Up For Debate - Is A Steam Machine Worth Buying

Written by Jon Sutton on Sun, May 10, 2015 2:00 PM

Ahhh, Steam Machines. Year after year there were rumours of Valve creating a Steambox, some sort of all powerful, console-like device capable of obliterating the competition and playing all and sundry on Steam. Then, in September 2013, Valve finally made a move.

The Steam Machine concept was unveiled, as was the SteamOS, and the embryonic design of the Steam Controller. Fast forward 20 months and not one of these three pieces of the puzzle have arrived yet. We’ve seen bits and pieces, and Valve has at last begun talking the talk, but the very idea of a Steam Machine is still a strange one.

Rather than Valve adopting a one-size fits all approach for Steam Machines, it decided to give hardware manufacturers free rein to build what they want. I expect the word restrain didn't even enter their heads, judging from what's cropped up.

But what is a Steam Machine? It turns out it’s an ethereal term. It means almost nothing. Alienware’s Alpha has been marketed as a Steam machine, despite coming with a modified Windows 8 OS and an Xbox 360 controller. It runs Steam at least, but so does every PC on the planet.

Valve’s vision appears to be a Steam Machine will be any gaming box to come with SteamOS, a Steam Controller, and bearing the Steam logo. This will come to fruition later this year, with all sorts of pre-builds coming, but this is the only loose tether tying them all together.

In a strange turn of events, Alienware’s Alpha is actually set to be one of the cheaper Steam Machines on the market, priced at roughly $550. It comes packing a modified GTX 860 and some interchangeable components, but its performance is roughly equal to that of a PlayStation 4. At that price, it just about makes sense, but then you’ve got the other end; hulking great boxes with Titans in, costing thousands of dollars. No one asked Darth Vader to invade their living, just a nice, tidy box to put on the cabinet.

The ultimate aim of Valve’s move is to entice console gamers over to its Steam ecosystem. Console gamers crave ease-of-use and immediacy, something not readily associated with PC gamer (at least not until recently). At the moment Steam Machines aren’t really any of these things. For the most part we’re still picking components, fiddling around with control settings and graphics options, using Windows or, eventually, the Linux-based Steam OS, which incidentally won’t support Origin or Uplay. Steam Machine owners won’t be able to play Star Wars: Battlefront. Not exactly an enticing purchase is it? When you factor in the difficulty of upgrading these proprietary machines, then going for the high-end seems even more absurd.  

Anyway, over to you. What do you make of Steam Machines? Do they have a purpose, a future in PC gaming? Have you picked one up already? Let us know your thoughts!

Do you think Steam Machines will be a success?

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17:10 May-12-2015

The Alienware Alpha is 8x8x3, and it runs games better then a PS4/XBOX ONE. Plus I have all my PC games from the comfort of my sofa. I'm very happy with my Purchase...

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22:16 May-12-2015

No it does not run games better than a PS4. Developers haven't even used the PS4's hardware yet apart from first party devs scratching the surface.

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00:25 May-13-2015

Yeah I have to agree that the Alpha will perform much worse than a PS4 or Xbox One. That hardware is very weak.

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21:17 May-13-2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJimpy9Cy9g
So far so good. The 860m is a good little GPU, for MY needs its great. And I get my full Steam and Origin libraries away from my desk. In the words of Charlee Sheen, "WINNNING."

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21:41 May-13-2015

But it's not faster than a PS4.

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22:15 May-13-2015

Games look good to me, but I'm a PC guy not a PS4 Homer...

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22:16 May-13-2015

Okay. I play on all platforms. Well, except XBox 3

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22:33 May-13-2015

Wasn't trying to make this a personal attack. My chosen platform is PC. "Steam Machines," bring the PC life away from the desk into the living room. That's why I went with the alpha. 860m is a mid level GPU but it gets the job done at 1080p

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22:35 May-13-2015

Yes, but just stating that Steam Machines are very limited as opposed to consoles and desktop PC

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22:51 May-13-2015

Compared to a desktop yes, consoles maybe 3 years from now...

