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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  • szimm - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    16 GB RAM as minimum spec...? 8 would be plenty for 99% of the games out there, and RAM is very easily upgradeable by the end user, so this seems strange to me. However, if these are meant as a sort of dev kit, it would make sense. Running a Geforce Titan, combined with an i7 4770, off of a 450W power supply seems like a stretch - AFAIK, the GPU alone will use well over 300W under load... Also, why no AMD options? It seems to me that AMD is currently a better choice for low-end CPU's, (and the GPU's are on par with nVidia for the most part) so the i3 could be replaced by an AMD part - maybe there is some kind of deal going on here... ;)
  • overzealot - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Titan has a TDP of 250W, it's not going to use over 300W.
    The Anandtech review showed a total system draw of up to 430W, but they were using an overclocked 6 core Sandy Bridge E (4.3ghz).
    In the original review of that part, at 4.6ghz it pulled 320W under full load!
  • overzealot - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    That's at the wall total system power again, not just the CPU, but it would be a reasonable guide for what "excluding Titan power" should look like.
  • overzealot - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    That review was using a 5870 with a TDP of 50W, which should have been mostly idle during that test.
  • Krysto - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Too bad they didn't go with AMD and Mantle to be able to get the same level of performance with more or less the same cost of a console, instead of paying 2-3x more for the same performance level.

    Even John Carmack agrees Mantle+Steam Machines would be killer:

    As for the native Linux games, 20 percent of all new Steam games are already Linux native, and that's before Valve even announcing all this SteamOS/Steam Machines stuff:
  • Sttm - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Yes, but it's a crappy 20%. No one's switching platforms for Indie titles.
  • Wolfpup - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    That's just a fantasy. There's no way there's anything close to that much overhead with OpenGL or Direct X. That would be utterly incompetent if there was.
  • Krysto - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    AMD's Huddy in 2011, around the time when DICE and others started asking them for direct hardware access:

    "On consoles, you can draw maybe 10,000 or 20,000 chunks of geometry in a frame, and you can do that at 30-60fps. On a PC, you can't typically draw more than 2-3,000 without getting into trouble with performance, and that's quite surprising - the PC can actually show you only a tenth of the performance if you need a separate batch for each draw call. "

    And these are slides from DICE last week suggesting they can draw 9x more calls per second with Mantle than DirectX:

    It can also utilize all 8 cores fully, something DirectX can't do right now:

    Haven't you noticed yourself that even years after the consoles launch, and with much lower hardware, the consoles still somehow manage to keep up in graphics?
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    "Keep up" is being generous. Modern console games generally have worse geometry and the textures look like puke. Some elements look decent, and considering the age of the hardware they look fantastic, but really we've been holding back the quality of console ports for at least five years thanks to underpowered hardware.
  • willis936 - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Man look at those specs. There would be nothing stopping me from swapping one of those 770s,780s, or titans out for the 560Ti on my windows machine so I could go full streaming.

    A proper streaming protocol, application, and implementation has been attempted and failed at least half a dozen times in the past few years. Nvidia's solution is nice but you're really at the mercy of how well they play ball with game makers (ick). low latency otf compression, transmission, and decode. It doesn't seem very hard. Tons of gaming machines have unused IGPs. IGP accelerated compression is bloody fast (like 2 hour move 1080p movie @30fps in under a half hour fast). Wasn't this the entire raison d'etre for quicksync?

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