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When Valve first announced the Steam Machine back in September of 2013, there was plenty to get excited about. Gaming on Linux? Living-room PC gaming? Custom controller? Sign me up. It’s been a long and complicated road since then, with plenty of delays and setbacks, but the day has finally come: the first true Steam Machines are now available for pre-order, and you can have one in your hands as early as October.

Should you pre-order now? Well, there are three important things you need to know first.

1: Good Hardware is Still Pricey

steammachines

One of the selling points for the new Steam Machines is that they’re cost-competitive with consoles. The two companies with Steam Machines ready for launch start at $499 and $449 respectively. Both machines run an i3 CPU, and four gigs of RAM. The Syber machine packs a relatively wimpy GTX 750, and Alienware doesn’t even specify which card is going to be used (just that it’s a 2GB GeForce GTX card), which is not a good sign. It’s likely that Alienware is using the same card their Alpha series, the GTX 680M, which barely edges out Syber’s 750. Unfortunately, if they follow the trend of the Alpha series, their higher-end machines also run the same low-end video card. These machines can probably handle older games, but these specs are a little underpowered for next-gen titles.

At the higher end of the Syber machines, things start to get a little more interesting. For $729, you can get eight gigs of RAM, an i5, and a GTX 960 – a respectable gaming machine that beats the pants off of a PS4. However, you’re paying a ~$300 premium for the extra horsepower, which can be a pretty tough sell.

2: The Controller Is The Real Star

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When the steam controller was first announced Valve Looks To Reinvent Gamepads With Steam Controller's Dual Trackpads Valve Looks To Reinvent Gamepads With Steam Controller's Dual Trackpads Valve has just announced the Steam Controller, which is unlike any gamepad you have seen before. It features dual trackpads and can work with any game that was traditionally designed for a keyboard and mouse. Read More , it was downright enigmatic. The symmetric black design, with no thumb sticks or obvious buttons, looked completely unlike any controller currently on the market. Since then, Valve has compromised a little, adding a more traditional set of buttons, as well as a single thumbstick.

However, the controller still has the big thing that made it unique: two high-precision touchpads, one under each thumb. These offer a much higher degree of precision than is possible with analog sticks. This added accuracy has the potential to open up new genres to couch play, like RTSs and precision shooters. I haven’t used the controller myself, but the reviews so far are largely positive. The controllers are available for pre-order for $50.00, starting today.

3. Not All Games Support It

One of the weirdest aspects of the Steam Machines is that they run a specialized version of Linux under the hood Is SteamOS a Good Choice for a Gaming System? Is SteamOS a Good Choice for a Gaming System? Can you rely solely on SteamOS with good performance, or should you still keep that dual-boot with Windows? Let's take a look. Read More – not Windows. This is a tactical play by Valve, who have expressed concern over the restrictions being placed on the Windows operating system. Unfortunately, it also creates a new problem — compatibility. Valve’s made a lot of progress on this front, by creating tools to port existing titles to Linux, and encouraging developers to use them. Gaming on Linux is not the joke that it once was. If you go through the list of Steam titles that support Linux, you see a lot of classic titles: the Half Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead franchises, Civ 5, Borderlands 2, and an army of indie titles like Kerbal Space Program.

There are, however, major and notable omissions. Titles like Bioshock Infinite, Fallout 3, and Mass Effect still lack Linux support. This will get better over time, as Valve pushes more publishers into supporting Linux, but it’ll never be perfect. In particular, studios like EA are in no hurry to help one of their competitors build a platform that might eventually pose a threat to the console ecosystems they monopolize.

On the upside, Valve has reported that Left 4 Dead 2 runs about 16% faster on Linux than Windows, due to the lower level access to optimization that’s possible on Linux. It’s also possible to provide a more seamless experience on Steam OS – the machine can boot directly into Big Picture Mode, and the games won’t routinely break in a way that needs a mouse to fix. That by itself solves one of the major annoyances with Big Picture Mode as it currently exists. It remains to be seen whether these advantages will be worth the reduced compatibility.

Worth It?

Is it worth picking up a Steam Machine? Right now, that’s a really tough question to answer. The hardware isn’t bad for the price, and I dearly want one of the controllers, so the only real drawback is the compatibility. Unfortunately, it’s a doozy. Personally, I love the Mass Effect franchise, and it’d be a shame to buy a new PC and not be able to play it. Whether or not it’s worth it for you depends on what you want to play, and how much you think Linux support is going to improve in the near future.

Pre-ordering gets you the machine about a month early – October, instead of November. Personally, I’d say wait until the early reviews are in. If you’re on the fence, Valve, Syber, and Alienware have a few more months to sell you on the idea. If they don’t, you can always buy a similar piece of hardware Want a Steam Machine Today? You Can Buy These TV-Ready PCs Now Want a Steam Machine Today? You Can Buy These TV-Ready PCs Now The Steam Machine train has gone a little off the rails. But let's say you want to enjoy PC couch gaming right now. What are your options? Read More , put windows on it, and pick up a fancy Steam Controller when they hit shelves. Personally, that seems like the best of both worlds. There’s also the option of getting the Valve Steam Link and using that to stream games from an existing PC in your home with a new Steam controller.

Will you be picking up a Steam Box? If so, which one? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

  1. Chauncey John Stangle
    June 7, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Can they not perform a multiboot? I feel like this article lacks a lot of information. ill just stick to my pc with steam os installed. Someone new to this stuff would get no help from this article. I suppose maybe its still too early?

