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.