded fast with anything these days. You could even throw a 10USD SoC at the problem and be done with it on the receiving end. The best thing to do would be get Intel iGPU do the job of decoding it.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    But the only platform that supports streaming right now for NVIDIA also runs an NVIDIA GPU (Tegra 4), so it would not be surprising to see NVIDIA restrict their streaming to Linux OS to NVIDIA GPUs on both ends. "We're using hardware features to help with the encoding/decoding" will be the excuse, but we all know the decoding side is basically a piece of cake compared to real-time encoding.
  • Death666Angel - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    True. But I'm just being optimistic, that Valve won't completely abandon their "Good Guy Gabe" image.

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