Valve and Xi3 show off "Piston" Steam Box prototype at CES

By on January 8, 2013, 11:30 AM

Last month, following weeks of hints and rumors, Valve CEO and co-founder Gabe Newell finally admitted that his company will start selling PCs for the living room in 2013. How far along they were on the project was unclear, but now we're starting to see the first fruits of their labor emerge, with a still-in-development gaming-focused system tailored for Steam's Big Picture Mode being showcased at CES.

Codenamed "Piston", the cube-shaped rig is being developed by Xi3, a company that specializes in modular computers you can upgrade by switching any of three interconnected boards or modules -- the processor module and two I/O modules -- to change the capabilities or performance of the system. The idea is to make upgrading less intimidating and more efficient than upgrading an entire system.

Xi3 wouldn't discuss any specifics for Piston, but said that the Steam Box is based on its "performance level" X7A offering. For what it's worth the latter starts at $999 and has a quad-core AMD APU, up to 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, up to a terabyte of solid state storage and support for three monitors. Connectivity and expansion features include one ethernet, 1/8" audio in/out, SPDIF optical audio, four USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, four eSATAp ports, two Mini Display Port ports and one DisplayPort/HDMI port.

The use of a modular hardware design for its Steam Box is certainly interesting, though at first glance it looks like Valve is going for entry-level performance using integrated graphics. It remains to be seen how much the X7A and Piston will have in common and if higher end models with discrete graphics will be available.

Xi3 attempted to Kickstart its boxes in 2012 but fell far short of the $250,000 crowd-funding goal. Luckily they've now received an undisclosed investment from Valve to move the project forward.

Image source: Polygon




User Comments: 51

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RubinOnRye RubinOnRye said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

1 person liked this | Guest said:

You'll get a heck of a lot more mileage out of this system--even if it's more expensive up-front. The games sold on Steam are WAY cheaper than any of the consoles, and (IMHO) they're FAR superior!!!

Now if only they could integrate GOG's games to their platform I'd be sold! :D

1 person liked this | Guest said:

"Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?"

nope

spencer spencer said:

This would be great for getting ignorant console gamers onto the platform, too bad they had to put the apple tax on it.

Littleczr Littleczr said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

With one terabyte of SSD I don't think so. I would wish it would cost less but it seems about right.

Sniped_Ash said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

With one terabyte of SSD I don't think so. I would wish it would cost less but it seems about right.

The article didn't say at all how much the 1tb SSD version cost. "Starting at $999" with "up to" X amount of RAM and Y amount of SSD storage means that the fully loaded version probably costs way more than that.

I wouldn't consider it an "Apple Tax" though. That's the price of fitting performance into such a small form factor + SSDs are still pretty expensive. I'm more concerned about that tiny little case fan's noise when things get really cranking.

1 person liked this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Valve... Steam... Piston... Clever

But, seriously, I'd be more interested in it (at that price point) if it included a dedicated AMD mobile GPU run in dual graphics (hybrid CrossFire) mode. At least that would give it more high end graphics pop, and potentially increase the longevity of the system.

spencer spencer said:

The apple tax thing was a joke:p , I think they should integrate more affordable means of storage. Hard drives work for the xbox and are cheap so why not put a 500gb hdd in it but leave the space for a ssd. Increase the size a couple of inches or feet(for improved cooling capacity.) and put a hybrid drive in it. and I think it will make the console a lot more affordable for the average consumer.

PC nerd PC nerd said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

With one terabyte of SSD I don't think so. I would wish it would cost less but it seems about right.

Haha. No.

Not a 1TB SSD. A 1TB SSD costs more than the whole console.

howzz1854 said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

think bigger RubinOnRye. to me it won't just be a gaming box for steam. hopefully it'll be a HTPC that I'll be able to replace my current one. I can't wait to plug in a NAS to it, and an external Blu-Ray drive. the nature of customization friendliness also has me drawn to it. imagine 3rd party modifications like moduler water cooling module that you can add on that doesn't require me assembling my own WC system and worry about flushing and bleeding the water like my current gaming system. what this product needs is exactly a big player like Valve to come in and give it a strong boost of funding, marketing and support. come'on valve.. come out with the product, heck, I'll pay the $700, that's cheap in comparison to the cost of my current HTPC in the living room.

