The curtain has been lifted on Valve’s Steam Machine as of last night as CES. Well, Steam Machines plural, as it’s now clear there are going to be many, many variants to choose from.
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Now that we have data on no less than 12 different brands’ attempts at building a Steam Machine, we have a better frame of reference for a price and spec range of the “console.”
I use “console” loosely here, as the prices make clear something that’s been a bit murky for a while now. Just who is the Steam Machine competing with? But now, with a low price at $500, a high at $600 and a median somewhere above $1000, it’s rather hard to imagine that the Steam Machine will offer much of a threat to the “traditional” next gen consoles of Microsoft's Xbox One ($500), Sony's PS4 ($400) or Nintendo's Wii U ($300). This is a living room PC, through and through, with a price to match.
Alternate – $1339 CPU – Intel Core i5 4570 Graphics – Gigabyte GTX 760 RAM – 16GB Storage – 1TB SSHD
CyberPowerPC – $499 and up CPU – AMD/Intel Core i5 CPU Graphics – AMD Radeon R9 270/Nvidia GTX 760 RAM – 8GB Storage – 500GB
Digital Storm Bolt II – $2,584 CPU – Intel Core i7 4770K Graphics – GTX 780 Ti RAM – 16GB Storage – 1TB HDD + 120 GB SSD
Gigabyte Brix Pro – TBD CPU – Intel Core i7-4770R Graphics – Intel Iris Pro 5200 RAM – 2 x 4GB Storage – 1TB SATA 6Gb/sata
Falcon Northwest – $1,799 to $6000 CPU – customizable Graphics – Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan RAM – 8 to 16 GB Storage – up to 6 TB
iBuyPower – $499 and up CPU – Quad core AMD or Intel Graphics – Radeon GCN Graphics RAM – 8GB Storage – 500GB+
Materiel.net – $1,098 CPU – Intel Core i5 4440 Graphics – MSI GeForce GTX 760 OC RAM – 8GB Storage – 8 GB + 1 TB SSHD
Next SPA – price TBD CPU – Intel Core i5 Graphics – Nvidia GT 760 RAM – 8GB Storage – 1TB
Origin PC Chronos – price TBD CPU – Intel Core i7 4770K (3.9 to 4.6 GHz) Graphics – 2 x 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX Titans
Scan NC 10 – $1,090 CPU – Intel Core i3 4000M Graphics – Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M RAM – 8GB Storage – 500GB
Webhallen – $1,499 CPU – Intel Core i7 Graphics – Nvidia GT 780 RAM – 16GB Storage – 1TB SSHD
Zotac – $599 CPU – Intel Core (TBD) Graphics – Nvidia GeForce GTX RAM – TBD Storage – TBD
After the release of these numbers, the situation we now find ourselves in is that PC and console players are pointing at each other saying “well, they’re the target audience, aren’t they?”
You have someone like me, a console gamer, thinking that these rigs are obviously meant for PC players who are familiar with all these brands, care about advanced specs like this, and are used to paying premiums for PCs.
But then you have the computer crowd who thinks this is aimed at gamers who have no experience building their own rigs, and want a powerful, relatively “cheap” gaming PC for their living room to hopefully surpass their current console experience. Why would PC Gamers buy a machine like this when they already have a better rig, or could build one with similar spec for probably cheaper than what we see here in these pre-packaged units?
What’s abundantly clear from these numbers it that at least for now, the Steam Machine is going to be a relatively niche experience, but it’s unclear just how tiny that niche will be. It would seem to be aimed at either very wealthy console gamers, who want to augument their $300-$500 system with a $500-$1500 living room PC, or very wealthy PC gamers who want to more or less replicate their $1000-$1500 rig with a similarly priced living room version. As for someone who doesn’t own a gaming rig or a console? I have a hard time believing a Steam Machine is going to be anyone’s first game system with those prices.
And then there’s the issue of twelve different machines being released within a relatively short window. Me, the uninitiated console gamer, looks at that chart and has almost no idea which is the best value, and which Steam Machine I should consider getting. A PC gamer would have a lot more knowledge on the subject, but again, who is this subset of PC gamers looking to double their gaming budget just so they can move to the living room and play computer games with Valve’s new controller on a premade rig? A very small niche indeed.
The release of these prices only makes me scratch my head even further about the short and long term plans for the Steam Machine. A $500 unit seemed like a steep proposition by itself, given the crowded market place and the fact that console and PC gamers are so disparate, a hybrid system would be hard to pitch to either group. But now with units priced at $1000, $1200, $1500 and higher? I just don’t understand how anyone is going to view these systems as a threat to the Xbox One, PS4 or Wii U.
If you want a Steam Machine, why? And which one out of these twelve seems the most appealing to you?