Valve's Linux-powered Steam Machines gather steam

Look out Xbox, PS4, and Wii! The first of Valve's SteamOS Linux-powered gaming system prototypes will soon be in a few lucky users hands. Then, in 2014, multiple vendors will be selling Steam Machine PCs and gaming consoles.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Linux-powered gaming computers and consoles are on their way. After announcing SteamOS, a full-featured Linux with added gaming features, Valve, in mid-September, the gaming giant has followed up by saying that it will release 300 prototype Steam Machines to beta-testers this year. In 2014, Valve and its hardware partners will follow this up by with multiple SteamOS machine releases

Steam Machines
Valve's SteamOS Linux-powered Steam Machines will soon be on their way to your gaming or living room.

If you want to get your hands on a beta box in 2013 then you'll have to jump through the following hoops:

And, after all that, cross your fingers and hope that you're one of the 300 beta testers.

This prototype hardware is being "designed for users who want the most control possible over their hardware. Other, future, devices will be optimized for size, price, quietness, or other factors."

We don't know a lot about what will be in these devices. But, we do know now that they'll include NVIDIA graphics.

After years of not working and playing well with Linux distributions, NVIDIA has started releasing documentation on its high-end graphics cards to the open-source community . NVIDIA confirmed that the company will finally be backing Linux in a SteamOS related blog.

Mark Smith, NVIDIA's senior technical evangelist wrote, "Engineers from Valve and NVIDIA have spent a lot of time collaborating on a common goal for SteamOS: To deliver an open-platform gaming experience with superior performance and uncompromising visuals directly on the big screen."

In particular, Smith continued, "NVIDIA engineers embedded at Valve collaborated on improving driver performance for OpenGL; optimizing performance on NVIDIA GPUs; helping to port Valve’s award-winning content library to SteamOS (PDF link); and tuning SteamOS to lower latency, or lag, between the controller and onscreen action."

If NVIDIA keeps its word, Linus Torvalds may finally take the company off his personal hate list. In 2012, Torvalds famously swore at NVIDIA and called it,  "The single worst company we've [the Linux community] ever dealt with."

If you don't want to wait for a small chance at a beta system, Valve also has just stated that you'll soon be able to download SteamOS and its source code. Yes, that means SteamOS is going to be a full Linux and the programmers among you will be able to tweak SteamOS to work just the way you want it to.

We also still don't know much about what's what in SteamOS. We have reason to believe, however, that Valve is building SteamOS on top of Ubuntu 12.04. This seems likely since the Steam gaming client was first released on Ubuntu in February 2013.

Once SteamOS is released, Valve assures users that they'll be able to build their own Steam Machines. Further, Valve stated that hackers will be able to install their own operating system, change the hardware, and install additional software on the forthcoming Steam Machines. In other words, Valve CEO Gabe Newell, who proclaimed that "Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space" in part of its move to more closed systems, really does seem to want SteamOS to be truly open source and for Steam Machines to be really open systems not locked down by Secure Boot.

As for game play, Valve has stated that there are nearly 3,000 games on Steam. Hundreds are already running natively on "SteamOS, with more to come. The rest will work seamlessly via in-home streaming."

To use the Steam Machines in a living room you will be able to use a keyboard and mouse, but the devices will also work well with gamepads. It also sounds like Valve may have its own plans for a gaming controller. The company concluded its Steam Machines announcement with, " we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input."

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