Last week Valve posted the specs for their prototype Steam Machines, and we noted at the time that all of the prototypes were using Intel CPUs with NVIDIA GPUs. The general consensus has been that NVIDIA has better drivers than AMD on Linux, and Intel CPUs have been leading AMD in both performance and reducing power use for the past several years, so going with Intel and NVIDIA hardware on a prototype system isn’t particularly shocking.

NVIDIA likes to help their partners by actually providing on-site engineering resources to a variety of companies – we know they have helped (and continue to help) numerous game developers, along with companies like Adobe (with both Flash and CUDA support for their Creative Suite), etc. There are NVIDIA engineers at Valve right now helping with the Steam Machines, and likely with other projects as well. We don’t know whether AMD is doing anything similar, but presumably NVIDIA has been putting more effort into SteamOS and thus their use in the prototype machines is logical.

But the lack of AMD hardware, combined with OriginPC announcing that they were completely dropping AMD GPUs, lead many to question whether Valve would be supporting AMD hardware at all. However, in a statement to Forbes yesterday, Valve confirmed that some retail Steam Machines shipping in 2014 will use AMD GPUs, and presumably we’ll see AMD CPUs used as well.

Valve’s Doug Lombardi states, “Last week, we posted some technical specs of our first wave of Steam Machine prototypes. Although the graphics hardware that we’ve selected for the first wave of prototypes is a variety of NVIDIA cards, that is not an indication that Steam Machines are NVIDIA-only. In 2014, there will be Steam Machines commercially available with graphics hardware made by AMD, NVIDIA, and Intel. Valve has worked closely together with all three of these companies on optimizing their hardware for SteamOS, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.”

So not only will we see Steam Machines with AMD and NVIDIA GPUs, but we’ll also get models from some vendors that skip out on discrete GPUs entirely and use Intel iGPUs. Considering that Steam Machines will likely have to stream all the Windows-only titles from a running Windows PC, it’s been speculated that some SteamOS systems will simply be tiny mITX (or smaller) cases with only a small amount of storage and a moderate CPU and will basically act as glorified media streamers. After all, NVIDIA’s SHIELD is essentially doing the same thing when streaming Windows games to the portable gaming controller, so why not do something similar for the living room?

Forbes speculates that we may see Intel’s Iris and Iris Pro iGPUs in Steam Machines, and it’s certainly possible, but I suspect plain old HD 4400/4600 will be far more common in the short-term. It’s just as likely that we’ll see Steam Machines powered by even low-end x86 processors like AMD’s Kabini or Intel’s Silvermont, but those would clearly be for streaming duties as opposed to running complex games natively. AMD’s Trinity/Richland as well as the upcoming Kaveri also seem like good candidates for budget Steam Machines, depending on what you want to do with the hardware.

Related to the above statement by Valve, AMD’s PR team also appears to have responded to various media outlet inquiries: “You’ve asked questions around Valve’s recent announcement of SteamOS and Steam Machines – and were wondering if AMD was ‘left out’ from their prototype program. This couldn’t be further from the truth – AMD is very actively engaged with Valve on these products and campaigns. But since we’d like you to hear this from Valve directly, please email Doug Lombardi, who is the Vice President of Marketing at Valve for their official statement on AMD’s involvement in the Steam Machine prototype program.”

It’s a nice way of dodging the question, but effectively it means that yes, AMD hardware was left out of the prototypes, but 300 prototype devices doesn’t exactly qualify as a huge win anyway; it’s the shipping hardware that will actually matter. Which is true at face value, but it neglects to deal with the fact that in the beta phase of the Steam Machine prototypes, all the bugs that exist with the NVIDIA and Intel platform will be directly tested by users. If I were planning on selling or buying a Steam Machine any time near launch, I would want to use the hardware that has received the most testing, and that’s clearly going to be hardware that’s similar to the prototypes. Then again, AMD is already in the PS4 and Xbox One, so maybe Steam Machines are being pushed as much by NVIDIA as they are by Valve?

