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What is a Steam Machine?

What is a Steam Machine, and Why Should PC Gamers Care?

Over the past few months, the topic of Steam Machines has been picking up a lot of, well, steam. Unfortunately, not many people have gone into specifics over what these machines are, or what they can do. Are they going to replace gaming computers? Or, is Valve trying its hand in the console market? Are they some combination of both PC and console? The big question PC gamers are asking is, should I really care about Steam Machines? To determine that, let’s first discuss what these things are.

The Machines

Rolling out later this year, Valve’s new gaming platforms are designed to merge PC gaming and classic living room based console gaming. Specifically, Steam Machines are pre-built PCs that will come with Valve’s newly designed SteamOS (more on this in a bit) installed. The systems are designed to be played on a television screen, much like a traditional video game console. Any game that you have in your Steam library will be playable on a Steam Machine, and recently, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell stated that even EA’s Origin will run on the machines.

Much like current gaming computers, these consoles can be freely modified and upgraded by the user, making them far more customizable than the current-gen video game consoles, such as the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Wii U.

Steam OS

Each Steam Machine will feature Valve’s propriety operating system, SteamOS. SteamOS is an open-source, Linux based operating system. Because it is open-source, tech-savvy users will have some flexibility in modifying the OS. Unlike more standard operating systems (like Windows and Mac OSX), SteamOS is designed specifically for gaming. The operating system works by streaming Steam games from the Steam library of a user’s Windows or Mac computer.

Because Steam Machines will have their own hard drive, much like any computer, games can be downloaded and accessed directly from the machine, as well. Additionally, SteamOS doesn’t have a built-in file manager of any sort. Because it is open source, though, it is possible to access desktop features and install programs. Currently, Valve is in talks with streaming content providers, such as Netflix and Hulu, about porting them to SteamOS.

The Controller

Unlike standard PCs, these devices will come packaged with a specially designed controller. The originally announced controller had four face buttons, a touchpad in the center of the controller, two trackpads (used for movement, replacing the joysticks/direction pads on console controllers), two triggers, and two buttons on the back of the controller. Following some testing, the controllers have recently received a major overhaul—the touchpad on the front of the controller is being replaced with more traditional face buttons.

Don’t worry PC gamers; you’ll be able to use a mouse and keyboard as well.

Why Should I Care?

If you’re someone who is happy with your current gaming desktop or laptop, you have little reason to get excited about Steam Machines. Valve has announced that SteamOS will be able to be installed to any computer, so if you’re interested in checking out the operating system and don’t want to fork over an extra $500+ for a console, you can simply install it to your current gaming rig.

On the other hand, if you’re considering upgrading your computer to a more powerful rig for gaming, and you like the idea of a dedicated console for PC games, maybe a Steam Machine is for you. Many manufacturers will be rolling out their own models of these machines. For example, Digital Storm’s Bolt II is a slim, powerful, upgrade-friendly Steam Machine for the gaming enthusiast. It will dual boot Windows 8 and SteamOS, giving you the flexibility to switch between both operating systems.

The main goal of these machines is not to directly compete with gaming desktops and laptops, but rather, home consoles. Currently, the price ranges of these devices range anywhere from $500 to $6,000—yes, $6,000. Unlike traditional consoles, though, this range allows users to choose a system that is specifically designed for their gaming needs. Hardcore gamers will opt for more powerful/expensive systems, while more casual gamers will lean towards the lower-end models. This allows a flexibility not present in other home consoles.

Whether you’re interested in the idea of Steam Machine or not, the technology is a bold leap forward, and it’s very exciting. These devices are blurring the line between console and computer gaming, offering users full customization on their gaming devices. What are your thoughts on Steam Machines? Are you excited about the technology? Let us know in the comments section!

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