Valve And Xi3 Team Up, Unveil Steam-Focused Modular PC

Image from Polygon

So remember that rumor I was talking about yesterday? You know, the one about the long-rumored Steam Box being revealed some time this year? Well, it seems that in this particular case, rumors are worth listening to.

Now, straight-up, this is most likely not what people refer to when they say “Steam Box.” That, as far as most people—like Kotaku editor Jason Shreier—know, is going to be a first-party Valve device. Xi3’s “Piston” (a play on the Valve name?) is really just a rebranding of their old 7 Series Modular Computer, which is a design that’s supposed to be super low on power consumption, (relatively) high on performance, and small in form factor.

You’ll notice from other shots from around the web that the Piston fits roughly in the palm of your hand. It’s a tiny device and…that’s about all we know. Seriously. Aside from the fact that the Piston exists, the only other bit of information we know is that Valve invested some confidential amount of money into Xi3 to get a Steam-focused, performance-geared version of the 7 Series out the door.

The current high-end, non-Valve specs that Xi3 offers in a petite 4.3″ x 3.7″ body looks something like this: 40W power consumption, four USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, four eSATA, DisplayPort/HDMI, two Mini DisplayPort, and a Radeon HD 7660G. According to Polygon, Piston will offer up to 1TB of storage and the similar modular components they already have for upgrades, which are divided up into three boards for the AMD APU and memory; the ports and the storage; and power and video output. You can probably expect the Piston to feature better specs, or at least have a higher ceiling than what Xi3 already offers.

It’s confirmed that the Piston is based on Xi3’s failed Kickstarter (the X7A, not the X3A), which at the time featured “Quad-Core 64-bit, x86-based processor running at up to 3.2GHz, integrated with up to 384 graphics shader cores, and 8GB of DDR3 RAM” and “four USB 3.0/2.0 ports, four eSATAp ports, four USB 2.0 ports, a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, and up to 1TB of super fast solid-state storage”, all of which will be powered on 40W of power in a 4.27×3.65×3.65-inches form factor. Sounds familiar, right? Well, it’s also estimated that the X7A would cost somewhere around $1,000.

The problem I see is that while Xi3 expects the X7A and the Piston to “handle graphics-rich computer games like Crysis 2 with ease”, they make no mention of what quality of Crysis 2 they’re talking about. Toned all the way down, most computers nowadays can handle Crysis 2, and most computers don’t cost $1,000. Consider that while the X7A runs on 40W, the Wii U runs on 50, not to mention that your average PC requires somewhere around 400–500W. Seems like a bit of a problem, right? I mean, we’re not talking about fitting things into a tiny box; we’re talking about physical limitations of this sort of hardware and current limitations of software.

Basically, I’m saying I’m not sure I see where this is headed. A relatively expensive and somewhat under-powered PC? Maybe. I mean, it does look nice and probably fits well in cramped quarters (like, say, around an entertainment system), but I just don’t think this is the Steam Box most people have been expecting. I still put my money on GDC or E3 this year when Valve unveils a first-party hardware solution that will hopefully make more of this Xi3 investment make sense.

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  • Not to rain on everyone’s parade here but as cool of an idea as this is I don’t think many people really understand that crysis 2 isn’t the best game to use as a yardstick for performance. I built a computer in 2007 that cost me about 1100 that I still use today. It has a 9800GTX and a intel 2 core quad in it . I played crysis 2 at almost max settings with no issues whatsoever and could play almost every pc game I had including starcraft 2 and fallout 3 at max or near max settings. Sadly my 9800GTX melted and I upgraded to a gtx 680 which is a wonderful card. But my point is that in 2012 my 5 year old computer was almost as capable of playing games beautifully as it was 5 years ago with a few exception obviously but for the most part it was a solid pc and still is. Despite the fact I have 4GB of DDR 2 Ram and an “ancient” quad core processor that aside from battlefield 3 64 player battles works just fine for me.

    People like to talk about how PC gaming rigs quickly become obsolete and you HAVE to keep upgrading them to get the best experience or to be able to play the hottest games. If you are obsessive who needs to have the “best” computer out there and have tons of cash. sure I guess thats true but honestly there have been VERY few games that in the past 5 years of gaming on it I ever had to go below max settings with. Maybe a few here and there but it really wasn’t an issue for me and they still looked far and away better then many of the xbox 360 or ps3 games out there. If you build a rig smart you can get a lot of trouble free gaming out of it. for not a lot of money. Could I build a new pc and take more advantage of my shiny new GTX 680? Yep and I plan on it and guess what? That will last me another 5 to 7 years of trouble free gaming with great visuals.

    • Yes, valid point, and that’s kind of the argument I was making. Saying that a PC can handle Crysis 2 doesn’t mean much. You might as well say you can turn it on. A lack of details just leads to a lot of conjecture and I think I speak for everyone when I say I would like some more details. Oh well. Soon!