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back to article Valve uncloaks prototype Steam Machine console specs

Valve has revealed details about the hardware that powers its prototype Steam Machine gaming consoles, though it cautions that future commercial devices could have specs that vary considerably from the initial models. The games publisher announced its plans to enter the console business last week, including that it would kick …

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asking for trouble

I'm not much of a gamer but the approach they seem to be taking looks like trouble from a user experience standpoint. One of the big advantages of the consoles seem to be since they are all the same the games will work the same way on all of them (or they should). Having such a varied selection of hardware seems to invite similar troubles that impact PC gaming on the Steambox platform as well, driver quality, compatibility with Linux (as a Linux desktop user for more than 15 years now I have plenty of first hand experience) etc.....

I bought every Loki game that was ever released even if I didn't play 3/4ths of them in a poor attempt to show my support. Obviously only to be burned later by Linux constantly breaking compatibility.

Add to that seems like they will be pretty reliant upon streaming games from a Windows PC anyways due to lack of good, recent, native games on Linux(even on Steam - from what I've read).

It just seems to me they are setting themselves up for a whole lot of .....nothing (relative to PS4/XBone), purely out of fear that MS wants to build an app store for windows and force everyone to use it and give them a major cut of the revenues. So instead of customers being locked into the windows app store, they get locked into another(Steam) - sounds like a good deal to me.

Doesn't matter to me either way I play MAYBE a half dozen hours/month of games.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: asking for trouble

Please less of the childish xbone and p*ss4 terminology for the new consoles,

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Re: asking for trouble

>they are all the same the games will work the same way on all of them

Until some COD version comes out towards the end of the generation that causes your launch fatty PS(x) to often overheat and reboot itself due pushing the graphics envelope. There are differences over time obviously even when they try to minimize them.

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Re: asking for trouble

"varied selection of hardware"?

A few variations of the same CPU architecture and a few variations of the same general GPU architecture?

Even assuming you're also including the as-yet unnamed and undescribed 3rd party Steam Machines, they're most likely to use an Intel or AMD x64 CPU and an nVidia or AMD GPU.

So the variance with these machines will be much less than that that seen in the PC community. Bear in mind that the SteamOS is a customized Linux distro, meaning Valve can choose to skip Linux kernel/driver releases that aren't compatible with their hardware -- a luxury Loki didn't have. Also AMD and nVidia have both stepped up Linux driver support efforts since Loki's time.

I think you'll find that with the hardware discussed (esp. the i7 and the highest-end nVidia GPU) and with the TB of storage, the SteamMachine could store profiles of Wine/Crossover tweaked for individual Windows games and play them comparably well to an average PC gaming rig.

While that doesn't appear to be included in the initial push, I'd be very surprised if Steam weren't seriously investigating that for future expansion.

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Paris Hilton

Re: asking for trouble

As others have commented, a "varied selection of hardware" never stopped people playing games on Windows, so I see no reason why it would have any impact on the relatively modest variation of standard PC equipment used in the SteamBox.

As for drivers, on both Windows and GNU/Linux, Nvidia uses the same unified driver architecture across its entire range of hardware, so pretty much any (modern) Nvidia graphics solution will Just Work®.

Also, you've got that whole "breaking compatibility" thing back to front. It's proprietary software that breaks compatibility with Free Software, by failing to keep up, not the other way around. That's just one of the many disadvantages of proprietary software. But then I expect Valve to standardise on an LTS version of Ubuntu, and only provide updates for graphics components when both xorg and Nvidia's proprietary drivers are in sync, so I don't anticipate much problem there either, especially as Valve is unlikely to push updates it hasn't tested first.

Ultimately the SteamBox is just a PC running Steam on GNU/Linux, which we already know from experience works, so there's no reason to assume it won't continue to work, especially on PCs explicitly certified by Valve as compatible.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: asking for trouble

So steam on linux, which has been available and running on a very large spectrum of both linux and hardware, beyond what valve supports, is suddenly going to break on a valve supported linux distribution on officially supported hardware?

Keep spreading FUD, good job. Meanwhile, I'm going to play TF2 on my custom pc running custom unsupported linux.