Sniped_Ash said:

The apple tax thing was a joke:p , I think they should integrate more affordable means of storage. Hard drives work for the xbox and are cheap so why not put a 500gb hdd in it but leave the space for a ssd. Increase the size a couple of inches or feet(for improved cooling capacity.) and put a hybrid drive in it. and I think it will make the console a lot more affordable for the average consumer.
I think that SSD is the only way to go if they want this form factor and to target it at computer gamers. Load times on the XBOX hard drive can get pretty ridiculous even before comparing them to an SSD on a PC and that has been a recurring theme for cross platform games over the last few years.

PC nerd PC nerd said:

I think that SSD is the only way to go if they want this form factor and to target it at computer gamers. Load times on the XBOX hard drive can get pretty ridiculous even before comparing them to an SSD on a PC and that has been a recurring theme for cross platform games over the last few years.

From the size of it, I'd say it can only take 1, maybe 2, 2.5" drives.

With such little space for expandability, you don't want to go for SSD's. My whole steam collection would overwhelm a 120GB SSD. What you really want is a 500GB-1TB 7200RPM Cav Black 2.5" drive.

It's still a fast drive, but it allows you to install as many games as you want.

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I do wonder what os they'll use for this, maybe Linux? It would make it cheaper and from what I've seen valve games get an extra 10-15 fps running on Linux so it could also have performance benefits.

Plus it would push devs to create Linux versions.

Staff
Jos Jos said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

Keep in mind that's the price and specs for another system upon which the Piston is supposedly based on. Here's hoping Valve can bring the starting price down a bit.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I think that SSD is the only way to go if they want this form factor and to target it at computer gamers. Load times on the XBOX hard drive can get pretty ridiculous even before comparing them to an SSD on a PC and that has been a recurring theme for cross platform games over the last few years.

From the size of it, I'd say it can only take 1, maybe 2, 2.5" drives.

With such little space for expandability, you don't want to go for SSD's. My whole steam collection would overwhelm a 120GB SSD. What you really want is a 500GB-1TB 7200RPM Cav Black 2.5" drive.

It's still a fast drive, but it allows you to install as many games as you want.

This thing has 4 eSATA ports on it... I'd say storage expansion would be the least of your worries! Heh.

Sniped_Ash said:

From the size of it, I'd say it can only take 1, maybe 2, 2.5" drives.

With such little space for expandability, you don't want to go for SSD's. My whole steam collection would overwhelm a 120GB SSD. What you really want is a 500GB-1TB 7200RPM Cav Black 2.5" drive.

It's still a fast drive, but it allows you to install as many games as you want.

Well that's probably why the X7A offers so much SSD capacity. The Scorpio Black is a pretty nifty drive, but as far as I can tell, it's really no better at loading levels than its 3.5" brother or Seagate's hybrid drive. And all mechanical drives wear down which makes a Piston with an SSD a more consumer-friendly option.

I don't think that total capacity is THAT critical for Piston if it is the supposed "Steambox". I have a pretty ridiculous Steam library thanks to those damn sales, but I'm really not playing more than 2-3 non-indie games at a time. As long as the steambox knows to keep my saves & config files when I delete a game, I would have no problem deleting what I'm not playing. 256gb is just enough for me, though I still have WoW/SC2/D3 taking up space.

1 person liked this | jonjonjon said:

No thanks. ill build my own pc that will own that pos and then ill plug it into my tv.

1 person liked this | penn919 said:

I find it interesting that some of you are shocked by the price. What would you expect? It sole purpose is to run the latest steam games which are PC games. How much does a brand new souped out gaming rig cost? Yeah, there's no reason to assume the linux box would cost any less because it's basically just a PC. Honestly, I don't really see the point. Why not just build your own rig with parts from newegg and hook it up to your living room television. Get yourself a 360 controller and Baam! You've got yourself a steam box. No need to wait.

penn919 said:

I find it interesting that some of you are shocked by the price. What would you expect? It sole purpose is to run the latest steam games which are PC games. How much does a brand new souped out gaming rig cost? Yeah, there's no reason to assume the linux box would cost any less because it's basically just a PC. Honestly, I don't really see the point. Why not just build your own rig with parts from newegg and hook it up to your living room television. Get yourself a 360 controller and Baam! You've got yourself a steam box. No need to wait.

