It began with a Big Picture-idea. No literally! Valve’s grand scheme to snatch the rug out from under the console competition and cement themselves as the new kings of living-room gaming began with the launch of their Big Picture feature for their Steam digital distribution and social networking platform.
Big Picture is a great way to play your Steam PC games in a Xbox Live-like TV-ready user interface. Now with this “Big” substantial foot in the door, Valve moves on the living room like a lioness on a gazelle–having developed a Linux-based operating software dubbed SteamOS and a unique companion controller. The haptic-heavy controller can be bought on its own and the SteamOS can be installed on any modern PC for the do-it-yourself crowd.
Valve has also worked with 14 PC providers and encouraged them to build their own Steam Machines around the newly forged SteamOS to offer gamers a more hands-off approach akin to a plug-n-play PS4 or Xbox One console experience. These systems vary in size, price, performance and customization potential. Here we list them all with specs where provided. We also try offer a tiny morsel of insight for where you should focus your Steam Machine curiosity. First up…?
1. Alienware Steam Machine
Valve themselves say this version of the Steam box will offer “The full potential of what a Steam Machine should be.” But price and specs are TBD. It has a familiar console-style form factor. We do know it will feature an Intel CPU and an Nvidia GPU. I’m betting those will be a GTX 780 or 780 Ti and a Haswell CPU from Intel. This is definitely one to watch coming with Valve’s seal of approval. More can’t be said until we have more pricing, specs and info on availability.
Specs: TBD – Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU.
2. Alternate’s Steam Machine
Alternate is not familiar to many so their lofty price tag will be a major hurdle for such an unproven system. Adding insult to injury, their specs are very middle of road for such an expensive system. Wait for reviews to circulate on this one, before taking the plunge.
Spec: Intel Core i5 4570, 1TB Solid State Hybrid Drive, Gigabyte GTX 760 GPU, 16GB of memory, HDMI-out, 4x USB and optical out.
CyberPowerPC did more to make their Steam Machines seem unique. They are called “Steam Machine A” and “Steam Machine I”. These products of nomenclature wizardry each wield a 500GB of HDD and 8GB of DDR3 memory. But GPU and CPU are still to be determined. Those choices will clearly dictate the $200 cost difference. Of the 14, I would pass on CyberPowerPC. Their premium PCs have never impressed. So I wouldn’t hold my breath for their Steam Machine. Alas, time will tell for sure.
Specs: 500GB HDD, 8GB DDR3 RAM (Full specs TBA)
4. Digital Storm – Bolt II
Digital Storm is a name you can trust given their long history of quality boutique PC builds. Yet one is hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Bolt II and your garden variety tower PC. It may not be a looker by set-top living room standards. But the Bolt II from Digital Storm packs the inner-muscle to feed the most ravenous gaming appetite.
Nonetheless, I fear the Bolt II does little to sway traditional PC gamers with a design similar to a do-it-yourself PC build. Moreover the look may further scare away console gamers looking for easy entry into PC gaming. Still, this is Digital Storm we’re talking about. Good quality is a given. So, if living space and financials are not an issue then I suggest you investigate the Bolt II.
Specs: Intel Core i7 4770K (unlocked Haswell), Nvidia GTX 780 Ti, 16gb RAM, 1TB HDD + 120GB SSD
5. Gigabyte – Brix Pro
We don’t have a price on Gigabyte’s Brix Pro Steam Machine. What we do know…? It will come minus the one PC component Gigabyte excels at and that’s video cards. The Brix Pro will sport a i7 4770K, one of the most coveted CPU’s on the market today. But Gigiabyte is relying on Intel’s integrated Iris Pro 5200. The Iris Pro competes at a very casual level–too casual for a dedicated gaming machine in our honest assesment (no hands-on time ATM). It is definitely THE best integrated graphics solution on any CPU. Yet I fear it will not be sufficient. It will surely keep overall cost down, however, well below many other Steam Machines. Well… At least it should if Gigabyte is serious about competing in this madcap new arms race.
Specs: Intel Core i7 4770K (unlocked Haswell), Intel Iris Pro (integrated graphics), 2x 4GB RAM, 1TB HDD SATA3 drive
6. Falcon Nothwest – Tiki
You don’t make it in the cutthroat boutique PC racket as long as Falcon Nothwest without being damn good at what you do. These folks have been cranking out high end PC’s since ’92. Now say hello to the company’s Tiki Steam Machine. The Tiki line features premium wallet-crippling prices all the way up to $6000. The Tiki boasts wide customization in some areas and flat out creme de la creme components in other areas. The performance and support will undoubtedly be superb. Money left over for games after this purchase…? That’s a whole other ball of wax.