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07:38 May-14-2015

No, there are things a console can do which a steam machine will never be able to do.

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20:52 May-11-2015

Alienware console = laptop lol

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19:56 May-12-2015

And bloody good laptops they make! (hint - mine is AW 18 :D)

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20:04 May-12-2015

How much did it cost you :o

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23:37 May-12-2015

Would have been £2800 if I had bought it from Alienware's site. Found it on ebay brand new for £2400, bought it through my company and got the VAT back, so I ended up effectively only paying £2000 :)
That was -18 months ago

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00:31 May-13-2015

Wow Xquatrox. That was a good deal. I got mine when they first came out & it cost me $5500 US. However I did order mine & have it customized from a third party laptop vendor. I had it laser etched & I had them put in better name brand parts like 4 x 8GB Kingston HyperX RAM @ 1600MHz & two 1TB Samsung 840 EVO SSDs. Back then those SSDs were $650 each.

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17:35 May-11-2015

Nope, the thing is these devices should be console replacements ex. very simple and standarised hardware (which updates when new HW will be released ofc). The general console audience doesn't know the difference between a $400 and a $4000 Steam machine, let alone the specifications

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07:19 May-12-2015

Steam Machines have very little similarities with consoles. The current consoles aren't even standard hardware and architecture.

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07:44 May-12-2015

they are standard architecture, but not standard specs, this gen consoles is the first gen consoles with standard x86 architecture and instruction set.

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07:48 May-12-2015

I agree with Mark, most people buying consoles and even PC don't even know how good or what they are buying, these steam machines should be like consoles, with only one model CPU, GPU and Ram.

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13:04 May-12-2015

Except that consoles are more complex than just a box with an APU and RAM.

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06:57 May-14-2015

yeah the Xbox One has ESRAM, that's it, and they are using different part of the x86 instruction set for the games most of the time. Also they have a chip against pirated games, well that's about it..... Everything else is PC-like.

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07:41 May-14-2015

No, the architecture of the PS4 allows the CPU to share the memory bus of the GPU. Both the CPU and GPU are on an integrated die that shares GDDR5. The PS4 has 2 processors - one of which is the APU and another one for background tasks. The PS4 has a built in decoder for video recordings.


The PS4 can resume whatever it's doing if placed in standby. Backwards compatibility is possible by PS Now

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07:43 May-14-2015

The consoles do not have a "chip" that prevents piracy. The OS prevents that. It is x86-based architecture but it's different to PC. The PS4 has a unique API that is lower level than DX12.

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08:32 May-14-2015

wekk that's pretty much an APU... CPU and GPU share the same resources...
And they are using x86, just not the part of x86 that PC is using. The API has nothing to do with the architecture, And the PS4's decoder for video recording still has nothing to with the architecture. I'm pretty sure sony have some kind of chip against pirated games, because otherwsie there is no way for the PS4 to make a difference and there would have been tons of hacks for PS4 by now if it was only the OS.
The backwards compatabillity is streamed as far as I know...

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15:28 May-11-2015

i am not getting a steam machine but i will be getting that steam stream device thingy. very useful.

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15:46 May-11-2015

Steam Link, out in November, I too will certainly be getting one :)

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07:10 May-11-2015

"Probably Not No". Don't you mean "Probably not now"?

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09:08 May-11-2015

he probably meant Probably Not Now?????...... but alot of us even me.. really meant Probably Not No...... just no..... not not now..... but no.

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04:34 May-11-2015

The main reasons consoles succeed are longevity, ease of use, and to a lesser extent exclusives. A Steam box may have ease of use down, but longevity of the hardware and exclusives...not so much.

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05:09 May-11-2015

Good point. It's effectively a console that devs can't optimize for

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07:21 May-12-2015

Not to mention consoles don't even have standard hardware.

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23:30 May-10-2015

If they can get the game support that Windows has, I'm all for it, but unless Steam OS can support AAA titles like Assassin's Creed and Battlefield and COD and GTA V, I don't think it'll be successful, despite how much I want it to succeed.