I meant to say steam box, not linux box.

1 person liked this | St1ckM4n St1ckM4n said:

Ugh, this is a bit of a let down. The price needs to be a lot less, considering what this is: slightly-better-than-console-level graphics, with controller-only games.

Also what's with the form factor? Everyone needs to cut this out! We all have home theatre systems - how does a ridiculous box like that fit in anywhere??

1 person liked this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

You know... The more I look at this thing, the more I'm convinced that it's the love child of a one night stand between a gaming laptop and an OUYA...

2 people like this | Modena said:

OR you can just build you're own PC... It will be better, cost less, and be way more customizable. Sorry but this wanna be HTPC has 0 interest for me and I don't see it being more than a cool toy for a very specific person. I love my PC and would never personally consider getting this for gaming, business, or anything really, just my 2 cents.

Puiu Puiu said:

The video says that the cheapest is around $500, which is for basic computing. If they keep the gaming one under $1000 and it delivers on the performance front then they could market "the hell" out it and will sell decently. With it needing only 20W to run, we can have a winner by the end of the year.

St1ckM4n St1ckM4n said:

How does 20W deliver on the performance front? With today's tech, it literally CAN'T.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

Guys stop! You've all been completely misinformed, for example read this alternate article here: [link]

This is just a mini pc offering from Xi3 with steam maybe installed(you can have that on any pc really). But for crying out loud.! They don't even know what os to put on it yet! And TSpot jumped right to some valve cooperation, not clever.

Ravey Ravey said:

Valve... Steam... Piston... Clever

But, seriously, I'd be more interested in it (at that price point) if it included a dedicated AMD mobile GPU run in dual graphics (hybrid CrossFire) mode. At least that would give it more high end graphics pop, and potentially increase the longevity of the system.

Im guessing they will call thier OS "Engine" then!

Ravey Ravey said:

I know a lot of you are saying you should just buy your own rig and link it up to your TV. But I think what you are forgetting is that a large portion of the population simply has no idea about building or setting up an all in entertainment pc. Even worse than that most people just want a setup that they can just plug in and go. This is what the Piston is aimed at. Its a nice mini system that can be connected up to your tv - like a console - and just played with minimal fuss.

I would be interested in buying a system like this, but then I'm lazy.

Guest said:

This looks quite interesting and I'm wondering how it will pan out. The older Xi3 systems have AMD/Intel options and Windows/Linux (OpenSUSE) options. Xi3.com is currently down, most likely a DDOS due to current popularity. I'd like to see what module upgrade options they have and what they cost. Could you start out with the sub $500 and upgrade over time to the high end system one module at a time and how much more would it cost then buying the high end system out right?

Modeazy said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

Keep in mind that's the price and specs for another system upon which the Piston is supposedly based on. Here's hoping Valve can bring the starting price down a bit.

Good Point.

j05hh j05hh said:

They say it runs todays latest games.. which games have they tested? Can we see benchmarks?

PC nerd PC nerd said:

Could you start out with the sub $500 and upgrade over time to the high end system one module at a time and how much more would it cost then buying the high end system out right?

I don't see how something that small can be modular. Standard sized graphics cards aren't going to fit in there. Are they going to have to make custom PCB graphics cards for it?

PC nerd PC nerd said:

They say it runs todays latest games.. which games have they tested? Can we see benchmarks?

They'll probably run them at some hideous resolution with no AA or detail at all.

PC nerd PC nerd said:

After watching the video, I'm a little confused.

How the hell can you squeeze any kind of performance into 20W?!

Seems impossible.

amstech amstech, TechSpot Enthusiast, said:

There are many ridiculous/dumbfounded comments on this article. Any comment about 'I can build a PC for less money' that person should have a CAT scan. Of course you can, this is a specialized design using Mini-ITx or M-ITx.

All the comments about Steam in relation to games show that people just comment and don't actually read and comprehend what they are looking at.

This Xi3 has many great uses I can see already, as I work in the medical industry. For example, this would easily bolt to the back of our Medcarts and use little power which is great because these carts take '12V 26AH Genesis EP Non Spillable - Sealed Lead Alpha Source' batteries and they are not cheap to replace.

