Xi3 Piston PC: is this Valve's Steam Box?

Update: it's just one of many possible Steam Box prototypes

Dave Stevenson
9 Jan 2013

US startup Xi3 has demonstrated a prototype of the first so-called “Steam Box” - called Piston - at CES 2013 in Las Vegas.

Xi3 is part-funded by software company Valve, which announced in 2012 that it expected living room PCs running its Steam software to begin competing with games consoles. That prompted online speculation about a "Steam Box" - a small-form-factor PC that would run in Steam's Big Picture mode.

In a press release, Xi3 said that the Piston would be "optimised for computer gameplay on large high-definition television monitors", and is designed "specifically to support both Steam and its Big Picture mode".

The Piston is a small-form-factor, modular PC that, in its prototype specification, runs a quad-core CPU, 8GB of RAM and up to 1TB of solid-state storage, according to Time magazine.

According to reports the Piston is based on Xi3’s existing X7A small-form-factor PC. The motherboard is split into three parts, giving the Piston a modular architecture that Xi3 claims should enjoy a lifespan of up to ten years.

Xi3 stresses that the device it has at CES is a "development stage" prototype. Exact specifications remain unclear, and the graphical prowess of the system has a question-mark over it: with such small dimensions it almost certainly relies on an integrated GPU.

There's also no word yet on which OS the Piston will run. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell has been a vocal critic of Windows 8, and Xi3 sells a version of the standard X7A with Linux.

A Steam Box will undoubtedly tickle the fancy of PC gamers, but both Xi3 and Valve will have a long way to go to convince console acolytes. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 console prices have sagged to all-time lows of around £120 each, making the X7A’s price of $999 (around £620) very steep by comparison.

Update: It's not the Steam Box, but it may well be the prototype of a Steam Box. The Verge sat down with Valve's Gabe Newell, who told them there will be no single Steam Box, rather many from different partners.

He explained that there will be Good, Better and Best grades of Steam Box: Better will be systems controlled by Valve, and Best is basically whatever partners want to build. "We’re not imposing a lot of restrictions on people on how they’re getting involved," he said.

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