There have been talks for years that Valve was working on a console of their own, and it looks like the rumors were correct. Valve revealed that they had invested in Xi3, a company specializing in compact-sized PCs who were working on a new model built for gaming called the Piston. Thus, the long-awaited Steam Box made its appearance to much excitement from critics.
The device features all of the components one would expect to find in a typical PC set-up; Several USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, 64GB – 1TB of internal storage in the form of a solid-state hard drive, HDMI output, and several audio ports. The small, 4-inch-cubed computer is powered by a 3.4GHz quad-core processor and comes with 8GB of system memory. Reportedly, the device is able to run 4K resolution, though the format is still not available commercially. Best of all, the device uses a measly 40 watts of power, compared to some gaming rigs that can push the 1000 watt limit.
Such a device would be a welcome addition to any gamer’s home. Valve is looking to make PC gaming a bit more mainstream by offering a lower-cost alternative to expensive high-end PCs, while utilizing the company’s own Big Picture mode to make using the service a more streamlined experience. The computer would take up little space and use such little energy, but would allow all gamers to access software directly through Valve’s Steam client. However, this would require the cost to be low enough to compete with next-generation consoles.
Unfortunately, the Xi3 Piston is priced around $1000, about the same one could pay for an excellent gaming computer with more features. The lower-end models come in at around $500, but have significantly less storage capacity and processing capabilities. With Steam being a digital download service, and the computer not having its own disc drive, a high amount of storage is preferable, especially when games can take up as much as 15GBs. The big concern is sacrificing quality to make the gaming PC cheaper, when the whole point of the Steam Box is to offer the same great PC gaming experience at a lower cost. Next-generation consoles will most-likely be priced somewhere in the $350-500 range, making them much more accessible to a console gamer than a $1000 PC.
There are two major advantages to the Steam Box, however. The first is the library of games. While gamers will be restricted to purchasing titles through Steam, the download service has an incredible library of old games, and new releases are available to download at midnight, often for $10 less than consoles. Where consoles are beginning to lose backwards compatibility, the Steam Box will always be compatible.
The second advantage is that Valve is making the Steam Box very easy to upgrade. The company will set-up a buyback program which allows users to sell their old hardware components for credit toward new ones, essentially increasing the lifespan of the Steam Box infinitely. This is especially convenient for console gamers, who are stuck buying a new console every five years.
While the Xi3 made a huge impression, Valve hasn’t confirmed, or denied, that the device is actually the Steam Box. The company is still keeping a tight lip, as per usual, but hopefully we’ll hear more about their plans around E3 this year.