Normally I don't pay to much attention to stuff like this unless it is pretty groundbreaking due to the overwhelming amount of newer mini computers and Mini-ITX (m-ITX) based designs, but this one is quite interesting, and I can see it having succees.

Use some common sense, obviously the 20watt thing is probably for idle or basic data execution and tasks, a game or demanding app will surely use more but that is still impressive.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guys stop! You've all been completely misinformed, for example read this alternate article here: [link]

This is just a mini pc offering from Xi3 with steam maybe installed(you can have that on any pc really). But for crying out loud.! They don't even know what os to put on it yet! And TSpot jumped right to some valve cooperation, not clever.

Well, I guess the fact that Valve stepped in financially to take up the slack when the Xi3's Kickstarter attempt didn't quite pan out makes no difference then? Fact is, this is a small PC, backed (in part) by Valve, supports Steam, is being shown off at the CES show actually running Steam... Nothing said in this Techspot article was wrong or misleading, those are all well-documented facts.

The fact that you are calling all of us misinformed is the very definition of ironic.

mglucas said:

Wish List Mode ON!

cmbjive said:

If the purpose is to mainstream PC gaming for the living room then the price, no matter how spectacular the specs, is going to have to come down.

GunsAblazin said:

If "Piston" costs anywhere near $900, what's was the point. You can buy a Mac Mini and put Windows on it for ~ $700, and have basically the same thing. You'd probably have better performance with Intel HD Graphics 4000 than an AMD APU. Hopefully Steams version will come with a dedicated graphics card so you can run games at decent settings.

Hopefully all that's on the system is a steam client (OS) and the games, so the hardware isn't bogged down by a windows OS or apps. I wish steam had just made their own OS that ran all their games, so anyone can install it and build their own dedicated gaming machine.

lipe123 said:

Would be nice of the Xi3.com website was up and running to get some information!

Still my biggest problem isnt with the 500$ "basic computing" unit, thats on par with a normal cheap desktop that can do the basics.

My beef is with the 1000$ "gaming" version, I'm sorry but AMD's FX APU series is good but the graphics on those are "entry level" AT BEST.

They tout all this nonsense about modular designs that will last you 7 years but their modules currently has the video/cpu/chipset all on one card. So basically the only purpose the other modules serve is IO's. This is hardly any different from a normal micro-atx system that actually has a PCI-E slot for a proper video card that can be upgraded.

I just don't see this as a viable "gaming" solution unless you only plan to play games 4 years old or more on it.

GunsAblazin said:

After watching the video, I'm a little confused.

How the hell can you squeeze any kind of performance into 20W?!

Seems impossible.

Mobile graphics cards are getting up there in performance while driving down power consumption, so I wouldn't be surprised.

Stickmansam Stickmansam said:

If "Piston" costs anywhere near $900, what's was the point. You can buy a Mac Mini and put Windows on it for ~ $700, and have basically the same thing. You'd probably have better performance with Intel HD Graphics 4000 than an AMD APU. Hopefully Steams version will come with a dedicated graphics card so you can run games at decent settings.

Hopefully all that's on the system is a steam client (OS) and the games, so the hardware isn't bogged down by a windows OS or apps. I wish steam had just made their own OS that ran all their games, so anyone can install it and build their own dedicated gaming machine.

An AMD APU kicks the HD4000 to the curb in terms of graphics. We are after all comparing mobile processors form both sides. The Mac Mini uses a mobile i5 which matches or just about beats the APU in CPU power but would fall well short of the GPU power of the APU (almost 50% ahead). An APU would actually be able to handle 720p @45fps at medium settings in most games (console level).

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

If "Piston" costs anywhere near $900, what's was the point. You can buy a Mac Mini and put Windows on it for ~ $700, and have basically the same thing. You'd probably have better performance with Intel HD Graphics 4000 than an AMD APU. Hopefully Steams version will come with a dedicated graphics card so you can run games at decent settings.

If you are talking gaming and graphics performance of CPUs with integrated GPUs, then you will very seldom have better performance on the HD4000 side of the equation. That is the one arena that the AMD APUs still manage to dominate, when compared side-by-side to similar tier Intel processors. The AMD solution typically wins in cost and power efficiency as well. However, once you put a discrete GPU into the mix, and remove your reliance on the HD4000, the balance starts skewing quickly towards Intel on gaming and graphics performance.

hahahanoobs hahahanoobs said:

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good idea but way to dam expensive?

