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Xi3 Takes Apart Modular PC, Teases "Codename Piston" Steam Box With Valve Partnership

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 19 comments

This week during CES, we dropped by Xi3 Corp to take a look what's likely to be Valve Software's upcoming Steam Box, currently codenamed Piston. The PC-gaming focused "console" will be based on Xi3's 7 Series modular computer and support Valve's just-launched Big Picture Mode.

Unfortunately, Xi3 had Piston locked away in a display case, but a rep gladly dissected another model (5 Series?) to show how easy it will be to continuously upgrade the device. Valve chose wisely to collaborate with Xi3, as "Piston" will seemingly be future-proof to some extent until the entire unit becomes obsolete later down the road.

Currently the actual specs aren't available, but the high-end X7A comprises of three components: the processor board, the primary I/O board and the secondary I/O board. The processor board itself features a quad-core AMD R-464L APU clocked at 3.2 GHz (2 MB x 2 L2 cache) which also contains a 384-core Radeon HD 7660G GPU.

Why go AMD? When talking with the Xi3 rep at the booth, I thought it was due to full support for DirectX 11.1, but according to AMD, full support doesn't take place until the Radeon HD 7700 series and above. But using AMD has nothing to do with Piston – it's what the company chose to use for the entire 7 Series line.

 

On the primary I/O board, you'll find USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, the SSD offering between 32 GB and 1 TB of storage, eSATAp III ports (6 Gb/s), optional wireless, SPDIF optical digital audio output and more. The secondary I/O board plays host to the Ethernet port, DisplayPort 1.2 / HDMI combo connector, power, mSATA connector and mini-DisplayPort 1.2 / X-Link combo connectors.

"Today marks the beginning of a new era for Xi3," said Jason A. Sullivan , founder, President and CEO of Xi3, said during CES. "This new development stage product will allow users to take full-advantage of their large high-definition TV displays for an amazing computer game experience. As a result, this new system could provide access to thousands of gaming titles through an integrated system that exceeds the capabilities of leading game consoles, but can fit in the palm of your hand."

As previously stated, I couldn't get anyone at Xi3 to admit that Piston is the much-rumored Steam Box, but by now it's rather obvious. And when the rep pulled a similar model apart right in front of my eyes in a matter of seconds, I couldn't help but think this could be the future of console-like gaming, not the Wii U and Xbox Infinity. A device with set hardware specs that users can quickly upgrade on the cheap instead of being forced into purchasing an entirely new box every five or six years? That's the way to go, but you can bet the Big Three will never agree.

 

 

 

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  • 10 Hide
    shikamaru31789 , January 11, 2013 6:50 PM
    Quote:
    I couldn't help but think this could be the future of console-like gaming

    I remain skeptical. The rumor going around was that Xi3 mentioned at their booth that the Piston would be similarly priced to one of their other products, which happens to cost about $1000. I don't see many console fans paying $1000 for the Piston when the next-gen Xbox and Playstation will likely cost half as much with price drops. Then theres the fact that as PC graphics requirements continue to go up, as they always do, you'll be forced to upgrade this, whereas the new consoles will last for 5-6 years. A Next-Box or PS4 seems far more friendly to your wallet. I don't see many PC fans getting it either, not when they can build their own PC's with better hardware for cheaper and stillhook them to their tv and experience Steam's big picture mode.
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    shikamaru31789 , January 11, 2013 6:39 PM
    I was reading another article that said that Gabe Newell confirmed that it wasn't the only Steam Box, several other manufacturers besides Xi3 would be making them as well. Also, Valve is supposedly working on their own Steam Box.
  • 8 Hide
    nbraybrook , January 11, 2013 6:41 PM
    Its a cool idea but I dont see how something like this can offer a gaming experience compared to what we use currently with desktops and steam, already outdated graphics and cpu's, the small form factor is cool but you cant stick an off the shelf graphics card in there so youll be forced to buy their special cards at a most likely jacked up price..
  • 10 Hide
    shikamaru31789 , January 11, 2013 6:50 PM
    Quote:
    I couldn't help but think this could be the future of console-like gaming

    I remain skeptical. The rumor going around was that Xi3 mentioned at their booth that the Piston would be similarly priced to one of their other products, which happens to cost about $1000. I don't see many console fans paying $1000 for the Piston when the next-gen Xbox and Playstation will likely cost half as much with price drops. Then theres the fact that as PC graphics requirements continue to go up, as they always do, you'll be forced to upgrade this, whereas the new consoles will last for 5-6 years. A Next-Box or PS4 seems far more friendly to your wallet. I don't see many PC fans getting it either, not when they can build their own PC's with better hardware for cheaper and stillhook them to their tv and experience Steam's big picture mode.
  • 9 Hide
    fonzy , January 11, 2013 6:55 PM
    shikamaru31789I remain skeptical. The rumor going around was that Xi3 mentioned at their booth that the Piston would be similarly priced to one of their other products, which happens to cost about $1000. I don't see many console fans paying $1000 for the Piston when the next-gen Xbox and Playstation will likely cost half as much with price drops. Then theres the fact that as PC graphics requirements continue to go up, as they always do, you'll be forced to upgrade this, whereas the new consoles will last for 5-6 years. A Next-Box or PS4 seems far more friendly to your wallet. I don't see many PC fans getting it either, not when they can build their own PC's with better hardware for cheaper and stillhook them to their tv and experience Steam's big picture mode.


