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14 Steam Machines propel Linux gaming to the top

Jan 8, 2014 — by Eric Brown 1,530 views

Valve’s lineup of Linux-powered Steam Machines from 14 different manufacturers run the gamut from embedded consoles to tower PCs, and start as low as $499.

As promised back in September when it unveiled a Linux-based SteamOS distribution for games, Seattle-based software company Valve announced a variety of Steam Machine gaming systems that run it. Although 15 to 20 licensees were originally expected, a still impressive line-up of 14 systems from 14 vendors were announced, with many of them displayed at CES in prototype or near final form. Most will ship in the second half of 2014.

Dell’s Alienware Steam Machine
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Aside from Dell’s Alienware, which appears to be Valve’s primary partner here, there are no major PC or consumer electronics manufacturers on the list, and while there are well-known gaming PC vendors such as Origin PC and Digital Storm, several of the systems are branded systems from retailers and resellers in Europe. Like Valve’s own developer machine, which was revealed to the public in December, most are essentially customized desktop gaming PCs, but some, like Alienware’s 8 x 3-inch box look more like commercial game consoles, with smaller, sleek consumer electronics form factors.

Steam Controller
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The vast majority offer discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics cards, and they’re all matched with PC-class x86 processors, mostly 4th Generation “Haswell” Intel Core processors, but also a sampling of AMD CPUs. Many of the smaller systems aim for a lower price, smaller size, and presumably lower power consumption, by sacrificing ports and storage, and at least one — GigaByte’s Brix Pro — is limited to processor-based graphics rather than discrete graphics cards. One thing they all share in common is Valve’s Steam Controller, which is notable for lacking analog sticks. Instead it supplies two large trackpads.


A few of the systems dual-boot Windows or are available in separate Windows SKUs, but most stick with Valve’s preference of pre-loading only SteamOS, its new open source Linux gaming distribution. Valve and its partners are currently in the process of porting the 3,000 Steam games to the platform.

“The first generation Steam Machines offers something for every gamer, which is a critical part of extending Steam into the living room,” stated Gabe Newell of Valve. “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.”

Here are some more details on the first 14 Steam Machines. Each headline offers a link to the product page, if available, or to a very similar existing gaming system from the vendor. Otherwise, the links point to the website’s gaming PC section.

Note: Click the name of each Steam Machine to visit the vendor’s website.


Alienware (Dell)

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Dell’s gaming division has yet to reveal a name or price for its Steam Machine. Yet, when the device ships in the second half of the year, it’s expected to be one of the major contenders that reach beyond the hard-core Steam gaming community to compete with low-cost, proprietary consoles. Valve has worked closely with Alienware on the product, according to VentureBeat, and in its brochure, Valve gives the photo of the device twice the room of the other systems. Dell and Valve had been partners since 2009, when Alienware started loading Valve’s Steam game download service on its systems.

The console-like system is said to measure a modest 8 x 8 x 3 inches — smaller than the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Like most of the Steam Machines, it runs only SteamOS, and features an Intel processor and Nvidia graphics. No other details were announced, but the photo shows dual front-facing USB ports. It looks nothing like Alienware’s Alien X51 mini-tower PC, and it’s not quite a match for the more similar looking, console-like Aurora system. The latter offers an “Ivy Bridge” Intel Core i7 with GTX 780 graphics.

Alternate— $1,399

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German retailer Alternate currently sells one self-brand gaming PC, the Intel Core i7 based Ultimate DLX PC W8-64. It looks much larger than the boxy looking Alternate Steam Machine unveiled by Valve, which runs on a quad-core, 3.2GHz Intel Core i5 4570, as well as a GTX 760 GPU from Gigabyte. The Steam Machine system is equipped with 16GB of RAM and a hybrid solid state hard drive (SSHD) with up to 1TB of storage.

CyberPowerPC — $499 and up

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The low-end price leader along with iBuyPower’s system, the $499 CyberPowerPC Model A runs on a 3.9GHz AMD A6-6400K processor with the help of an AMD Radeon R9 270 2GB GDDR5 video card, according to PCGamer. It features up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM and 500GB of storage. Or you can move up to a $699 Model B that instead uses a 3.5GHz Intel Core i3-4330, with an upgrade to an Nvdia GeForce GTX 760 2GB GDDR5 graphics card.

Digital Storm’s Bolt II — $1,900 to $2,584

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Digital Storm’s 16.4 x 14.1 x 4.4-inch mini-tower is one of the few Steam Machines that dual-boot Windows with SteamOS. The Bolt II runs on an Intel Core i7 4770K processor and GTX 780 Ti graphics, and supports 4K resolution. It provides up to 16GB of RAM, and supports up to 1TB of HDD and 128GB of SSD storage in a maxed out system that runs $2,584. The system is highly modular, with a well-aerated design and removable brackets for components like graphics, storage, and the large, 240mm liquid cooling system. Sales are said to begin by the end of the month.

Falcon NW’s Tiki — $1,799 to $6,000

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Falcon Northwest’s Steam Machine appears to be a variation on one of its well-reviewed Tiki gaming mini-towers. The system runs on a 4th Gen Core i7, GTX 7 Titan graphics, and up to 16GB of DDR3. The numerous options can push you up to $6,000, including a slot-loading Blu-Ray or DVD optical drive, and up to 6TB of storage. The device measures 13 inches tall and four inches wide, runs on a 450 Watt power supply, and offers liquid cooling. The Tiki Steam Machine is due to ship later this year.