The world has moved on, the "incompatibilities" linux boogyman stories don't work anymore

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Anonymous Coward

Re: asking for trouble

Not quite accurate, Brah.

My Linux install happily plays Skyrim, Oblivion, GTA:SA, and there are reports of them managing DX:HR etc too. But it won't play, say, Bioshock2 or Infinity. Civilisation IV works for some but, sadly, not for me- something to do with XML parsing.

Also on other, more specialised, programs they will barely work or will miss huge chunks of functionality.

So the incompatibilities aren't a huge issue for most users, but they shouldn't be downplayed otherwise new users will be very disappointed if their favourite game doesn't work or if they have to dig through a hundred pages of manual to find a solution.

But like I say, most common Windows programs either can be made to work or have a close FOSS equivalent

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Anonymous Coward

Re: asking for trouble

Presumably you can just upgrade them to a version of warez Windows for the improved graphics performance over Linux and use this to get a cheap games optimised PC without paying the Windows tax....

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Re: asking for trouble

You make an interesting and reasonable point, however one thing Valve has going for it, is a tremendous amount of experience (and real world stats) gathered from serving diverse Mac PC and Linux users via Steam. I would expect to see them handle this in the same was that PC games do, with the machines selecting variable video effects levels to give the best available rendering while maintaining frame rate.

Perhaps we'll see 'suggested' video settings by default, with the ability to tinker with video for the people who really want nice reflections at the expense of some stutter.

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That seems like a lot of hot hardware to be hanging off a 450W power supply. My back-of-the-envelope calculations show that it could work, but it's pretty tight. I imagine they've thought all this through though.

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yeah little tight though 20nm NVidia GPU parts and Intel 14nm should open up power envelope options by this time next year.

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That, and an 80+ Gold PSU mean it will actually be capable of delivering a stable 430-440w for several hours on end, rather than a no-name PSU that will pop as soon as the 12v rails ask for more than 100w each...

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Most people, especially gamers, buy power supplies that are vastly overspecced for their machine.

Part of that is because of inflationary marketing, and part of it is because a crappily made 700 watt power supply might only be able to really push 500 watts, if lucky.

With a good quality PSU, you rarely need to go over 450 watts unless you have multiple high-end video cards.

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Silver badge

A decent quality PSU should be fine. 250W rated titan and 84W i7 leaves over 100W for RAM, hdd, board and powering peripherals.

Ive been using a (now aging) 350W enermax for my i5, SSD, 6850 and 2 HDDs for some time now. It powered other similar TDP stuff before that without issue. Sure like most components it wont be able to supply 350W after a few years but no blue screens so good to go.

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That's incredibly muscular specs.

Literally incredible. If true, the steambox will utterly crush Microsofts and Nintendo's next-gen consoles. No contest.

However, it's a big "if". Those muscles come at a very hefty price.

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Re: That's incredibly muscular specs.

A very hefty price indeed. I can't see much of a market for this as it's going to cost a lot more then the next gen consoles and most hardcore PC gamers are happy to build their own PC's.

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Re: That's incredibly muscular specs.

The NVIDIA Titan is well worth paying a little extra. OK, the card alone currently costs the same as a couple of next gen consoles, but being able to always put all the settings on Ultra and know that the frame rate will still not drop below 60 fps is a very pleasant feeling. It also supports 4K.

The interesting part is that halfway through the lifetime of the PS4/XBox One the Titan will be much, much cheaper, and that will benefit any games machine( like the Steam Machine) that has an upgrade path.

Consoles however will not benefit from improved technology until the start of the next cycle.

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Re: That's incredibly muscular specs.

> The interesting part is that halfway through the lifetime of the PS4/XBox One the Titan will be much, much cheaper

Halfway? The PS4/XBone are projected to not be replaced for at least _ten years_. Although I suppose if a platform like the Steambox starts generating games which continuously push the PC hardware envelope instead of there being another development plateau like it's been for the last five years, then Nintendo and Microsoft will have to update their platforms sooner than they'd hope.

