Everything tech dealers need to know about Steam Machine

So after what seems like years (well, at least three years) of rumour, speculation, sneak peaks, demos, SDKs and missed deadlines, punters can now pre-order Valve’s Steam Machine video PC-based games hardware, ahead of a full launch in November this year.

Details, as ever, are still a little flakey, particularly with regards to the European launch – but it’s an interesting product that could make a significant and disruptive impact on the established PC and console games hardware and software markets in 2016.

The model that Valve has gone is notable given that Steam Machines will be available from many manufacturers, with custom hardware configurations to a minimum spec, powered by the company’s underlying SteamOS. Kind of like the games console equivalent of an Android mobile phone.

Though games will be delivered digitally via Valve’s built-in store, Steam Machines are still a retail proposition, plus the hardware will also be supported by various peripherals and it components are upgradeable. In fact, if that want to gamers can built their own Steam Machine from off the shelf component PC parts. Here’s what you need to know…

What on earth is a Steam Machine?

It’s the long-awaited answer to the living room PC from Valve, developer of games such as Half-Life and Counter-Strike and proprietor of the Steam digital distribution platform.

Back in 2012, Valve founder Gabe Newell voiced disillusion with the ‘restrictive’ operating systems owned by Microsoft and Apple and began exploring Linux-based alternatives. That process has culminated in the Steam Machine (originally dubbed Steam Box).

The hardware will be manufactured by a variety of vendors (Asus, Alienware, Gigabyte, Alternate and CyberPower are among the first), running either the full Linux-based SteamOS or with the Steam client pre-installed.

Consumers will also be able to download the SteamOS on launch day and run it on their existing Windows machines, if they meet the minimum specification. Or build their own custom machines from scratch, before downloading the SteamOS to them.

What components are inside?

One concern in tech markets where different vendors can develop their own interpretations of hardware based on an underlying OS is fragmentation – will a two or three-tier market develop that causes interoperability concerns or, at the very least, confusion in both the marketing message and among consumers?

However, Valve has worked hard with its vendor partners to ensure a minimum spec is adhered to. The machines available today to pre-order come in various different flavours in terms of power and performance, but the important thing is that each one is based on standard and freely available PC components – there’s nothing custom.

What peripherals does Steam Machine support?

Valve has designed and is manufacturing its own Steam Machine controller, which features two trackpads, sixteen buttons and haptic feedback. The controllers will come bundled with machines, but will also be able to buy separately for £39 each.

The other key peripheral is the Steam Link, which will automatically detect any computer running Steam on the same network (Steam Machine or Windows-powered) and enable the user to stream and play those games on their TV (or monitor).

However, GAME has been named as the exclusive UK retail partner for the Steam Link, with prices starting at £59.99. All SKUs of the Link include the Steam Controller.

One to keep an eye on will be the SteamVR headsets, with the HTC Vive set to launch day and date with Steam Machines in November.

So when is the Steam Machine hardware available and how much does it cost?

Those who opt to pre-purchase the hardware will receive it on October 16th, several weeks before the official launch date of November 10th.

In the US, the Alienware Steam Machine, for example, will be available at GameStop and through Steam itself, as well as the Steam Link streaming box and the Steam Controller.

The launch of the Alienware box followed fellow partner CyberPower offering its own Steam Machine directly through its website.

More of the Steam Machine partners are slated to make their respective products available for purchase soon, with European and UK launch information yet to be detailed for many of the vendors. US prices start at $449 (£292) and go all the way up to an eye-watering $4,999.

See the list of Valve’s first 15 Steam Machine partners and their hardware here.

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