The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas has been big news for technology this week, the largest electronic show in the world is an ideal place for manufacturers and independent tinkerers to show off their newest gadgets. Unfortunately gaming tends to take a back seat at this one with most major news in the form of the newest must have phone of tablet, but for most PC fans attention was focused on one man, Gabe Newell (Spoilers: Still no Half-Life 3 announcement).
Rumours have been circling around about a Steambox for some time but CES is where we actually saw not one, but many prototypes of what the hardware could eventually be. Through this a clear business model also emerged with Valve providing funding to external hardware companies to develop many versions of a small form factor PC.
One of the biggest attention grabbers was the reveal of the Xi3 Piston, A small box looking similar in design to OUYA but with full PC hardware pumping power from its innards. The case is tiny by PC standards but turn the little guy around and you are greeted with a plethora of ports, jacks and connections. Inside, Xi3 will be equipping one of AMD's latest quad core APU chips with a focus on powerful integrated graphics. Other specifications are still not confirmed but $999 (around £620 for the fellow Brits out there) seemed to be the suggested launch price. This seems expensive for a little cube of processing power but is only "one of many" prototypes according to Valve.
So what could this mean for PC as a whole? Could these small, uncomplicated boxes tempt the console crowd? Valve's recent actions certainly make it seem like that's the goal here. With the introduction of Big Picture Mode to lure the controller wielding players and Steam for Linux now operational, the company is certainly wanting a piece of everything. 2012 was a great year to be a PC gamer with some fantastic indie exclusives and some graphics pushing AAA titles, Steam user numbers soared up and publishers even put out some good quality ports, with options a plenty for the hardcore crowd.
So PC is now doing well on the software front, but how will hardware change with the introduction of small easy to function Steam boxes? Processor manufacturers are certainly creating a trend when it comes to graphical grunt, cut out middle man and place capable graphics right on the chip. Intel's newest "Ivy Bridge" line only showed a 15% increase in processing power but a big jump in integrated graphics performance, with the new 2013 chips (codename Haswell) set to raise that bar even further. The other big silicon player; AMD, are also making a big push on their APU line with the same prospects as Intel. Concerns are among PC vets of what this means for dedicated cards like the Nvidia GTX 680. What Valve also had hidden away at CES was a private booth, set up to meet with new hardware partners over the Steambox plan. Residing with-in the room were a few small prototypes of possible new hardware and an existing Alienware X51. This Alienware PC was one of the smaller products the Dell owned company had launched with a form factor similar to that of an Xbox 360 but with up to i7 internals to make it perform like the big boys. Around the product's launch there was talk of the X51 becoming the new Steambox and later became acknowledged by Valve as Steambox hardware, pointing to a wide range of PC types to fall under this new brand. This can give some confidence back to the power hardware fanatics, showing that plans are still to include high end machines with dedicated graphics under the same line.
With a wider PC adoption and amazing software distribution Valve could be a danger to the already well established console companies with future plans but how will this change the existing PC market, only time will tell as new news surfaces.
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