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Re: That's incredibly muscular specs.

Nah, Titan is not worth extra.

You can get factory overclocked 780s that run faster than Titan for a lot less money and heat.

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Re: That's incredibly muscular specs.

A 680 is even better value for money. 780/Titans are useful if you have to cram GPU into a box. I looked at the 770's and decided a 25% price premium for 10% performance isn't worthwhile. Since then the 680's have dropped further.

Consoles are underpowered because they are designed to a price. My 9800 GT is underpowered but mostly due to massive resolution increases. The 680 is five times as fast. If Valve are aiming at TV screens the 780 is ridiculous. The problem is the massive range of game requirements. They'll need warnings about minimum and recommended hardware.

Having said that - it makes sense to get the drivers stable at the top end rather than target the low-end which is on its way out. Steam users are mostly PC gamers and likely to be at the higher end.

I'd like to see them get some more of the old games with mid-level requirements ported to SteamOS. Defensegrid, Lara Croft, Monkey Island - that type of thing.

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Re: That's incredibly muscular specs.

im sure valve will have special deals with nvidia though. Priced cheap enough and it will clean up the game market for steamos or windows as they are damn good spec boxes.

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Re: That's incredibly muscular specs.

You mean Microsoft, and Sony's system not Nintendo as last time I checked almost every single game worth playing on MS or sony systems are on Steam. Whereas none of the games people like playing on Nintendo made systems are anywhere else but on Nintendo systems ;)

That is why I've always owned a gaming PC, and a Nintendo system every console generation as I can get my 3rd party fix on the PC where I can't get my Mario/pikmin/zelda/metroid fix elsewhere ;)

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Apparently I already have a Steambox - At least the spec in the article is more or less the same as my gaming PC is so I assume I should just be able to load up the Steam OS and I should be good to go.

I do run a much meatier PSU (750W) to give myself a bit of slack and water cool to keep the noise and heat down but those are luxury's rather than essentials. Come down to the bottom end of the quoted spec and you are price matching PS4 / XBone machines so your chasing the same market segment.

I wonder if they want any freelance testers just to check the games comparability on a home made rig.

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It's my understanding that SteamOS will be free to download and install wherever you want.

I'm sure that they'd be delighted to have your input.

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Happy

everything Gabe had said about SteamBox and SteamOS would suggests that you will be able to get the OS however you want and do with it pretty much anything

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KPz

"I wonder if they want any freelance testers just to check the games comparability on a home made rig."

They already have all the data from Steam, which gathers lots of information about the PCs Steam is running on, and what's being played.

Take a shufti around the Steam statistics pages some time - fascinating* stuff.

* If you are a little bit ASD, that is.

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Anonymous Coward

Why?

I don't see the point. All they've done is knock out a few gaming-spec pcs. Why would I want to buy one of those when I will in all likelihood be able to find a comparable machine from another vendor for less money, or build my own beast and install steam OS myself? Ok so they've added an intriguing controller to it but isn't it a bit late in the day to be entering the PC market? If it was my company I'd forget about the hardware and concentrate on the software. And the controller.

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Bronze badge

Re: a few gaming-spec pcs

They're just testing a range of specs so they can find an optimal cost/performance ratio - I expect they'll design something interesting once they've decided what to put in the box.

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Re: Why?

Consoles are typically sold at a loss, with costs recouperated on the games. Would you buy one of these if it was 30% cheaper than building the same rig yourself?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why?

> Consoles are typically sold at a loss,

That used to be the case. I don't think that's true any more.

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Bronze badge

Re: Why?

At the risk of a million down-votes, if the steam OS machine is that cheap you could buy one as your main PC and dual boot with windows...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why?

They're doing this because they have to. They are very dependent on Microsoft right now. I don't see Valve becoming a big console vendor themselves, for them it's good enough to have a stable OS with third parties providing the boxes (a bit like google and android). The important thing is to have an alternative that isn't tied to Microsoft.

Posting anon because at work

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I wouldn't mind one

If it has HDMI out, for compatibility with any future one-metre TV I may acquire, I wouldn't mind one.