None of the above should be surprising to most of our readers, but when we consider the larger context of SteamOS and Steam Machines, it does keep bringing us back to the big question: what is Valve really planning to do with these systems? If all of the Steam Machines that ship next year were to use discrete GPUs – AMD or NVIDIA, it doesn’t really matter – then we can reasonably conclude that Valve has hopes of spurring development for native Linux games. When they start talking about Intel graphics, however, even the fastest iGPUs (Iris Pro 5200) are still only providing roughly the same level of performance as NVIDIA’s GT 640 – or about one third the performance of the slowest prototype machine’s GTX 660! And to get that, you have to buy a quad-core Intel Haswell chip that isn’t exactly a budget part. Broadwell will make Intel iGPUs faster, but iGPUs will always be significantly slower than dGPUs that have several times more power available (e.g. GTX 780 is rated at up to 250W, whereas the highest performance CPUs are less than half that).

So on the one hand, Valve appears to be pursuing the living room more as a streaming platform than as a native Linux gaming platform. And that’s really weird, because Steam is already running natively on Windows with a vast library of games, and it’s really easy to connect a modern Windows PC to your home theater. Streaming will introduce at least some lag, never mind the potential for issues with less than stellar WiFi connections. Okay, you do get to put the noisy gaming PC in another room and still play games with a gamepad on the HDTV, but if that’s all you want then perhaps a GPU-agnostic equivalent to NVIDIA’s SHIELD (minus the integrated display) would be a better solution. On the other hand, we have prototype systems that pack more performance potential than either of the upcoming gaming consoles. Those are clearly designed to be powerful gaming systems, and the fact that they can do other stuff is a bonus.

It's the combination of high-end offerings along with budget systems that makes it hard to figure out Steam Machines; the mixutre means you lose the appeal of designing for a closed platform. We already have complex PCs with widely ranging performance capabilities, so unless there’s something more SteamOS just offers a new take on the same old hardware. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out, but the more I hear about SteamOS and the Steam Machines, the less I see it succeeding as a major gaming platform.

Source: Forbes

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  • HisDivineOrder - Friday, October 11, 2013 - link

    Windows 8.1 is their best OS under the hood with some of the most baffling UI designs in a modern OS used predominately by mouse and keyboard users. Reply
  • elitewolverine - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    If you are unable to use a mouse to click on larger tiles vs icons, I just don't know what to say. Also....it has a full, functional desktop, that is in no way, zero zilch, hampered. (desktops)

    The start button is overrated and should have been done away with since 98', it's unfortunate that it has lasted this long.
    Reply
  • Origin64 - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    You've got it the wrong way round. A computer mouse allows single pixel precision, therefore if a button is large it's just as functional as a small button, but taking up way more space where information could be displayed. You have to move the mouse around more, get less info on one screen, so you're always always scrolling, it's not a good UI for desktop. Good for tablets so fatasses can press big buttons with their porkchop fingers. Reply
  • B3an - Friday, October 11, 2013 - link

    I agree. 8.1 is the best OS i've used and i've used them all since Windows 3.11. Reply
  • piiman - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    I hear by counter your claim and say its the worse I've used and I've used them all since Dos 3.0.
    I win! :-)
    Reply
  • inighthawki - Friday, October 11, 2013 - link

    "I'm referring to the unusable Windows 8.1"

    Explain, please.
    Reply
  • teiglin - Friday, October 11, 2013 - link

    Please don't feed the trolls. :| Reply
  • BMNify - Friday, October 11, 2013 - link

    Windows 8.1 rocks, if you are not able to use it then its your pea-sized brain's fault, if you don't like metro ui then just install startisback or start8.

    You Linux fanatics are funny, want to kill windows and further establish the monopoly that is Steam but your dreams will be shattered when this experiment remains at less than 5% of worldwide PC-gaming market even after all the big hype.
    Reply
  • inighthawki - Friday, October 11, 2013 - link

    There's also ClassicShell which is a free alternative to start8, and imo actually works better. Those who want aero glass can also lookup BigMuscle's aero glass utility. Adds it back into windows 8 natively, and soon to be 8.1 support as well. Reply
  • hughlle - Friday, October 11, 2013 - link

    Its not a question of not able, its a question of not willing. Way to put a spin on it.

    If these solutions exist from 3rd party, and people will only upgrade because of these solutions, anyone would have thought that ms would just implement their own alternative to metro, the one people want. They turned 180 on the Xbox one, why so hesitant with windows? People can use metro, they just plain don't want to. Its nothing to do with capability to use it. Even my dad, a plain Jane average Joe computer user, hated metro so googled a workaround. Look at 8's sales records. I myself used vista up until a month ago, happily, but I and others will most likely agree that despite being usable, it had serious issues.
    Reply

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