    Totally agree.
  • 7 Hide
    cogito1965 , January 11, 2013 6:56 PM
    Unless these are marketed for under $300, they are doomed to failure. Modest laptops have more raw CPU/GPU power, are more portable and even come with a monitor!

    Am I missing something here???
  • 1 Hide
    bustapr , January 11, 2013 7:29 PM
    cogito1965Unless these are marketed for under $300, they are doomed to failure. Modest laptops have more raw CPU/GPU power, are more portable and even come with a monitor! Am I missing something here???

    you are missing that we still dont know jack squat about its specs. if you think about a real gaming laptop, you know they are expensive. you take out the display, the keyboard, the OS, and the battery. that would easily cut the laptops price by half or more.

    what I speculate that this steam box would have is laptop parts. small, low power, and also replacable. if the steam boxes have gaming laptop parts as I believe they will be, they will destroy an amd apu laptop at its same price. sure, an amd apu laptop would be better in some other cases, but this would be better for anyone who enjoys console games on tv and pc gaming with mouse and keyboard because its mobile enough to move around easily.
  • 1 Hide
    elexor , January 11, 2013 8:25 PM
    This thing judging by the cooling won't be powerful enough to run games at a pc gamer standard. And what about the bad ports they will run even worse then the current gen consoles. Is this box only made to use the source engine? because that's about all it will handle. you want a small gaming rig? There's plenty of small form factor mobos and cases that accept NORMAL video cards, cpu's and ram. none of this proprietary crap.
  • 3 Hide
    WithoutWeakness , January 11, 2013 8:33 PM
    These won't be used to max out graphics and play games like Battlefield 3 or Far Cry 3 or any of the real demanding games that PC gamers love, and we all know that. I love my desktop and my multi-GPU setup and something like this isn't going to replace that and the same feeling applies to almost all PC gamers.

    But take a step back now. Think of Valve's games. Portal 2, L4D2, CS:GO. The games like CoD and Borderlands that look and play terrible on a console at 30FPS on low settings. All the games that can easily be played at 60FPS at high settings on a mid-level PC. Now think of all the players who will always play on consoles because they complain about having to buy "expensive PC parts" and have to "upgrade their machine every year". THAT is the market Valve is going for. The mainstream market.

    This won't replace your desktop or high-end gaming laptop. They don't want it to. None of us want it to. It never will. This is going straight after consoles. The devices we all love to hate that are holding us back from an entirely new generation of melt-your-computer demanding graphics. The consoles that were new and exciting 7 years ago and now we just hang on to in order to stream Netflix to our TV's. The consoles with Red Rings and Yellow Lights of Death. This Steam Box is Valve's giant laser cannon aimed straight at the hearts of Sony, MS, and Nintendo.

    I want this to happen. I want this device out now. I wanted it out 5 years ago.
  • 2 Hide
    beardguy , January 11, 2013 8:49 PM
    This thing is lame.

    At first I was intrigued, but I just don't get it. It's nothing more than a compact form factor PC with a custom UI running on top of Linux. It's going to be too expensive to justify buying one instead of a console, and for PC gamers, there is nothing special about it to justify buying one over a normal gaming PC. Especially if you already custom build your own.

    I do hope it does well though, because it has the potential to refocus the gaming market back to PC.
  • 0 Hide
    Creepintom , January 11, 2013 9:40 PM
    50% of the (100+) games that I own on steam will easily be playable on this incarnation of the steam box.

    I can only imagine what games it will run with a system that is more well rounded and more competitively priced!

    E.G. Even if they sold the next system at a loss, they know for a fact that they can easily recoup the money in a matter of seconds through steam purchases.

    E.G.G. I would feel more inclined to buy random steam games to test on the box so either way its a win win for steam!

    Win (attempting a market) / Win (collecting profits)

    The only reason people are disappointed over the first gen steam box is because they wanted godly performance for $100. What they fail to understand is that the reason for reiterations of the steam box is so that it appeals to all demographics.

    I'd be expecting some excellent boxes coming out in the very near future so keep your eyes open!
  • 3 Hide
    bustapr , January 11, 2013 9:44 PM
    dont forget this thing will make the linux compatible indie market explode.
  • 0 Hide
    Creepintom , January 11, 2013 9:45 PM
    On that note, remember the prototypes of the steam box that were close if not bigger than the 360/ps3 consoles.

    That is the console you will be looking for if you want "Real gaming" on the steam box.

    This Piston box isn't the correct format (however the pricing is not so exclude that for this part) so you can clearly begin to see what category it belongs in. (Ouya/Gamestick and the likes) Then you have the larger format that is clearly going to compete with the ps4/720 category.