Then at least I can keep my PC ideologically pure. And play games on a self-contained machine that's just for playing games on.

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Re: I wouldn't mind one

HDMI has been a standard feature of video cards for a while now. They even now come with basic sound chips to make the HDMI output basically feature-complete.

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Unhappy

Re: I wouldn't mind one

"HDMI has been a standard feature of video cards for a while now. They even now come with basic sound chips to make the HDMI output basically feature-complete."

Yes, and a bloody nuisance to get rid of when they start hogging the audio and your high spec audio card is shunted into the sidings.

I know, I had a hell of a job getting rid of the Nvidia HDMI from my audio setup.

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dont get it

Well. Lets guess now. will the i5 outperform the i7? Hmm. Will 16gb ram be better than 8? Tricky one. Upgrade path...if they stick an i7 in it, you have no upgrade path for the cpu. 1155 wont be around for 2 years let alone 5. Whats the point of this? Unless they heavily subsidise it why wouldn't you just use either a) your existing pc b) dual boot existing pc with steam c) build a new pc

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Re: dont get it

The point of the differences is not to find the best performing system, it is to find a sweet spot between price and performance that a typical user would accept.

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Silver badge

Re: dont get it

And also to get real stability testing in.

Gamers play more games than game developers due to game developers running 12 hour day most of the time.

Jonny McGamer can spend all evening and all weekend playing and see how the OS/hardware hold up and report back to Valve either automatically or through public sources (blogs etc). Will an i5/670 handle a teenagers bedroom and it's complicated arrangement of heat sources and lack of ventilation? ;-)

I'm guessing Intel and Nvidia have more, and better, experience tackling Linux than AMD do, hence their hardware winning out for the betas, but I've got an A8-3870 and Radeon 7770 2gb here that I'll gladly test with when Steam OS is released.

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Re: dont get it

The point of this is that they're aiming at the console market. There's no point selling this to PC gamers, they're most likely to already have Steam, and in the long term are unlikely to give Valve any more money than they already do.

The untapped marked (for Valve) is the current console owners, the ones that own an X-box/PS3/Wii for gaming, an iPad/Android tablet and a cheap laptop with integrated graphics that they bought with their groceries from Tesco. None of their platforms is a significant source of revenue for Valve, and building (or buying) a decent spec gaming PC is too scary for them to even contemplate.

Something that can be bought from a supermarket, has a decent existing library of games and is a simple plug and play setup might tempt some of these people away from giving all their gaming money to Microsoft/Sony and into the arms of a grateful Valve.

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Re: dont get it

getting i7 over i5 for a gaming machine is at best a bad decision, at worst you're probably compensating for something

just because there is more powerful hardware doesn't mean that it's actually worth getting it

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Silver badge

Re: dont get it

Eeeh....that's dependant on where the bottlenecks are, really. with an i5/i7 system, your bottleneck is likely going to be GPU or storage. If you can optimise those, the CPU can do more, and the games be driven to use the free CPU time more efficiently.

So an i7 is not necessarily a waste, if you know the system can utilise it through the game engine (or for increasing the quality of voice comms in game, etc).

Until we see the hardware and OS in the wild, it's hard to say just how much optimisation Valve have put into this - just using a different scheduler in the kernel can massively affect certain aspects of performance, and if you aren't stuck with having to run a desktop system in the background, why use a deskop-centric scheduler, when a far more aggressive one is available, etc?

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Nya

Snag is,

while "testing" this "console" with a i7 4770 and a GeForce Titan and a load of other pretty much top of the line parts means it'll kick the living daylights out of any of the new consoles coming out and the average home PC as well. To sell such a machine is going to cost a grand or more which kind of defeats the object of a cheaply available console. Yes they will make slower models, but part of the reason for consoles is it's a uniform platform of a known design.

Surely the model they should be playing to is a set hardware spec which can be exceeded by the home build crowd, but that set hardware spec if what the platforms games are written for. As it stands this is nothing but a standard gaming PC with a custom linux distro on it.

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Silver badge

Not so big a snag.

