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The State of the Steam Machine: It's not yet clear who is it for

By Julio Franco ยท 27 replies
Oct 17, 2015
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  1. Alienware’s Steam Machine is on the right track, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it yet.

    I’ve been playing around with Alienware’s Steam Machine for the better part of a week, and I really like what it tries to do. Since time immemorial, PC gaming has been regarded as a walled garden, a tree fort palace that only those with the hottest tech toys (and a masochistic love of complication) dare infiltrate. That reputation is, of course, overblown, but a seed of truth is what allowed it to take root in the first place.

    Alienware’s Steam Machine took me 15 minutes to set up. I removed it from the box, plugged it in, and had it fully updated in the time it took me to think about making a sandwich but then, at the last second, reconsider. It was, frankly, a more console-like experience than modern consoles offer. I was impressed as hell.

    Problem is, the experience doesn’t stay that way. Alienware’s Steam Machine has a clean front porch with a welcome mat that doubles as the only existent image of Gabe Newell smiling, but once you get inside things are a bit... hairier. Here are some issues I’ve encountered:

    • The game library is limited. Remember, Steam Machines run Steam OS, which is a modified version of Linux. If the game you want to play doesn’t have a Linux version, no dice. There are currently over 1,000 Linux games on Steam, but a lot of heavy hitters aren’t on the list. I tried to install The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and Metal Gear Solid V, all to no avail.
    • Some games that should work with it still don’t. I tried playing Trine 3, only to get stuck at the “choose resolution/graphics/etc” screen because my Steam controller didn’t work with it. Even the Steam button—which should’ve let me exit and go back to Steam—did nothing. I ended up having to restart my entire machine.
    • In-home streaming is a little laggy. The potential solution to both of the above problems is to simply stream games to your Steam Machine from a Windows-enabled PC, but I’ve now used the feature in two different houses, and I’ve still encountered noticeable framerate drops and stutters. Using Valve’s Steam Link produced a noticeable improvement, but at that point why buy a Steam Machine at all?
    • The interface is still kinda clunky. Valve isn’t fully done giving Steam OS/Steam Big Picture Mode a makeover, but even in The Streamlined Regions there’s a bit of clunk in Steam’s trunk. I could see newcomers being overwhelmed, especially when it comes to finding the games they want to play, figuring out if they’re Steam OS compatible, or—hell—understanding the difference between regular Steam and Steam OS. The store and library still need big improvements.

    • Figuring out good controller configurations takes a lot of work. I already went into this in my piece about the Steam controller, but this is a big part of the overall Steam Machine equation. Fiddling with controller configurations is a big barrier to entry—another tedious trudge in the already (sometimes) intimidating process that is starting a new game. I’m glad the controller is so customizable, but it can be overwhelming. Until users have created a bunch of optimal settings we can all pick from (and possibly even then, since it’s on a per-game basis), it’ll hold the Steam Machine back from being a truly plug-and-play experience.

    All that said, Alienware’s Steam Machine is still a solid mid-range gaming PC for $450. So far, my Steam Machine hasn’t had much trouble with any of the games I’ve thrown at it, including a couple on Ultra graphic settings. If you’re in the market for something pre-assembled, easy (ish) to use, and basically portable, that’s a tempting deal. There’s something vaguely magical, too, about playing PC-centric games like Kentucky Route Zero and Pillars of Eternity on the big screen, especially if you imagine an Xbox or PlayStation crackling in the fireplace while you do it.

    Frankly, though, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this thing to anybody yet. If you’re a PC gaming newcomer, I’d say the barrier to entry here is still too high; in the process of trying to simplify some things (especially controls), Valve actually made them more complicated. Also, it’s limited by technically being a Linux machine. It’s a PC in console’s clothing, but it’s definitely still a PC at heart.

    On the other hand, if you’ve been using Steam since the service—and possibly also you—were in diapers, you’re better off just grabbing a Steam Link and streaming to your living room from your PC. Unless your current computer is ancient—more hamster wheel than machine—there’s just not a great reason to also own an Alienware Steam Machine. If you’re absolutely dying to have a discrete living room box, you can just grab the Alienware Alpha—which is a Windows machine with none of Steam OS’ limits—and use Steam Big Picture Mode on that.