GigaByte’s Brix Pro

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Gigabyte has spun a steamy version of its Brix Pro featuring an Intel Core i7-4770R and integrated Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics. This is enough firepower to deliver 4K video, but the integrated Iris Pro graphics will likely trail the performance of Steam Machines with discrete GTX cards. We’re assuming the box will carry a fairly reasonable pricetag, especially considering the relatively modest 8GB of RAM.

The 114.4 x 111.4 x 62mm design is certainly a space saver, and there’s still room for a 1TB SATA 6Gbps HDD, four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a mini DisplayPort. There’s also an mSATA slot, among other I/O.

iBuyPower — $499 and up

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The iBuyPower box is a completely new design custom built for SteamOS, and aimed squarely at the console market. It’s called the SBX, according to Joystiq, which says it’s smaller than an Xbox One.

According to Valve, the iBuyPower Steam Machine offers a choice of a quad-core AMD or Intel CPU, with Radeon GCN graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 500GB or more of storage. The Joystiq report says the $499 price reflects the 500GB HDD, but it’s limited to only 4GB of RAM. The base processor is an AMD Athlon X4 740 CPU, backed up with a Radeon R7 260X graphics card supporting AMD’s Mantle API, says the story. The SBX should arrive around June, and the company is also working on a higher-end version bundled with the Oculus Rift VR headset.

Maingear’s Spark

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Neither Valve or Maingear have posted information on the Spark, but Engadget posted some photos and specs. The 4.5 x 2-inch tall mini-PC, which looks a lot like Gigabyte’s Bric Pro, is the smallest gaming PC ever released by Maingear.

Engadget refers to the Spark’s innards as “notebook components.” They are said to include a 3.1GHz AMD A8-5575M processor with Radeon R9 M275X graphics and up to 16GB of DDR3L RAM. You can buy an SSD up to 256GB, as well as populate a 2.5-inch HDD tray. I/O is said to include four USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet and audio jacks, as well as HDMI and Mini-DisplayPort output. The Spark will be “affordable” when it ships with Steam OS, Windows 7, or Windows 8 in the first quarter, according to the company. — $1,098

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France’s Materiel-net has developed a boxy, mid-range Steam Machine featuring a quad-core, 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 4440 CPU with a GTX 760 graphics card from MSI. You get 8GB of RAM, 8GB of flash, and a 1TB solid-state hybrid drive. According to CNET, you can upgrade to a quad-core Core i7 with dual Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan graphics cards. There was no word on upgrade pricing or availability.

Next Spa

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Italy’s Next Spa appears to have based its unnamed steamer on its 999-euro ($1,358) Serie NV modello L01 gaming PC. The specs supplied by Valve include an Intel Core i5 with Nvidia GT760 graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage. Other specs listed for the L01 include gigabit Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, HDMI, and DisplayPort connections.

Origin PC Chronos

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Origin PC’s Chronos looks considerably smaller and more console like than any of the company’s other gaming PCs. The Chronos has yet to be priced, but judging from its official specs — 3.9GHz+ Core i7 4770K with dual 6GB GeForce GTX Titan graphics — it’s going to run at over $1,000.

According to Gamespot, however, these are the specs for the SLI edition, referring to Nvidia’s Scalable Link Interface for integrating dual graphics cards. There’s also a standard edition with more typical single-card GTX 780 graphics. The standard model supports up to 6TB while the SLI-edition boosts that to a spectacular 14TB, says the story.

Due later this year, the Chronos can dual-boot from SteamOS to Windows 7 or 8. It features up to 16GB or 32GB RAM, depending on the model. The Chronos offers an optical drive, as well as a 600 or 800 Watt power supply and a sealed liquid cooling system.

Scan’s NC10 — $1,090

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U.K. hardware retailer Scan has released one of the thinnest, sleekest Steam Machines around with its NC10. This mid-range model is equipped with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i3 with GTX 765M graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 500GB of storage.

According to PCR, which has posted a video on the device, the NC10 measures just 369 x 202 x 45mm, and is designed to fit spaces intended for STBs or DVD players. The customizable system is built by Scan’s U.K.-based subsidiary 3XS Systems, and will be released in the second half of 2014.

Webhallen — $1,499

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Swedish retailer Webhallen is introducing a Core i7 4771 based system with GTX 780 graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSHD drive. The company currently offers a self-branded Core-i5 based gaming system called the D13-0401 [translated]. The Steam model appears to be a bit more compact.


Zotac – $599

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The compact, affordable Zotac Steam Machine will offer an Intel Core processor with GTX graphics. Despite the ambiguity here, according to PC Gamer, the long-time maker of Linux-ready Zbox mini-PCs was the first hardware company to partner on Steam Machine development. In fact, in the early days, Zotac was the only partner, says the story. The unnamed Steam Machine looks a lot like its recent Zbox designs, such as the Core-i7 based Zbox ID90 Plus.

According to PC Gamer, unlike the Zbox devices, the Steam version will offer GTX graphics, using the latest hardware. Unlike most of these systems, the GTX graphics will be embedded in the system, and unlike the CPU, will not be upgradable, says the story. Other features are said to include WiFi, as well as Thunderbolt, HDMI, USB, and LAN ports.


The Steam Machines will be introduced throughout 2014, with some shipping in the first quarter, but most scheduled for the second half. More information may be found at Valve’s Steam Machines announcement page.

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One response to “14 Steam Machines propel Linux gaming to the top”

  1. Jayme Silvestri says:

    Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Great choice of colors!

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