With one terabyte of SSD I don't think so. I would wish it would cost less but it seems about right.

It STARTS at $999 and UP TO 1TB SSD.

ikesmasher said:

You arent going to get into the console market selling a console for $1000.price is why people BUY consoles in the first place.

ikesmasher said:

If "Piston" costs anywhere near $900, what's was the point. You can buy a Mac Mini and put Windows on it for ~ $700, and have basically the same thing. You'd probably have better performance with Intel HD Graphics 4000 than an AMD APU. Hopefully Steams version will come with a dedicated graphics card so you can run games at decent settings.

Hopefully all that's on the system is a steam client (OS) and the games, so the hardware isn't bogged down by a windows OS or apps. I wish steam had just made their own OS that ran all their games, so anyone can install it and build their own dedicated gaming machine.

while a 4000 WONT have suprior performance to an APU, not in the slightest (my A6-3400M I a 400 DOLLAR laptop can give better performance than my bros 4000 in his desktop) I agree it is incredibly pointless to buy this if it costs upwards of 500 bucks...

TS-56336 TS-56336 said:

If the price is right, then it could work. If it sells for more than a high end gaming PC that someone can just cobble together, then this won't make sense, especially since it has a separate OS which won't let you run other non-game apps and programs.

cmbjive said:

Actually Gabe Newell confirmed that Piston is not going to be Valve's Steam box and it is going to be something completely different:

[link]

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Actually Gabe Newell confirmed that Piston is not going to be Valve's Steam box and it is going to be something completely different:

[link]

Yah, Gabe and Valve in general are all over the map lately on comments regarding the Steam Box topic. My take on the whole deal is that this is essentially "A" Steam capable box, not "THE" Steam Box. Other comments from Valve make it sound more like they are taking a Google/Android like approach to the concept, allowing 3rd party manufacturers to build hardware that fits their "Steam Box Spec" or something to that effect. If they do release an actual Valve Steam Box, it sounds like it would be similar to Google's Nexus line, one in a crowd of similar products, maybe used as a reference design.

gingerbill said:

If the purpose is to mainstream PC gaming for the living room then the price, no matter how spectacular the specs, is going to have to come down.

To be fair the price was a complete made up number based on a similiar product the company makes . The price hasn't been announced yet , but I agree with you.

That's were I worry for valve though , MS and sony take huge losses to bring out a console and there new ones are round the corner. Valve is a very profitable company doing brilliantly but even they can't afford those type of losses for long term gain . Though who knows maybe the new consoles won't be made at such a loss.

I love valve and hope they do well but I just worry it will struggle with 2 new console's coming on the horizon.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

To be fair the price was a complete made up number based on a similiar product the company makes . The price hasn't been announced yet , but I agree with you.

That's were I worry for valve though , MS and sony take huge losses to bring out a console and there new ones are round the corner. Valve is a very profitable company doing brilliantly but even they can't afford those type of losses for long term gain . Though who knows maybe the new consoles won't be made at such a loss.

I love valve and hope they do well but I just worry it will struggle with 2 new console's coming on the horizon.

I feel the same on this one. It's why I think the smartest move for Valve would be to spec out the Steam Box and leave it to 3rd party manufacturers to build them - just like Google and Android phones or Google TV. They can partner up and make a Valve branded system, but they would honestly be better off letting the hardware manufacturers do what they do best, and concentrating on the Steam platform and enhancements or exclusives that will draw people to the concept.

I think the real problem will be perception and adoption for something like a Steam Box. There is a major conceptual difference between true consoles (which have hardware locked in and then maintain those specs for very long life cycles) and a PC-centric system (which is in a constant state of upgrade & flux). Xbox 360 games today will run on a 360 console purchased in 2005, but the same can't be said for all new PC games running on 2005 era PCs. And, while there is a huge number of existing Steam users to draw from, convincing those users to lock into a standardized hardware set could be a steep uphill climb for Valve. PC gamers are used to staying on the front edge of tech, and lording the performance superiority over the consoles. Not sure how the dynamic will work out if a Steam Box becomes just another console...

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