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

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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

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