    Granted, some of this is subject to change. The Alienware Steam Machine isn’t out yet, and Valve has said that big changes are inbound before its launch in early November. I imagine the experience will evolve quite a bit after people start getting their hands on Steam Machines, too. That is, after all, The Valve Way (for better or worse).

    The Steam Machine has the potential to be everything great about PC gaming in an intuitive, quick-to-setup form factor. Already, it has more than a thousand games, not to mention the benefits of Steam’s general openness (mods, community creations, etc). It could become a great living room box, the perfect stepping stone into the world of PC gaming. It’s just not quite there yet.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Nitrotoxin

    Nitrotoxin TS Addict Posts: 108   +62

    MiniTX PC with windows 10 running Steam in full screen mode FTW!!! Can play anything you want...and use an XBOX One controller =)
    WangDangDoodle likes this.
  3. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,160   +3,259

    Yep that's the way to go, but then you will be spending twice the price.
  4. CrisisDog

    CrisisDog TS Booster Posts: 134   +28

    Same here, miniITX with a GTX 970, primarily used for a Kodi HTPC, but added Steam Big Picture as a launch option in the main menu. There are many games that play well with a controller, but they initially have to be configured with a keyboard for video resolution and/or options, which makes the initial setup difficult. At least my nephew and niece were blown away by the improved graphics of CoD: Advanced Warfare. But then were disappointed with no local co-op ability. Oh well....
  5. Nobina

    Nobina TS Evangelist Posts: 1,133   +624

    It's for Linux users who also play games.
  6. WangDangDoodle

    WangDangDoodle TS Addict Posts: 199   +71

    Now that Windows 10 has proven to be a massive hit, and bringing DX12 to the table, I no longer see a need for the Steam Machine. It was a great idea at the time of it's conception, but Valve missed their window of opportunity, and now their SteamOS has been rendered irrelevant. Oh well. At least I'll never have to use that terrible contraption they have the nerve to call a controller. :)
  7. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,761   +435

    Didn't know Win 10 was a "massive hit"?
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  8. drjekelmrhyde

    drjekelmrhyde TS Addict Posts: 232   +56

    Over 150 million users and eating into windows 7 marketshare. Let's stop pretending that it's not good
  9. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,160   +3,259

    Let's stop pretending moving forward makes the new (free upgrade I might add) OS a big hit. If Microsoft wasn't in the process of ditching Windows 7, I'd stay with Windows 7.
  10. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,761   +435

    Vista ate into WinXP's marketshare... not much but it did. Does your argument apply there?

    Proof will be in time - if Win10 overtakes Win7 and how long it takes for that to happen.

    I just object to the use of the word "massive". I'd say it's "fairly well received" but "hit" is a bit strong let alone "massive hit".
  11. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 7,968   +2,867

    A little birdie tells me that this gadget is never destined to be residing at my address.
  12. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,158   +829

    Goor for you, for me it was amazing! Opinions that don't add to the conversation shouldn't be allowed :p

    And? If that's what people want is awesome! Even triple the price!! I don't want to lower my resolution to 720p because video is stuttering! hell no.
  13. hahahanoobs

    hahahanoobs TS Evangelist Posts: 1,905   +591

    "There are currently over 1,000 Linux games on Steam..."

    So the Steam Machine is an overpriced console, not a PC. Roger that.
  14. drjekelmrhyde

    drjekelmrhyde TS Addict Posts: 232   +56

    Windows 10 is eating into it after 3 months(you can google that)
    /Tip: You can upgrade Vista and XP machines to Windows 10 for free(use media creation tool to USB or DVD) just by doing a clean install and keep skipping the activation key thing(twice). When 10 is finished installing it will be activated.
  15. rvleshrac

    rvleshrac TS Rookie

    No, it isn't Activated. If you installed an Insider build without a key, it will remain semi-activated as long as you continue to update to new Insider builds. Opt-out of a build, and your Activation will be revoked as soon as there's a new Slow Ring build.

