The beginning of the week brought reports that Valve was working on something called "Steam Box," a list of hardware specs and associated software that manufacturers would turn around and build to sell under Valve's certified label. Much like PC gamers would see their favorite titles branded by Nvidia or AMD, these rigs would feature the Steam Box logo, indicating that they were good to go when it comes to playing PC games offered on Steam.
The idea, it seemed, was to take the console approach and provide a set list of hardware that developers could rely on from multiple manufacturers. There's no indication that Valve was looking to create a single console to compete with the current and next-generation crops, but rather to have a standardized PC platform that lasts for up to four years at the most. There's even talk that the Alienware X51 rig was built based on an early Steam Box spec.
According to a November 2 tweet by Valve employee Greg Coomer, a hand-built prototype consisted of a quad-core Intel i7 CPU, 8 GB of RAM, and a Zotac Z68 mini-ITX motherboard with an on-board Nvidia mobile GPU. According to Zotac's website, the Z68-ITX WiFi Supreme supports socket LGA1155 2nd generation Intel Core processors and features the Intel Z68 Express chipset, Nvidia's GeForce GT 430 GPU with 1 GB of DDR3 VRAM, 802.11n and Ethernet connectivity and more.
Coomer said his prototype ran Portal 2 FAST.
Still, regardless what seems to be going on with Steam Box, Valve marketing director Doug Lombardi claims the company is currently focused on prepping and shipping the Steam Big Picture Mode UI. He even admitted that Valve is building boxes to test the new Steam interface only. This new UI will reportedly make the online gaming service easier to use for people who want to play Steam games on a PC that's connected to their TV.
"We're also doing a bunch of different experiments with biometric feedback and stuff like that, which we've talked about a fair amount," he admitted. "All of that is stuff that we're working on, but it's a long way from Valve shipping any sort of hardware."
Yet hardware is not out of the question, as even Valve bossman Gabe Newell recently said that Valve will sell hardware if it becomes a necessity to keep the doors open.
On top of that, Lombardi didn't actually refuse to say that Valve isn't working on a hardware platform. Instead, he agreed that there's definitely nothing coming any time soon, nothing at GDC or E3. Like Newell said, there's a possibility that maybe some day Valve will make hardware, but Lombardi made it clear that (a) Valve partnering with hardware manufacturers and/or (b) Valve building its own hardware will not be happening anytime soon. End of story.
As for the prototype seen back in November, Lombardi said that Coomer is one of the guys leading the Big Picture effort. "The idea is that you can take Steam to any display," he said. "What we're trying to do is say, 'here's a box that we're going to use for testing that's common for Big Picture mode and get performance at a base level.'"
"We're always putting boxes together," he added. "Going all the way back to the Half-Life 1 days, we built special boxes to test our software render… it's just part of development."
Sound like he just nuked any speculation that Coomer's rig was a Steam Box prototype.
Agree! It would push us one step closer to OS freedom.