    • Kris Cunigan
      June 8, 2015 at 5:17 am

      I can't imagine not being able to multiboot a Steam machine but if the entire purpose is making PC gaming more accessible and convenient seems counter productive to dual boot the machine and add that extra layer of complexity.

      Personally I think building a Windows based gaming PC is still a better way to go, unless I don't understand how Steam games work. Consoles with shitty specs survive because developers code the software to work on sub par systems. A lot of modern games played on PC are now built for console and then upscaled for PC.

      This move by Steam just seems to be a step toward the console world everyone with a PC seems to hate so much.

      If I enter the PCMasterRace I am not coming in half-cocked with some console-wanna-be. For any adult that extra cost is easily mitigated over time and I would want the full e-peen stroking, peasant hating experience that comes with building a custom rig.

      I would also want to play games outside the Steam eco system, shocking I know, but there are still platform independent PC games worth playing, suck it Gabe you fat chinned Valve god.

      Honestly I would love to hear an argument for how Steam machines make sense for anyone except Steam. Even if the machines are largely successful, the Steam community is now filled with crappy console players and Steam is one step closer to being PSN/Xbox Live.

      • David Hollinger
        June 13, 2015 at 3:37 am

        The point of the Steam Machines aren't for those of use that already are using PCs to game (be that Windows, Mac or Linux), but for getting the Console crowd into PC Gaming and giving us a way to play our PC games from the couch.

        Hence I will probably get a Steam Link for myself, but push my less technical friends towards a Steam Machine. As much as SteamOS is missing some of the bigger games, they also have plenty of great games already (I think the count is around 1200 right now). NO console has ever launched with that many games. SteamOS has more AAA games than XBone and PS4 launched with (Borderlands 2, Borderlands: PS, Bioshock Infinite, Civ 5, Civ: BE, Shadow of Mordor is coming, Company of Heroes is coming, and more) and even more great indie games - old (Braid, Bastion, Fez, etc) and new (Don't Starve, Don't Starve Together, Battleblock Theatre, Pillars of Eternity, etc).

        If we take Steam Machines and compare them to the competition (other consoles), I don't understand why it's OK to preorder a PS4, XBone, or WiiU with no guarantee of success and fewer games, but somehow because Steam Machines don't have yearly rehashed, overpriced DLC (that's what CoD, AC, and the EA Sports franchises are) and they are crapped on despite having hundreds of really GREAT games - some of which cannot be found on consoles.

        • Andre Infante
          June 13, 2015 at 3:48 am

          I think the counterpoint to the large number of games is that no console has ever launched with zero exclusives, which is the current situation with Steam Machines.

        • Kris Cunigan
          June 15, 2015 at 4:21 pm

          I don't understand this "play from the couch" logic either, I personally developed really bad neck strain and poor posture from my couch days. As an adult I much prefer my ergonomic setup that involves a 32" display mounted over a desk with a modern desk chair for ideal back support etc. (I know I sound old as fck).

          But yea, I agree about the common on console pre-orders, I have NEVER pre-ordered a console in my life, I always wait for the game library to materialize.

          One issue facing Steam if they want some console gamers is that console gamers are transient stupid motherfckers who will play the newest game EA craps out one week and then hop on the next new game as soon as it's released. It seems to be more like hollywood movies where 80% of the buzz is just the fact its a new release. I don't think they will ever care about backplaying the great IP locked away in time since they are too stupid and shallow to look backward.

  2. mike whitaker
    June 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    I am interested in the controller and the Steam device that will allow me to hook the gaming PC to TV remotely and go into "big picture".

  3. Avery Vander Horst
    June 7, 2015 at 4:36 am

    Actually BioShock Infinite was ported over to Linux and released in March. Wine and PlayOnLinux run Mass Effect decently well, if you are willing to mess around a bit.

    I think the whole complaint about the Steam Machines game libraries is a bit exaggerated. If I go to the steam store to the Linux section and narrow it down to 'games' I get 1239 titles. Pretty good for a system that hasn't launched yet. Linux has great support from developers despite being less than 1% of steam users. With the influx of new users from the steam machines, things will change even more.

    Losing access to a few favourite titles is hard, but Linux is certainly not lacking in games. And I have personally found Wine/PlayOnLinux to be useable enough for old favourites I cannot do without.

    • Kris Cunigan
      June 8, 2015 at 5:30 am

      Who do you think the intended purchaser of a Steam machine is anticipated by Steam? A console gamer wanting to break into PC gaming or existing PC gamers just wanting some of the stability and convenience of consoles for once?

      I am having a hard time understanding the target demographic. I used to PC game and then let my rigs get outdated over the last 2-3 years. I now own a PS3/4 and plan on building a full Windows/Linux gaming rig in the future, but I doubt I would never buy a Steam box without being heavily incentived.

      For me the most important part of console gaming is that console generations are now supported for 8+ years. The games are designed to keep running on that same hardware level.

      With Steam machines I don't understand how that works and unless they have some kind of plan in place, I would just assume do my own build and upgrade at my own pace.

      The other issue is that the base Steam machines cost/performance ratios are not that impressive when you consider being able to buy PC parts on sale and then assemble everything yourself. That isn't an option with consoles, which is why they are sold at a very low ratio of return. Xbone has already had amazing promotions, <$400 for a next gen console within its first year.

  4. Jay Geater
    June 6, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    I think most PC gamers will stick to having a nice looking Gaming PC case instead of these little things. Especially because there's nothing stopping me from making it a steam box. Also, a gaming rig has more room for future upgrades.

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