Steam Machines: Are they worth buying?

In today's open source roundup: The first Steam Machines can now be bought. Plus: Some SteamOS games run better in Windows. And what Valve got right and wrong with the Steam Machine


Steam Machines available for purchase

Steam Machines have gotten a lot of attention in the media over the last year, and now it's finally possible to buy one. Alienware, Syber, and ZOTAC all have models available for you to buy. And you can also buy the Steam Link and the Steam Controller right now from Amazon.

Adi Robertson reports on the Steam Machine release for The Verge:

The first wave of Valve's Steam Machine gaming PCs are now on sale. The company just announced the official launch of Steam Machines from a handful of manufacturers, along with the unusual Steam Controller and the Steam Link home streaming box. Right now, Valve is advertising three Steam Machines from Alienware, Zotac, and Cyberpower; they range from $499 to $1,499. The Steam Controller and Steam Link both sell for $49 apiece.

The Steam Machine concept has been years in the making, and it's seen some delays and false starts along the way. The confusion is partly because "Steam Machine" is more a label for console-like gaming PCs than a discrete product. Along with the controller, Steam Machines are largely defined by Steam OS, a Linux-based operating system that any manufacturer can adopt, whether it's making a super-cheap machine or a top-of-the-line gaming powerhouse. Preorders finally opened this summer, with a limited number of customers getting their devices in mid-October before the official release.

More at The Verge

Some SteamOS games don't match the performance of Windows

Kyle Orland at Ars Technica reports that some SteamOS games may perform worse than ones run in Windows:

We finally settled on a couple of mid-to-late-2014 releases that had SteamOS ports suitable for our tests: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Metro: Last Light Redux. Both are relatively graphically intensive 3D games with built-in benchmarking tools and a variety of quality sliders to play with (including six handy presets in Shadow of Mordor's case). For all the gaming benchmarks, we ran each test at least three times and took the median number to ensure the results were reliable.

No matter how you slice it, running these two high-end titles on SteamOS comes with a sizable frame rate hit; we got anywhere from 21- to 58-percent fewer frames per second, depending on the graphical settings. On our hardware running Shadow of Mordor at Ultra settings and HD resolution, the OS change alone was the difference between a playable 34.5 fps average on Windows and a stuttering 14.6 fps mess on SteamOS.

All that said, right now, it seems that choosing SteamOS over a Windows box means sacrificing a significant amount of performance on many (if not most) graphically intensive 3D games. That's a pretty big cost to bear, considering that Alienware sells its Windows-powered, console-style Alpha boxes at prices that are only $50 more expensive than identically outfitted SteamOS machines. That's not to mention the fact that Steam on Windows currently has thousands of games that aren't on SteamOS—including most AAA recent releases—while SteamOS has no similar exclusives to recommend it over Windows.

Hopefully, Valve and other Linux developers can continue improving SteamOS performance to the point where high-end games can be expected to at least run comparably between Linux and Windows. Until then, though, it's hard to recommend a SteamOS box to anyone who wants to get the best graphical performance out of their PC hardware.

More at Ars Technica

What Valve got right and wrong with its Steam Machines

Phillip Kollar and Brian Crecente at Polygon muse on what Valve got right and wrong with its Steam Machines in a very detailed article:

To give a few different perspectives, we'll be splitting our impressions into sections. In each section, we'll provide three points of view. First, we'll give some quotes from Valve itself, to give context to what they're going for with the Steam Machine. Then we'll offer thoughts from senior editor Phil Kollar, who spent a few hours with the Steam Machine at Valve's headquarters. Finally, we'll get some in-depth impressions from executive editor Brian Crecente, who's spent the last week testing out the Steam Machine in the comfort of his own home.

What I'll say for Alienware's Steam Machine model is that, while it's not the most powerful PC in terms of its guts, it's got an incredible form factor. It's hard to believe there's as much power as there is packed into such a tiny, nice-looking box. I think it at least looks as good, if not better, than the PlayStation 4, and certainly better than the hulking Xbox One.

There's no getting around it. Even in the few hours I spent with it, the current Steam Machine and SteamOS interface is pretty clunky. It's hard to know how much work Valve has left to put into it, but I found the current version of the user interface very difficult to parse in my short time testing it.

The rest of the experience is stellar. This is Big Picture mode running as it was designed to run. The controller lets you easily navigate between the store, library, community, web browsing and friend chats. You can even access music you've uploaded to your machine and design how and when it will play. The split keyboard — which uses the twin touchpads of the Steam Controller — is a delight to use. It's one of the things that makes this box feel almost futuristic. And jumping between things, including a Netflix movie running on the browser and the store, is almost instantaneous.

More at Polygon

Reviews of Alienware's Steam Machine and the Steam Controller

Christopher White at Neowin has a very detailed review of Alienware's Steam Machine:

There's a lot to like with the Steam Machine. The device itself looks unobtrusive and fits into the living room environment very well. My wife was concerned when I first told her I was going to be reviewing one, but once she saw how small it was and that it fit in with the rest of our systems, she didn't mind. In addition, the operating system itself seems to be fleshed out fairly well. It's easy to navigate, find games to buy and play, and navigate messages.

Unfortunately, while the machine does have a lot of potential, this clearly feels like version 1.0 of the product when it comes to actual games. I realize that developers aren't as likely to write programs against SteamOS until there's a larger install base, so this might be Valve's way of getting the studios on board. Until that happens, the lack of AAA titles and the bugs that are inherent on the current system will continue to hold the system back. In addition, not being able to reliably stream games from a Windows PC Steam client was incredibly frustrating, but something that should be able to be fixed with software.

Also, not having basic streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and the like, is a definite negative of the platform, but something that developers can easily remedy if they see a financial incentive to do so.

While PC gamers are used to configuring settings and aren't expecting a plug-and-play experience, the general population has come to expect that they can simply plug a game in and start playing when in their living room so that will be a large gap for Steam to bridge. Alienware and Steam will also have trouble convincing the hardcore gamers to buy a system instead of just building their own, especially given the price point and the lack of an upgradeable video card.

More at Neowin

Nick Puleo at Co-Optimus also has a review of the Alienware Steam Machine and the Steam Controller:

It’s hard to know exactly what the market is for a Steam Machine. The price point puts it just outside of direct competition with consoles and the performance and customization options puts it just under a traditional PC gamer. What makes this device enticing? I think the library of games available and that will become available alongside the cost involved with growing your library is a huge advantage. While the initial cost might be higher than a console, in the long run you’ll likely spend less thanks to cheaper and more open games.

In the case of the Alienware Steam Machine, we have the option to upgrade later, so there’s some extra longevity to the device. This is something consoles typically haven’t had. Valve has also been continuously tweaking and improving the OS. I expect the next six months to be extremely important for devices like the Steam Link and Steam Machine. Valve will have to carefully monitor and adapt it’s OS and Big Picture mode to match the tendencies of couch gaming.

Is the Steam Machine going to replace your desktop PC or gaming console? Absolutely not. I view it more like a tablet is to a PC. It’s a complementary device. It extends the experience in places it traditionally isn’t. In this case, your butt will be thankful it’s extended to the comfy couch in front of the nice big HDTV you have in the living room.

More at Co-Optimus

What Linux users are saying about the release of Valve's Steam Machines

Linux redditors shared their thoughts about the release of the Steam Machines:

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