Note that ALL the CPUs are Intel-brand Core i-series and ALL the GPUs are nVidia-brand. within a generation of each other, and all using the same driver set. The spread is among those two brands, and they're all essentially compatible with each other. Some are just beefier than their brethren, which means if it runs on one of the boxes just fine, it'll run on ALL of them (some not as well, but at least it's not going to break). So in this case, Valve is looking for a reference spec they can say, "build to this and we can vouch for your experience".

Valve is essentially doing that I'd been thinking about for some time: opening up a gaming console by essentially setting a reference design and letting other companies use that as a basis for their own Steam Machines. I'm pretty sure they won't get the designation without some compatibility testing, but Valve is getting into the console market without having to tie themselves too tightly to hardware, and since we're talking the mature PC market (a market SO mature that BOTH Microsoft AND Sony essentially chose it for their new consoles--consider THAT), problems will probably be few and far between these days.

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Re: Not so big a snag.

@Charles 9

If you're licensing the design to manufacturers you're starting to smell awfuly like 3DO, and we all remember how that went. Actually most people never heard of them...

I know it's a different marketplace these days, there are far fewer console manufacturers, and Steam have a working business model and games distribution system, but licensing the design could be messy. Given the choice most potential customers would choose the Steam-branded version unless they just don't brand one themselves (like the 3DO).

Bear in mind that Trip Hawkins left the top tier of EA when they ruled the games world, so he wasn't inexperienced.

Anyway, there are probably more differences than parallels, but that's my though for the day...

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Silver badge

Re: Not so big a snag.

Then you forgot how much a 3DO system COST in those days. THAT was what killed the 3DO and the Apple Bandai Pippin. Both were going some $500 when the original PlayStation was capped at $300, and neither one could justify the added expense (Sony could undercut because they had some vertical integration, much as Commodore did in its heyday).

But these days, barring the extreme high end, a PC costs pretty much the same for a given spec: perhaps a tad more if it's prebuilt.

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Zot
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They seem to be doing everything right, apart from...

...the number of machines. Starting fractured is not great. From a developer point of view it would be better to only have one or two consoles. With only one being the games target, the other a media/video/web machine.

To what spec do developer's target for maximum income? Aiming for the top spec machine won't go down well with the accountants and suits in that meeting!

So the mid range machine to be targeted by developers will probably always be crappier than the PS4.

We all know the spec heavy games will show up in Steam regardless of whether they'll work or not on your living room box. And that's pretty ugly presentation.

I would have thought the general public would prefer NOT to be confused over these weird numbered specifications, so they'll choose the XBone or PS4 instead?

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Childcatcher

Re: They seem to be doing everything right, apart from...

"Starting fractured is not great."

Except, as Steve Knox pointed out above: "A few variations of the same CPU architecture and a few variations of the same general GPU architecture?"

As someone who prefers ATI/AMD's offerings, I'd actually prefer a bit more fracturing.

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Zot
Bronze badge

Re: They seem to be doing everything right, apart from...

"As someone who prefers ATI/AMD's offerings, I'd actually prefer a bit more fracturing."

As long as the drivers work correctly and any GLSL code works logically and consistently, then it doesn't matter to me who makes bloody things.

Developers are going to target the mid-range computers for their first foray into Steam OS - which will inevitably lower the average game's visual quality. But I suppose I care a little more than I should! Oh well.

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Silver badge

Re: They seem to be doing everything right, apart from...

That's the thing. AMD's Linux support isn't as robust as nVidia's. The fglrx driver series isn't as well-developed, and support for GPGPU and GPU-assisted rendering is a little behind the times (ex. XvBA, AMD's answer to nVidia's VDAPU for GPU-assisted video rendering, falls flat on my rig, and GL rendering is buggy as all getup). Plus, at present, TF2 doesn't run as smoothly as it did on my Windows install, so not everything's there, it seems.

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Re: They seem to be doing everything right, apart from...

> "So the mid range machine to be targeted by developers will probably always be crappier than the PS4"

The lowest-end combination of parts Valve are trying out are considerably MORE powerful than the PS4 specs, so devs will have plenty of spare capacity to try out new things.

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