Xbox One? PS4? The final battle of the consoles!? Ha! I don't think so! There's nothing final about console of PC gaming now that Valve had upped the gaming ante by announcing no fewer than a dozen new Steam box OEM partners at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.
"The first generation Steam Machines offers something for every gamer, which is a critical part of extending Steam into the living room," said Gabe Newell, Valve's co-founder and managing director. "With over 3,000 games and more than 65 million gamers on Steam, it's important to offer gamers a variety of Steam Machines that allow them to select what makes the most sense for them."
Just how big is this news? Newell opened the press conference by saying that one of its leading games, DotA 2, has more players than America's Monday Night Football has viewers.
Valve's new hardware partners are Dell's Alienware, Alternate, CyberPower PC, Falcon Northwest, Gigabyte, Maingear, Material.net, Next, Origin, Scan Computers, Webhallen, and Zotac. Prior to Valve's small CES news conference, Digital Storm and iBuyPower announced that they will be building Steam boxes. Many of these are small, obscure computer OEMs, but three of the companies -- Dell's Alienware, Falcon Northwest and Gigabyte -- are major PC gaming powerhouses.
The details on these new gaming systems are still sketchy, but here's what we know now. First, only one or two of these boxes are likely to be available commercially in the first quarter of 2014. Most of them, in fact, won't be going to market until the second half of 2014. Most will come use Valve's new SteamOS gaming controller, but some will have their own unique controllers. When they hit the shelves, you'll have a wide variety of choices, from iBuyPower offering entry-level machines at $499 to Falcon Northwest with a top-end $6,000 system.
The New Hardware
Alienware: This will come with an Intel CPU, and a NVIDIA GPU. "Alienware has a long history of engineering products that exceed the demanding standards of PC gamers everywhere, stated the company. Our focus is to design the best Steam Machine and provide the best gaming experience for our customers." Alienware's Steam Box first devices will go to market in the latter half of 2014 and pricing it still to be set.
Alternate Steam Machine: Powered by an Intel Core i5 4570, an NVIDIA GTX 760 GPU, 16GBs of RAM and up to 1TB of storage, using a hybrid hard drive and solid state drive (SSD), this box will sell for $1,339 and be available in mid-2014.
CyberPowerPC: This unit will come with a 3.9GHz AMD A6-6400K processor CPU with an AMD Radeon R9 270 GPU, 8GBs of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. It will ship in the third quarter of 2014, with prices starting at $499.
Digital Storm Bolt II: This system is powered by an Intel Core i7 4770K and Nvidia GTX 780 Ti graphics processor. It will have up to 16GBs of RAM and hard drive and SDD pairing of a 1TB hard drive and 120GB SSD. Prices start at $1,500. Digital Storm may be the first to market with its Steam box. The company stated that it will begin taking orders at the end of January 2014.
Gigabyte Brix Pro: The Brix Pro comes with the Intel Core i7-4770, and an integrated an Intel Iris Pro 5200 for graphics. It will also come with 8GBs of RAM and a 1 TB SATA hard drive. While Gigabyte already has released the hardware itself, the "SteamOS" version doesn't yet have a release date or a price tag.
Falcon Northwest Tiki: As you'd expect from a company that specializes in making best-of-breed, customizable PCs, the SteamOS-powered Tiki will come in multiple configurations. At the ultra high end, you'll have a choice of 4th-gen Intel Core i7 and -- the real costly item -- an Nvidia GeForce Titan GPU. It also will include up to 16GBs of RAM, and 6TBs of storage. Prices will start at $1,799 and rise to $6,000. A release date hasn't been set, but since Falcon Northwest is using one of its existing high-end PCs as its foundation, the wait shouldn't be too long. If you're a professional gamer, or want to be one, the Tiki and Alienware models are the ones you'll want to use your AMEX Gold card to buy.
Materiel.net: This French company will be offering a mid-range Steam box. It comes with an Intel Core i5 CPU, an NVIDIA GTX 760 GPU, 8GBs of RAM, and 1TBs of storage. It will sell for $1,098. We don't yet know when it will be for sale.
Next Spa: This computer, which has nothing to do with Steve Job's NeXT, comes with an Intel Core i5 CPU, an NVIDIA GT 760 GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB storage. No price or shipping date for this system is currently available.
Origin PC Chronos: Boutique computer maker Origin PC is another company aiming for high-end gamers. Its Chronos Steam Machine will come with a choice of Intel Core i7 CPU, and a pair--yes that's right two--NVIDIA GTX Titan GPUs. It also will have 32GBs of RAM and 14TBs of hard drive room. Although we don't know what the price will be, let's just say that the Falcon Northwest Tiki may not be the most expensive Steam box on the market. The Origin PC Chronos is expected to go on sale this summer.
Scan Computers NC10: This UK system seems designed more for streaming Steam games from other systems than for running them locally. For its main processor it has only a 2.4GHz Intel Core i3 4000M. For the GPU it features an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M. It also comes with 8GBs of RAM and 500GBs of storagee. This unit will sell for $1,090, but there's no shipping date yet .
Webhallen. Another international company, this one from Sweden, will be offering Steam boxes. Its machine comes with an Intel Core i7 CPU and an NVIDIA GTX 780 GPU. It also includes 16GBs of RAM and a 1TB hybrid SSD/hard drive. Pricing will start at $1,499. The OEM hasn't provided a release date.
Zotac: We know little about what, exactly, Zotac will be offering in its Steam box. The company sells a variety of customized computers ranging from high- to very low-end. All we know for certain is that it will use an Nvidia GeForce GTX for graphics and it will cost $599.
Beyond the hardware
In addition to all these different hardware platforms, another factor that makes Valve's new Linux-based SteamOS and Steam boxes different from its Xbox One and PS4 competitors is that users don't have to buy anyone's Steam box to play Steam games. Besides working on other operating systems, Valve has made it possible for you to build your own Steam gaming box or upgrade a PC you already own into a Steam box simply by downloading and installing SteamOS on it.
In addition, the Debian-Linux based SteamOS is more than just a gaming operating system. You can use it as a full-on desktop operating system as well as for playing games with either a PC or your HDTV. This may make it possible for Valve and its allies' products to rival not only the xBox and PS4, but Windows PC and Macs as well.
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