While Xi3 Corp.’s small form-factor Piston gaming PCs designed with Steam video game distribution system in mind look impressive, they seem to lack enough compute power for modern games amid extremely high price. Not surprising that Valve Software decided to distance itself from Piston so that not to harm reputation of its Steam Box console initiative.
"Valve began some exploratory work with Xi3 last year, but currently has no involvement in any product of theirs," said Doug Lombardi, a spokesman for Valve.
Valve, which is an investor of Xi3 Corp., and Xi3 jointly demonstrated Piston ultra-small form-factor gaming PCs at Consumer Electronics Show this year. While Valve did say that there would be other Steam Box game consoles available this year in addition to Piston, it never denied that the system was indeed one of the Steam Box designs.
This week Xi3 Corp. began accepting pre-orders on its Piston small form-factor personal computers. Xi3 Piston is housed in the uniquely shaped, grapefruit-size Xi3 Modular Computer chassis and is based on the embedded AMD Fusion “Trinity” R-464L accelerated processing unit with four Piledriver x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz (3.20GHz Turbo frequency), Radeon HD 7660G graphics engine with 384 stream processor as well as 4MB L2 cache. The system is equipped with 8GB DDR3 memory and features an mSATA solid-state drive with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB capacity. Depending on SSD capacity, the Piston costs from $999 to $1749.
The price of Piston PC seems to be prohibitively expensive as usually systems based on AMD Fusion “Trinity” cost a lot less. While Xi3 Piston is small and sleek, its price is just too high for a given performance. As a result, the very first Steam Box on the market will unlikely be truly popular and will be acquired by a fraction of end-users who expressed their interest in the device.
According to Gabe Newell, chief executive of Valve, at least three types of Steam-centered gaming devices will be available: some will just stream video games from PCs (e.g., Nvidia Shield) or even servers, other will be tightly-controlled by Valve and will render games locally, and the third breed will offer something more than just Steam games.
“The way we sort of think of it is sort of ‘Good’, ‘Better’, or ‘Best’. Good are like these very low-cost streaming solutions that you are going to see that are using Miracast or Grid. […] ‘Better’ [will] have a dedicated CPU and GPU and that is the one that is going to be controlled. […] It has been surprisingly difficult when we say to people ‘don’t put an optical media drive in there’ and they put an optical media drive in there and you are like ‘that makes it hotter, that makes it more expensive, and it makes the box bigger’. Go ahead. You can always sell the ‘Best’ box, and those are just whatever those guys want to manufacture,” explained Mr. Newell in an interview earlier this year.
Valve also plans to sell its own Steam Box video game console in addition to devices manufactured by the others.