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The rise of the Steam Machines: Inside Valve's deep, varied living room PC lineup

Gordon Mah Ung | March 9, 2015
Charlie Brown never kicked that damned football clear to the moon and, well, after Steam Machines never materialized last summer as expected, we all started to wonder if Gabe Newell wasn't playing mean old Lucy.

Charlie Brown never kicked that damned football clear to the moon and, well, after Steam Machines never materialized last summer as expected, we all started to wonder if Gabe Newell wasn't playing mean old Lucy.

Well Chuck, your time may have finally come. Gaming giant Valve unveiled — no, re-unveiled — no fewer than 14 different Steam Machines at this year's Game Developer's Conference. While this probably comes as no surprise to those who never doubted the Steam Machines would happen, the move helps to dispel fears that the Steam Machine initiative had died and been put into a shallow grave outside Bellevue, Wash.

A diverse crowd

Looking at the wall of Steam Machines on display in Valve's GDC booth, just about every hardware vendor seemed represented. I saw Steam Machines running everything from Pentium processors to Core i7 chips and yes, AMD's Athlon CPUs, too. Graphics-wise, Intel integrated graphics, AMD Radeon cards, and even Nvidia's new Titan X were all represented.

But again, that has been Valve's intention from the get-go: to replicate the open and diverse hardware universe of gaming PC's but this time, without Microsoft's presence or influence.

Pricing of the Steam Machines on display also ran the gamut from affordable to luxury.

Interestingly, the cheapest of the Steam Machines continues to be Alienware's box. I expected Alienware to refresh its Steam Machine for the launch but it doesn't appear to have changed. I reviewed its Windows cousin last year and found it to be a nifty little machine that was surprisingly capable — and cheap.

The shocker may be that the Windows-equipped Alpha may actually be cheaper than the Steam Machine version. The Alpha has bounced as low as $450 from its intro price of $500, with an Xbox 360 controller and Windows. Valve says the Alienware is expected to cost $479 with a Steam controller (read our impressions of Steam's final controller here) and SteamOS. Since Windows isn't free you'd think the Steam Machine version would slightly cheaper. Nope.

With its GeForce 860M-equivalent graphics, the Alienware certainly won't send your frame rates to the moon but your wallet at least stays on the ground. That can't be said of all the Steam Machines, which you can actually see right here on Steam.

4K Steam Machine

In one demo Valve showed us, a Falcon Northwest Tiki equipped with a Core i7-4790K "Devil's Canyon" CPU and Nvidia's Titan X GPU chewed through Unreal Tournament 2015 at 4K resolution and 60Hz.

The most capable Steam Machine on display though, was probably Origin PC's Chronos. This HTPC-styled Steam Machine was the only one capable of taking more than one graphics card. Of course, it was also the largest Steam Machine physically, too.

 

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