Valve Unveils Thirteen Steam Machines at CES 2014
We came into CES 2014 expecting Valve to show off some of the Steam Machines that various third parties were making. However, I don’t think we expected over a dozen Steam Machines to choose from when they start rolling out. According to Valve, each of these machines will come loaded with Steam OS and will include a Steam Controller.
So let’s look at all of the Steam Machine manufacturers and what they’re offering.
When Valve said that the Steam Machines would cover a wide variety of specs and have multiple price points, they could have just been talking about Alienware rather than the fact that they have over a dozen console manufacturers. Exact specs and pricing for the Alienware Steam Machine hasn’t been disclosed but if this is a traditional Alienware device, we can expect some customization options that will result in some price variety.
Alternate’s entry into the Steam Machine fray may look like a $1,339 subwoofer but at least that means that it wouldn’t look out of place in your living room as long as you have a sound system. The internals are fairly good for a gaming machine, though I’m not sold on them for the price. There’s an i5 4570 CPU, 16 GB of RAM, a 2 GB NVIDIA GTX 760 GPU by Gigabyte and a 1 TB solid state hard drive hybrid storage. It’s not bad but I’m not sold on the price.
CyberPowerPC’s as yet unnamed machine is on the entry-level side of Steam Machines with a base price that matches the Xbox One ($499). It also mimics that console shape which is a good thing. Even its specs mimic the current generation of consoles with a 3.9 GHz AMD A6 CPU, 2GB AMD Radeon R9 270 GPU, 8 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive.
If you’re not me and are holding out for an Intel/NVIDIA machine, they’re offering that too. The green and blue brands version of CyberPowerPC’s Steam Machine will have an i5 and a GTX 760. Of course, that’s one of several possible combinations of internals that CyberPowerPC will be offering.
When Valve originally announced the Steam Machines, I envisioned something that wouldn’t seem out of place when next to the current set of home consoles. Then Digital Storm announces the Bolt II as their Steam Machine competitor and I think that I may have been a bit naive. This giant PC tower is more likely going to end up in your games room or equivalent where you already have a gaming PC. It’s just not going to work in the living room.
Anyway, the Bolt II is one of the higher end machines at $2,584. However, this one definitely impresses (again, unless you’re willing to build it and pay less). It has an i7 4770K processor as the backbone for 16 GB of RAM, a 3 GB GTX 780 Ti graphics card, a 1 TB hard drive and a 120 GB solid state drive. While at under $1,000, it would be a fantastic product that would take over a living room, chances are that it won’t at $2,600.
Falcon Northwest’s Tiki PC isn’t a new offering but they’re offering a special Steam Machine version. There’s a wide range of parts available and Falcon Northwest wasn’t very specific about their offerings in Valve’s press materials. However, you can order everything up to and including a 6 GB NVIDIA GTX Titan, 6 TB of storage and 16 GB of RAM. That would explain why the price range runs from $1,799 to $6,000. For that top price, it better come with twin Titans SLI’d together and a really good cooling system.
Gigabyte’s brick-shaped Steam Machine is conveniently called the Brix Pro but it certainly isn’t a brick. The little box will have an Intel i7 4770K, 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. What’s definitely notable is that this is the only one of the current crop of Steam Machines with integrated graphics. According to the official literature, the Brix Pro will have Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics. Whether this is a benefit or detriment to Gigabyte’s challenger remains to be seen. Intel integrated graphics have come a long way since my first laptop almost ten years ago but I’m still prefer a real piece of hardware myself.
iBuyPower is also going to offer customizable Steam Machines to customers. The base offering is priced at $499 though iBP isn’t specific about what that particular machine will contain. They are offering a choice of Intel and AMD processors to go with AMD GPUs, 8 GB of RAM and storage space starting at 500 GB.
Materiel has another subwoofer for a Steam Machine. It’s just a little bit down in specs and price from Alternate’s box-shaped console. This has an i5 4440 and 8 GB of RAM rather than Alternate’s 4570 and 16 GB of RAM. Both have a GTX 760 GPU and 1 TB solid state hybrid hard drive. And while the Alternate is $1,339, the Materiel is $1,098. The question then become whether the extra processing power and RAM is worth the extra $240.
Next’s Spa Steam Machine (punny name) comes close in spec to the other two box-shaped machines unveiled this week. It’s almost identical to Materiel.net’s Steam Machine with an i5, 8 GB of RAM an NVIDIA 760 graphics card and 1 TB of storage. Where it stacks up in the i5 range and in terms of price hasn’t been disclosed yet.
First, Origin PC isn’t the EA digital download and store people so you don’t have to boycott it. The Origin PC Chronos is placed on the higher end of Steam Machines along with the Falcon Northwest Tiki. And like Falcon Northwest’s offering, the Valve literature only talked about the top end of hardware. For example, the Chronos could top out with an Intel i7 4770K CPU, 32 GB of RAM, 14 TB of hard drive storage and two NVIDIA GTX Titans.
What sets the Chronos apart from its brethren is that it seems to be the only Steam Machine that ships with both Steam OS and Windows installed on it. The ability to boot either OS could be a big selling point at the right price because not every triple-A game is going to have Linux compatibility just because of Steam OS.
Scan’s NC10 Steam Machine is an interesting little take on the living room device that Valve was targeting. The long, flat and sleek design certainly looks closer to a next-gen console than the PS4 and Xbox One. And, most intriguingly, it’s the only device shown off at CES that uses mobile computer parts. The processor is an Intel i3 4000M and the graphics card is a 2 GB NVIDIA GTX 675M. It also has the seemingly standard 500 GB hard drive and 8 GB of RAM.
The NC10 isn’t going to run Metro: Last Light at 60 FPS but it should still do a decent job of running indie titles and older games. The problem is that I could buy a laptop and plug it into my TV for $1,090 and still have the added benefit of it being a laptop. As a console replacement, it just might work for now.
I’ve been ragging on a lot of the more oddly shaped PCs come Steam Machines but I like the Micro ATX case for Webhallen’s Steam Machine. Big enough to look like a PC but small enough that I don’t think it would stick out like a sore thumb in the living room. In hindsight, I’d almost rather have done something like this with my gaming rig.
Anyway, the Webhallen is no slouch in the hardware department either. It has an i7 4771 CPU, an NVIDIA 780 graphics card (no Ti noted in any literature), 16 GB of RAM and that 1 TB hybrid solid state hard drive. It’s a good piece of kit and for $1,499, it’s not priced much higher than what you’d pay to build an equivalent rig. Okay, if you buy your parts in Canada, like me, it’s a good deal. I’d probably have been able to cut a few hundred dollars off the cost of my rig if I bought my parts in America.
The Zotac Steam Machine looks a bit like a wireless router which could be one part poor design forethought and a great job of building a compact device. As I’ve been saying, Valve wants Steam Machines in the living room so you can’t expect a tower to really compete against the likes of the Xbox One and PS4.
Zotac hasn’t disclosed what’s in their Steam Machine apart from an unnamed Intel processor and NVIDIA GPU. They have set a price of $599 (or about $100 more than an Xbox One). I’d hazard that price indicates specs close to what you’d get from an Xbox One.