    I wonder what else they'll come up with!

    Keep up the great work steam!
  • 2 Hide
    sunshine240sx , January 11, 2013 11:06 PM
    nbraybrookIts a cool idea but I dont see how something like this can offer a gaming experience compared to what we use currently with desktops and steam, already outdated graphics and cpu's, the small form factor is cool but you cant stick an off the shelf graphics card in there so youll be forced to buy their special cards at a most likely jacked up price..


    I don't believe this is marketed at you because you are indeed correct. This is marketed at most likely console owners in an attempt to get them off of a closed hardware system and onto something with more options and if they follow the console route to some degree they my sell the units for a loss and make the money back on the Steam store.
  • 1 Hide
    kinggraves , January 12, 2013 7:36 AM
    sunshine240sxI don't believe this is marketed at you because you are indeed correct. This is marketed at most likely console owners in an attempt to get them off of a closed hardware system and onto something with more options and if they follow the console route to some degree they my sell the units for a loss and make the money back on the Steam store.


    They can market it however they want, they don't understand console gamers. They don't want to upgrade parts later, deal with multiple ports, the potential for later addons. In the engineering the factors that make consoles and PCs different exist for a reason. The OS has to stay consistent and the software has to be constantly compatible and plug and play with zero difficulties. The unit has to stay cool with no issues or overheats which means high integration of components. Choices are sacrificed for consistency, constants are what makes consoles as popular as they are with their consumer base.

    I have yet to see anything out of these Steam boxes that is factual and based in reality, just promises of "what will be". I wouldn't invest in this scenario when there's nothing actually concrete to show yet and the promises being made contradict a tradition based on engineering difficulties and contradictions. The rumors of the next gen consoles are still realistic and believable. Even this device is not impressive, if you want me to make you a PC in a ringbox with the power of a calculator I can do it. If you want me to make you a PC the size of a console I can do it. It doesn't break any of the borders between console and PC down.

    Stop imagining the ideal scenario and imagine the worst case scenario instead. Microsoft is right, the console hardware industry is a tough business that has sunk both gaming veterans like Atari and Sega as well as electronics vets like Philips and Panasonic. If Valve invests in this venture and it fails, Steam will suffer for it. If Valve puts all their chips in this venture and it flops, Steam will be gone, and so will all the licenses you bought from it.
  • -1 Hide
    sublime2k , January 12, 2013 10:50 AM
    Why are you spreading misinformation? Piston is not likely to be Steam Box.
  • -3 Hide
    jtd871 , January 12, 2013 7:20 PM
    The only way that an APU-based machine will be able to play current or near-current AAA games at 1080p on a machine this size is if Steam pulls an OnLive and does all or most of the heavy lifting on servers and streams the video over broadband. I've never heard this mentioned by the press to date, but it's the only thing I can think of that makes a system like this feasible as a Steam Big Picture box, unless IGPs/APUs get dramatically more powerful and power-efficient very quickly. The xi3 machines also use custom PCBs, and unless they can fit a MXM module inside, they are stuck with on-die graphics only.
  • -1 Hide
    Miharu , January 14, 2013 4:03 PM
    Xi3 form is appealing. I really like their design.
    I remember Xi3 kickstarter project. A good box was $799... so it's not cheap.
    I compared the hardware with a new laptop and I could easily get a better deal.

    From the Piston design, I think Steam should build a cheapest version where the videocard is external.
    All steam box should support Thunderbold external videocard.

    The unit cost will drop around $300 and a external thunderbolt videocard will be between $99 and $799.

    A great gaming machine around $328 to $399 seem interresting!
    And if you want better graphic, you just need to change your thunderbold videocard.
  • 0 Hide
    hixbot , January 14, 2013 6:02 PM
    WithoutWeakness The games like CoD and Borderlands that look and play terrible on a console at 30FPS on low settings. All the games that can easily be played at 60FPS at high settings on a mid-level PC.

    COD runs at 60fps on console.
  • 1 Hide
    bustapr , January 14, 2013 6:16 PM
    MiharuXi3 form is appealing. I really like their design.I remember Xi3 kickstarter project. A good box was $799... so it's not cheap.I compared the hardware with a new laptop and I could easily get a better deal.From the Piston design, I think Steam should build a cheapest version where the videocard is external.All steam box should support Thunderbold external videocard.The unit cost will drop around $300 and a external thunderbolt videocard will be between $99 and $799.A great gaming machine around $328 to $399 seem interresting!And if you want better graphic, you just need to change your thunderbold videocard.

    I doubt that valve would make the cheapest console not be able to play its own games at least on mid out of the box. and for a pc of that size to play valve games on mid at such a low price and power goal I believe at least an AMD-A8 APU is required(maybe even A6 can handle them).

    an intel pc at that price WILL NOT be able to play valve games out of the box. even with the thunderbolt connector, theres another thing your not counting in. the thunderbolt>pci-e dock costs an arm and a leg today