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23:39 May-10-2015

Linux gamers have been begging for years and years and years for Linux ports of games, and largely it's fallen on deaf ears until Valve stepped in and started crusading for Linux(Steam OS).... it's not that it can't support AAA titles, it's more that the majority of devs choose to ignore their customers, EA and Ubisoft are prime examples, I doubt they will EVER make a Linux game, too arrogant.

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20:48 May-10-2015

I have the Alpha, It's nice to kick back on the sofa and play. Plus it looks better under my TV then a huge Tower. It's stronger then an PS4/XBOX ONE, the GPU benchmarks at the same level as the GTX 750 Ti.

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20:54 May-10-2015

An 860 is roughly the mobile equivalent of a 750 TI, and honestly for boxes of this size, that's about as much power as you'd really want to cram into one, everyone tends to forget that tiny cases aren't exactly known for amazing airflow and cooling, and your 860 would probably outperform a more powerfull card crammed in a tiny case that keeps heat throttling to save it's own life ;)

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00:03 May-11-2015

I missed the Alienware Alpha Sale for $400 (base-model), equipped with a Core i3-4130T and GTX 860M+ it offered a great alternative to PS4/Xbox One

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00:47 May-11-2015

Raleigh, nc had a Tigers Direct store. Grabbed mine for for $400 and a $50 mail in rebate. One other thing, it come with 10 steam games. Only two worth note are Payday 2 and Metro: last light...

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20:42 May-10-2015

I'd love for the Steam Box to succeed, if for no other reason than to perpetuate Linux as a proper gaming OS and get more game devs onboard, but I'm not really confident that it will succeed, I mean firstly lets call these what they are, small form factor PCs, they're not exactly new to the market, it's just before if you wanted one, you had to build it yourself, now you can buy a prebuilt.....ok?

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20:48 May-10-2015

I mean there is definitely a market for a small PC that you just connect to your TV, lest we forget about HTPCs, or the millions of Android TV sticks floating around, the problem is, I think the pricing is a bit too high for most of these boxes, and they're trying to target gamers instead of media enthusiests in general.... Steam OS will be good for all types of media btw, they forgot to mention.

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21:09 May-10-2015

Yea, the Current UI needs apps like Uplay, Origin, Netflix, and Hulu. The 360 game pad can be used a mouse in desktop mode so I still use it for windows 8.1 apps...

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21:41 May-10-2015

Well, that's up to EA and Ubisoft to bring their software over to Linux, both of whom have refused to do so so far...... but that's always been the problem with Linux, devs tend to ignore it as a mature platform, even though it's been with us almost as long as Windows has.... or atleast what we recognize as Windows..... I love Valve for crusading for Linux, I wish more devs would!

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20:32 May-10-2015

Steam is a great service
I have always thought
Although with it's payment system
Many battles I have fought
Now Valve is getting serious
With the Steam machine
But frankly speaking, buying one
I'm not very keen

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06:01 May-11-2015

thumbs up to you nice thinking :)

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20:26 May-10-2015

I dont need it as i wont game on a TV really. The Rog swift is to damn good^^

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20:06 May-10-2015

I think anyone who would buy it, already have a PC that can do the job. Normal console people think it is just a PC and so wouldn't buy it.

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19:49 May-10-2015

not!!

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19:45 May-10-2015

Until DX12 was announced I would've said maybe, if it the OS improves gaming performance as Valve said it does. But now...

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22:00 May-10-2015

DX12 is for MS Windows only. The OpenGL (OpenGL is often used for 3D OSX/Linux games) next-gen variant is Vulkan (whose name is probably a pun on AMD's Mantle). So you need Vulkan, not DX12 for SteamOS.

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23:28 May-10-2015

He's saying that he thinks DX12 will undermine Steam OS, not that Steam OS could use DX12.

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13:57 May-13-2015

Oh, sorry, I understood that DX12 would make this worthwhile. Sorry for the misunderstanding :)

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19:28 May-10-2015

If this SteamOS-thing turns out to be advantageous over Windows, I'll turn my own pc into a hybrid SteamMachine myself by installing it. It's basically Linux, so it's open source and free.

