Since the announcement of the Steam Machines, people have wanted a look at Valve's own prototype. While it won't be the only Steam Machine on the market, the prototype represents Valve's vision for the direction of the product. A few of the larger tech sites had a chance to go hands-on with the Steam Machine that's being sent to 300 lucky Steam users in the product's hardware beta.
So what did they see? Something that looks a bit like an Xbox 360 Slim really. According to Engadget, the prototype is a bog-standard Intel i7 PC with an high-end Nvidia Geforce GTX Titan GPU. The trick is the Valve-designed case that houses all the parts; Valve told The Verge that none of the major parts share airspace within the case. The CPU exhausts out of the top of the case, the power supply out the side, and the the graphics card out the back. That keeps the inside of the system cool and quiet. This brings me joy as I listen to the subtle whir of my current desktop.
I personally just want this case. Yes, you can find other PC cases in a similar configuration - usually with special motherboards - but Valve seems like it has gone above and beyond. It's applying console design ideas to the PC space, with some serious thinking about heat transfer and airflow. More importantly, the company isn't done with the design, because The Verge saw them 3D printing more test cases in their prototyping lab. That's the kind of magic 3D printers can bring to industrial design.
Engadget's report has the Steam OS in very early stages, resembling a console operating system more than a robust PC OS. Based largely on Steam's Big Picture mode, Steam OS is currently not a replacement for Windows 8 or Mac OS X. Steam OS features games and web browsing, but that's pretty much it. Engadget noted that Valve had to show off vanity images on a Windows PC, because there was no way to view them on the Steam Machine. Valve wants to get media services like Netflix and Hulu on Steam OS, but the company isn't quite there yet.
One major thing the Steam Machines project may bring to PC games is a Steam hardware recommendation system. Valve told The Verge that it can use the data collected in the Steam Hardware Survey to tell users what games their systems can run. The system could also tell you what bits of your PC you need to upgrade in order to run a new title.
"It's one of these places where Steam is particularly and perhaps uniquely positioned to be able to actually help customers... we're sitting at the nexus of these hardware specs, so we can harvest data about what's going on, and repeat it back in a digestible form to every Steam user who cares," explained Valve designer Greg Coomer.
PC enthusiasts may not need such a feature, but it would go a long way into helping PC gaming make inroads with mainstream consumers. I think Valve should follow this up with its own recommended hardware specs for each year; that would also help developers with a baseline target they can expect, which is one of the benefits of developing for consoles.
Coomer also explained that Valve isn't trying to move PC gamers anywhere else; the company is cognizant of players who don't want to game in the living room. This is about expanding the audience, but Valve hasn't forgotten where it came from.
"We've been speaking as if it's a foregone conclusion that everyone wants to be in the living room. That's not true, and it's great that that's not true," said Coomer. "There's a little bit of consternation around our most dedicated customers that we might try to shuttle them into a different room in the house. That's not what we're trying to do at all."
Finally, if Half-Life 3 is coming - Valve still hasn't confirmed anything - you can rest assured that it won't be Steam OS-only. Not that it's coming. Ever.
"It's against our philosophy to put a game in jail and say it only works on Steam Machines," said Valve's Doug Lombardi.
[All Images Via The Verge and Engadget]