    Unless you upgraded from Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, or purchased a copy of Win10, you do not have a permanent license.
  16. deemon

    deemon TS Addict Posts: 243   +66

    Steam survery (september 2015):
    OS, steam users, change from last month:

    Windows (all versions combined), 95.71%, -0.05%

    Windows 7 64bit, 37.48%, -2.23%
    Windows 10 64bit, 23.99%, +7.60% <= I would call it massive hit among gamers at least.
    Windows 8.1 64bit, 18.62%, -4.74%
    Windows 7 32bit, 8.51%, -0.32%
    Windows XP 32bit, 2.56%, -0.20%

    OSX (all versions combined), 3.23%, +0.01%

    Linux (all versions combined), 0.94%, +0.02%
    adisoftcafe likes this.
  17. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,160   +3,259

    If that is truly how you feel, why are you here spreading around your opinions? Question, should I take your response as a personal attack? Please respond so I know whether to report you or not.
  18. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,761   +435

    [QUOTE="deemon, post: 1504211, member: 353665"]*snip*
    Gamers are a good start but PC gaming is a very small percentage of the desktop/windows market. And yes I agree if that stat is accurate, that's a very positive sign.

    As a desktop/productivity platform, Win10 doesn't really give business anything. Unified applications? Well if 99% of businesses are using Win7 or earlier, using Unified means some of your machines can't run your app. This is inherently going to take a long time to change.

    Tablet? No market share. Phones? No market share. So for business, there is the high risk of migrating to Win10 and having things break that aren't broken atm and very little value proposition.
  19. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,158   +829

    Personal attack? Dude chill (Although if you want to report me to big papa go ahead).

    What doesn't work for you and works for a lot of people doesn't make it bad. The same with music, there is no bad music (Well... there are obvious exceptions) just the one you don't like, because you don't like doesn't mean that no one else can like it.

    The update IS a big hit, wether you like it or not.

    EDIT: It's not my opinion, those are the numbers, period.
  20. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,027   +197

    I see people saying randomly that they like windows on forums but few ever say why. The only thing that will be good in dx12 and that's not even a factor atm.

    Steam Machine
    Its to bad the os lacks compatibility. Also what gpu do they even use? Seems like they might have just used windows xp 64 bit as a backup os that wont impact performance.

    nVidia GeForce GTX GPU w/2GB GDDR5?

    Nvm found it on wikipedia

    Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan, GTX 780, GTX 760, and GTX 660 with 3 GB GDDR5
  21. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,160   +3,259

    Lets not talk about my problems until I start talking about them. I'm simply suggesting that this is the same thing I was hearing with Windows 8, and obviously after a bit more time that wasn't the case. The only difference here is that Windows 10 was given as a free upgrade to make those numbers higher. It's still too early to classify Windows 10 as a big hit. Although I do suspect everyone will move on. I've been on Windows 10 with my main for over a week now. And like I said; if I Microsoft wasn't in the process of putting Windows 7 in File 13, I would have stayed.

    Windows 7 was considered a great success. When in all actuality it wasn't until after service pack one. Corporate didn't move forward until after service pack one. That is a solid year after first release. That is when we could first say Windows 7 was a big hit.
    Kibaruk likes this.
  22. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,761   +435

    This is the sort of thing I'm talking about and ultimately, corporate adoption will determine success. Microsoft have done well by gamers but they have done really poorly by corporate just like Win8.x.

    What I'd like to know is what percentage of Win10 users in the steam survey went from Win8? Win7 is still around 45% of the total share. Is that going down much?
  23. poohbear

    poohbear TS Addict Posts: 119   +67

    Title is grammatically incorrect. "It's not yet clear who IS IT for" should read "it's not yet clear who IT IS for."
    You guys don't have editors or what?
  24. adisoftcafe

    adisoftcafe TS Enthusiast Posts: 34   +17

    Why Linux on a desktop PC?
  25. deemon

    deemon TS Addict Posts: 243   +66

    Mostly because steam machine is not "desktop PC".

    Because of the utter hatred towards to microshi...oft and it's spying and stuff? and when you spent like 500-600$ to some budget "console killer" steam-console-HTPC like of thing do you really feel like spending another 120-200 for windows? Not really. I would have bought next class GPU for it instead then.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2015

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