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02:15 May-11-2015

Not just "basically Linux".... it is Linux, it's based on Debian, the same distro that the ever popular Ubuntu is based on, this means that pretty much any package that will work in Ubuntu, Debian, or Mint will work in Steam OS, and vice versa....... Hopefully Valve can pull it off and draw more devs into Linux, but it kinda seems to me that the hype train for Steam OS already left the station.

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14:10 May-13-2015

Meh, kind of, Debian (at least Wheezy nearing it's last days, nearing Jessie, had some compatibility issues, mainly because it uses old versions of dependencies. Ubuntu/Mint are much more bleeding-edge/modern and as such are better at running modern programs. Ubuntu/Mint can however easily run Debian software.

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18:54 May-10-2015

Why even buy one of these now w/ windows 10 looming around the corner ? Extra gpu memory/power. Better OS (hopefully). New drivers. It's just not worth the ca$h

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18:25 May-10-2015

Not much point for me, I am interested in the Steam Link though, that'll do the job just fine in getting my games over to the living room TV (PC is kinda heavy to manoeuvre around the house) :)

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18:22 May-10-2015

that purple bar should be changed from "Probably Not No" to "Hell NOO!!!"

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18:22 May-10-2015

I really don't understand the Steam machine. Who is it really geared for? I mean laptop users deal with mobile hardware because they have mobility needs. So why would anyone buy mobile hardware in a stationary case that doesn't even have it's own screen? If it is going to be stationary & connected to a TV or monitor then why not just build or buy a real PC with desktop hardware? I don't get it...

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18:24 May-10-2015

I mean if it is just for console style controller support the Windows version of Steam has Big Picture Mode for a controller UI.

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18:02 May-10-2015

NO

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Can They Run... |

| 30FPS, Medium, 1080p
Core i5-9300H 4-Core 2.4GHz GeForce GTX 1650 Mobile 8GB
Core i3-2100 3.1GHz Radeon HD 6570 4GB
| 30FPS, Medium, 1080p
Ryzen 5 3600 6-Core 3.6GHz GeForce GTX 1060 MSI Gaming X 6G Edition 16GB
| 30FPS, Medium, 1080p
Ryzen 5 3600 6-Core 3.6GHz GeForce GTX 1060 MSI Gaming X 6G Edition 16GB
Core i7-4770K 4-Core 3.5GHz GeForce RTX 2060 MSI Ventus XS OC 6GB 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Low, 1080p
Core i7-2600 4-Core 3.40GHz Radeon R9 280X MSI Gaming 3GB Edition 8GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
Ryzen 5 5600X 6-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Ti Gainward Ghost 8GB 16GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
Ryzen 7 3750H 4-Core 2.3 GHz GeForce RTX 2060 Mobile 16GB
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
Ryzen 5 5600H 6-Core 3.3GHz GeForce RTX 3050 Ti Mobile 16GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
FX-6300 Radeon RX 550X 4GB 16GB
| Medium, 1080p
FX-6300 Radeon RX 550X 4GB 16GB
0% No [2 votes]
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
FX-6300 Radeon RX 550X 4GB 16GB
| 60FPS, High, 720p
Core i3-4170 3.7GHz GeForce GTX 750 EVGA 2GB Edition 8GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 30FPS, Medium, 1080p
Core i5-10400T 6-Core 2.00GHz GeForce GTX 1650 8GB
75% Yes [4 votes]
| 60FPS,
Ryzen 3 2300X 4-Core 3.5GHz Radeon RX 6500 XT 4GB 16GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Medium, 1080p
Ryzen 5 5600X 6-Core 3.7GHz GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB 16GB
50% Yes [2 votes]
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
Ryzen 5 5600X 6-Core 3.7GHz GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Low, 720p
Core i3-4170 3.7GHz GeForce GTX 750 EVGA 2GB Edition 8GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i7-10700K 8-Core 3.8GHz GeForce RTX 3070 Colorful iGame Advanced OC 8GB 16GB
Core i7-10700K 8-Core 3.8GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Ti Gigabyte Eagle OC 8GB 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]