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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  • Death666Angel - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    That's right, you are streaming the games from a Windows PC (preferably with beefy specs) to your SteamOS Machine, which is the "thin" client Voldenuit is talking about. So Voldenuit has it pretty wrong unfortunately. Reply
  • Ktracho - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Even better yet, they should require proper support for VGA passthrough in their hardware requirements so you can run Windows in a virtual machine with a separate graphics card dedicated to it. Then, you could have just one computer in your living room, and you could play all the games you want. Even my wife would be happy! Reply
  • JPForums - Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - link

    Or, you know, just stick with a single graphics card which would allow for a smaller, less obtrusive, system. Alternately, you could actually get some benefit from your second card rather than dedicate it to a virtual machine. Run Steam on Windows (instead of Windows on Steam OS) so that you get full support for your entire game library without any caveats. What exactly prevents you from connecting a windows box to the TV? It is all too easy to set up a windows system to auto log in and launch Steam in big screen mode (which is effectively what you will see in Steam OS IIRC). Until the reliance on Windows disappears, I see no point in paying for a middleman. That said, I'm all for developers targeting Linux. Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    This reminds me of the Neo Geo days...

    They were infinitely more expensive than the SNES / etc, but they were true arcade ports, with the best hardware. To hell with the cost.

    Titan in a console. Wow, well done.

    Go big or go home.

    Flame away...
    Reply
  • A5 - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    It's not a console in any real sense.

    Especially with a 4770 + Titan config, it's a beefy HTPC with a custom OS. Completely different class of device.
    Reply
  • purerice - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    It blurs the lines of PC/console if/when you use it to check email, use an office suite, edit photos, then play some games before reading AnandTech. Is it an expensive console or cheap PC?

    Anyway, thanks for the nostalgic reference to Neo Geo. A kid down the street had one and never let anybody play on it. Those were the days.
    Reply
  • atomicWAR - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    personally as a PC gamer i look forward to valves efforts. While i hope streaming is just a start for the steam OS and they eventually adopt all games run natively on steam OS (or at least most), Streaming in itself is a strong contender. I currently use a nvidia shield and love it. My fiance is also an avid PC/mobile gamer and we are getting ready to have kids. we talked about the potential steam box had for our kids as they grow up and our wallet. The idea we both run high end gaming rigs and our kids could piggy back off our accounts (also giving us control of how long they play ;). Personally i think its genius i hope it succeeds and doesn't become the next "phantom" console of this PC generation...so far PC/console hybrids have gone badly. Valve is in a unique position an has the software history with dev's to make it work but only time will tell if they can pull it off. Reply
  • Da W - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    And why then, with such a PC, shouldn't I install Windows?
    And if i install Windows, why would I need steam OS?
    Reply
  • makerofthegames - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    They're thinking long-term. The goal of SteamOS is to make Linux a more viable gaming platform. By making prebuilt, preconfigured Steam Machines and a simpler-to-install SteamOS, they're knocking down some of the barriers to adoption. Right now, they're aiming just to make it a more supported platform, make it an attractive porting target.

    The eventual goal, of course, is to eliminate the cost of Windows from PC gaming. It's harder to compete with consoles when you have to spend another $100 just for an OS.
    Reply
  • Computer Bottleneck - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    "The eventual goal, of course, is to eliminate the cost of Windows from PC gaming. It's harder to compete with consoles when you have to spend another $100 just for an OS."

    For the really cheap hardware (Intel Silvermont atom/AMD Jaguar mini desktop, etc) removing the price of the OS (by having this steam OS) could have a big impact on total cost of ownership. Steam OS may also have impact on revitalizing older Win XP machines that will not be upgraded to another Windows OS when MS drops support for XP in April 2014.

    ....but I am skeptical removing Windows from a high end host desktops will help. If anything not having Windows on those machines could reduce functionality down to the point where the hardware is no longer justifiable.
    Reply

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