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.