Price: $1799 – $6000 (configuration dependent)
Specs: CPU is optional (selection TBA), Nvidia GTX Titan, 8-16GB RAM (configurable), Up to 6TB (selection TBA)
7. iBuyPower (Product Name TBA)
Similar to CyberPowerPC, the iBuypower Steam Machine is much more consumer friendly. This is largely due to the consumer level components housed within. These will both serve as solid affordable test beds for what a Steam Machine can do. To be effective, each of these companies will need to ensure quality customer support and performance if they hope to sway early adopters. These are for those with considerably less disposable cash, and want to test the waters of the new SteamOS platform.
Specs: Quad Core AMD or Intel processor, Radeon GCN Graphics, 8GB RAM, 500GB+ Storage (type TBA)
8. Materiel.Net (Product Name TBA)
I’m not familiar with Material.net or their unnamed Steam Machine. So I reserve my opinion…well mostly. This unit will ship with an Nvidia GTX 760 OC card from MSI. That’s a great card for 1080p gaming or below. The form factor is another unattractive square and the price point is not as competitive.
I’m curious about these lesser known companies. So we’ll keep a keen eye on this one.
Specs: Intel Core i5 4440, MSI GTX 760, 8GB RAM, 8GB+1TB SSHD
9. ORIGIN PC – Chronos
ORIGIN PC may be one of the newer kids on the boutique PC block. But they’ve proven themselves to be a leader at this game in a very short time. I’m only recommending a few of these Steam Machines to customers, since we have yet to go hands-on. But ORIGIN, like Falcon Northwest, is a company I trust having been spearheaded by some of the original Alienware guys. ORIGIN PC only use the very best components in their builds. The engineering on this Steam Machine has produced a slightly original stlying. Additionaly, the ingredient make for some mouth-watering gaming potential. Just expect an equally 4-Star price tag.
Specs: Intel Core i7 4770K (3.9-4,6GHz), 2x 6GB Nvidia GeForce Titan cards, Ram and storage – TBA.
10. Next SPA
That big green X on this Steam Machine is sure to confuse someone. I would assume it was a modded Xbox if I didn’t know better. But few of these Steam Machines win the “Design Innovation” award. So no harm, no foul. We have here, another new comer and my guess is not a State-side one at that. The innards are middle of the road, which speaks to a sub-$1000 price point. But I’m all speculation on this one. Time will tell.
Specs: Intel Core i5, Nvidia GT 760, 8GB RAM, 1TB storage (type TBA)
11. Scan – NC10
Now this is what I’ve been waiting to see. A diminutive Steam Machine more akin to a portable HDD than a PC or console. The Scan NC10 even uses a 765M GPU, the type found in laptops and All-in-One PCs. That helps keep size down. The CPU is not all that exciting, using an Intel Core i3 4000M. But supreme CPU power may not be required for the Linux based SteamOS. Our eyes will be glued to this little guy come launch.
Specs: Intel Core i3 4000m, Nvidia Geforce GTX 76M, 8GB RAM, 500GB
12. Webhallen (name TBA)
I don’t know about this folks. The company Webhallen is a e-commerce store in Sweden. It was formerly owned by Amazon. What is worrisome, PC building is not the company’s bread and butter. Sure they pull from their stock to build PCs. But I would hardly go to an e-commerce equivalent of Best Buy, CompUSA, or even GameStop for definitive gaming machine. Like most of the other Steam Machines, Webhallen is using components from other companies and housing them in a custom PC chassis. Adequate tech and customer support would be my initial questions. Sounds like a gamble that should be watched instead of adopted early.
Specs: Intel Core i7 4771, Nvidia GTX 780, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSHD
13. Zotac (name TBA)
This thing looks more like a network router than a Steam Machine. Zotac products are not sold in the U.S. but I’ve used them first hand and vouch for their reliability. The company has been serving gamer component needs for many years. The price tag on this one also shows promise. It’s not dirt cheap but highly affordable. Too bad we don’t have a specific specifications list. More on this one as it comes in.
Specs: Intel Core (TBD), Nvidia GeForce GTX (TBD), RAM and Storage are also TBD
14. Maingear – Spark
The Spark was the most recent Steam Machine to come onboard. While it doesn’t look much different than the other square form factors, it weighs less than 1-pound. Connectivity options were mentioned as well — 4x USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI-out port, Mini DisplayPort, 801.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 are all in attendance. Surprisingly, Maingear is showing AMD a lot of love in this unit for both the CPU and the GPU. Maingear is another name you can trust. But AMD is not my personal choice for gaming — especially on the GPU side. Again, that’s a personal preference based on my experience with their poor driver support. Also the R9, while a very powerful video card, is a incessantly loud one at that. You’re sure to hear it too, in a box that weighs less than 8-ounces. That said, we have every confidence Maingear is making the best decisions for their particular Steam Machine. Time will tell if they’re right for gamers.
Specs: AMD A8-5557M processor, AMD Radeon R9 M275X GPU, HDD or SSD storage options up to 256GB