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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  • rocketscience315 - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    These are a lot more CPU heavy than the XBox One, PS4 or Piston systems... does that really gain you much for a gaming rig? (Seems from the CPU-Gaming analysis not so much, with the Civilization V exception.)
  • w_km - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    With better CPUS we can definitely expect the Steam OS to be far more powerful & feature-rich than that of the consoles, especially for things like browsing, consuming, and sharing content, all while gaming. I'd love to see multi-display support, something the consoles have never even considered.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Multi-display support for boxes targeting the living room seems a stretch. And if you need multiple displays and you're not in the living room, you're already running Steam on a Windows PC most likely.
  • Darbyothrill - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Is it? Consider having one person running a game on a television and one person using an Oculus Rift. With the 4 TeraFLOP Titan, it is feasible.
  • A5 - Friday, October 4, 2013 - link

    Yeah, because the Rift existed 4 years ago when they started planning for these consoles. You could also argue that stuff like Smartglass is a kind of multi-display mode.

    But expecting to be able to run 2 different games at once is crazy.
  • Darbyothrill - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    It absolutely is not. Two Haswell cores and 2 TeraFLOPS per game instance is enough for many, many games. It is even enough for a lot of more hardcore games run at non-ultra settings.
  • SlyNine - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Problem is GPU's are bad at context switching. If you ask a GPU to do to things like that, it's like asking a HDD to multitask, IE nose dive in performance.

    Steam and Steambox isn't going anywhere though. I hope Devs get on board with native Linux games and this is the BEST chance EVER for that to happen.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, October 10, 2013 - link

    Valve has officially announced that there will be AMD machines as well:
  • zim2411 - Sunday, October 6, 2013 - link

    When the PS3 was first announced it included dual HDMI output to two monitors. I think they quickly scrapped the idea when they realized they wouldn't have enough processing power, and so few people would actually run dual monitors for games.
  • Sancus - Saturday, October 5, 2013 - link

    The problem is that anandtech's (and other sites, I'm sure) attempts to quantify the value of CPU power for gaming is that they pretty much ignore multiplayer and online games while those games are the classic case of being CPU bottlenecked. StarCraft 2 and indeed most any MMO and some FPSes become more CPU dependent the larger the number of units that are on screen or in scope for the game client to track. But benchmarking this consistently is extremely hard so they just exclude it. That doesn't mean it isn't an issue, however.

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