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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  • takeship - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    I just don't get the i3 spec. With both consoles going wide to 8 threads for this generation, I can't imagine that most next gen ports will work well, or at all, on a dual core cpu. Even considering the IPC differences between Haswell & Kabini. See BF3, Farcry3, Crysis3, Metro2033 etc for current gen examples. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Based on Cinebench single-core (http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Mobile/153), we can get an idea of the power of each core. If we take the i7-4700MQ as the Intel sample (it should be running the core at 3.4GHz single-threaded), that's nearly four times as fast as a Kabini core at 1.5GHz.

    The Xbox One will run the CPU cores at 1.75GHz, while the PS4 is rumored to be 2.0GHz and potentially as high as 2.75GHz. Given AMD has the A6-5200 clocked at 2GHz with quad-core Kabini and it's a 25W part, I'd say closer to 2GHz seems likely for PS4 (with the entire system targeting <200W is my bet). If we scale linearly for clock speed, a single Haswell core at 3.4GHz is going to be about 2.5 times as fast as a Kabini core at 2.4GHz, or 3x as fast as a 2.0Hz Kabini core.

    So, octal-core Kabini at 2.0GHz vs. dual-core Haswell at 3.4GHz, I'd say best-case (e.g. in heavily threaded workloads) you're looking at roughly equal processor performance. But worst-case (single-threaded or lightly threaded) the higher per-core performance of Haswell will still be 3x faster. That's why a fast dual-core isn't such a bad thing.
    Reply
  • Krysto - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Except, if the performance is equal, you're paying more/performance anyway by getting an Intel chip.

    Also Intel+Nvidia won't be able to unlock heterogenous computing power as well as AMD's APU's. And that's without even mentioning AMD's Mantle API, which would make it as fast as the console version (or faster if the hardware is better, like with these Nvidia GPU's).

    But as it is, you're likely getting much less performance/price by adding the OpenGL overlay on top.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Aren't the Core i3's also hyperthreaded? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    Yes, which is why two cores (with Hyper-Threading) that are ~3x faster end up being equal to eight cores. Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    "while the PS4 is rumored to be 2.0GHz and potentially as high as 2.75GHz"

    I thought it was already known to be 1.6GHz. Is it even feasible to clock that core so high?
    Reply
  • Jumangi - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    This, if AMD's hype is real and we see a $200 AMD card beating $300 Nvidia cards then eyes will start to open. If its just a few frames a seconds more then it will flop and become another proprietary tech most don't use like CUDA. Reply
  • yannigr - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    You mean the same way Nvidia worked with AMD for PhysX?... Oh wait... Reply
  • Hrel - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    They didn't work with anyone on Physx. They bought it from PhysX. Reply
  • Medallish - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Such a shame that people already forgot the name of the company. It was Ageia, imo a shame it was sold to nVidia, shouldn't have been sold to AMD or Intel either imo, it should have been some 4.th player who would promote actual physics based gaming and not have it be a gimmick that no one wants to commit to fully. Reply

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