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Jan
7

Steam Machines revealed, with some concerns

Posted by Rob Zwetsloot

Valve unveils 13 Steam Machines of various size and power in their CES conference last night. Will the variety and price cause issues though?

Yesterday, we reported on a list of 12 hardware partners that had been confirmed to be working with Valve to make Steam Machines. In the early hours of this morning, Valve held a press conference at CES in Las Vegas, and revealed the hardware design from those 12 partners, along with one other from a previously undisclosed partner.

The full list of the hardware is available from a “brochure” on the Steam website. The machines are a mixture of high-end PCs and mini-PCs, clearly aimed more at playing native content than just streaming from another location.

The Alienware machine is the only one lacking specs
The Alienware machine is the only one lacking specs

The specs are interesting, but there are some noticeable issues with this current line up. Firstly, the sheer number of boxes means there will be some fragmentation. While hardware fragmentation may not be as big a deal in PCs as they are in Android devices, it does mean a similarly priced Steam Machine won’t be as powerful as a home console. With unified hardware, home consoles enjoy better optimisation, allowing developers to do more with what they have. Even without the raw power issues, it will likely create confusion among consumers when presented with 13 different options, most of which are customisable even further.

Another major problem could be the price, with hardware starting at $500, and most of the offerings costing more than $1000. It will be difficult to break into the console market with hardware that costs at least twice as much as the main consoles themselves.

The reasoning for this price disparity is easily explainable – traditionally, games consoles are sold at a loss or for negligible profit, with software licensing used to make money. Third party hardware manufacturers aren’t able to take this route with the way SteamOS is set-up, as they need to make profit from the hardware.

Right now then, it doesn’t look like plain sailing for Valve. The console market is already highly competitive, and price is always an issue with consumers. For now then, the best solution seems to be to create your own Steam Machine, saving a lot of expense in the process. However, that’s not for everyone.

We’ll be interested to see how the Steam Machines and SteamOS takes off in the coming year.

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