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Valve's Steam Machines: Gabe Newell's quest to reinvent PC gaming

The Steam Box started as a glimmer of hope in 2012. Many doubted the software company best known for its hit games and online gaming marketplace Steam would make its own hardware. A year later Valve unveiled its first designs for its own game-playing PCs and a list of major hardware partners, as well. But as the delivery date for the first Steam Box slips to 2015, the dream remains deferred. Follow all the news here.

  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 20, 2018

    Sean Hollister

    Farewell to the Steam Link, the best wireless HDMI gadget ever made (update: it’s $2.50)

    A photograph of a Steam Link besides its packaging on a wooden table.
    The Steam Link
    Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

    Why am I sad that a tiny black puck which streamed games over a Wi-Fi network will soon disappear from shelves around the world? Because too few people experienced the magic that the Steam Link affords.

    Over the past couple years, it seemed like PC gaming juggernaut Valve couldn’t give away the gadget fast enough, charging as little as $2.50 for the $50 gadget on sale. That’s probably why the company is quietly discontinuing the device today, though the company will continue support. (Valve says the Steam Link is already selling out around the world, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.)

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  • Jamieson Cox

    Nov 16, 2015

    Jamieson Cox

    Gaming performance on Valve's SteamOS can't keep up with Windows

    Valve's new console-aping Steam Machines could be hampered by the performance of the company's Linux-based SteamOS operating system compared to Windows gaming. An Ars Technica analysis published Friday morning highlighted considerable performance gaps between SteamOS and Windows on a computer running both operating systems, gaps that persisted across both AAA ports and games built on Valve's own Source engine. The operating systems performed similarly in benchmark tool Geekbench 3, but tests involving Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Metro: Last Light Redux yielded frames per second gaps that ranged from 21 to 58 percent.

    The timing of the analysis isn't ideal for Valve. The company's first set of Steam Machines and peripherals were officially made available for purchase last week, including machines from Alienware, Zotac, and Cyberpower. If there's a sizable gap in performance between SteamOS and Windows, it's hard to argue against spending a little bit more on machines with comparable internals that run Windows instead.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Nov 10, 2015

    Adi Robertson

    Valve's first Steam Machines and controller have been officially released

    The first wave of Valve's Steam Machine gaming PCs are now on sale. The company just announced the official launch of Steam Machines from a handful of manufacturers, along with the unusual Steam Controller and the Steam Link home streaming box. Right now, Valve is advertising three Steam Machines from Alienware, Zotac, and Cyberpower; they range from $499 to $1,499. The Steam Controller and Steam Link both sell for $49 apiece.

    The Steam Machine concept has been years in the making, and it's seen some delays and false starts along the way. The confusion is partly because "Steam Machine" is more a label for console-like gaming PCs than a discrete product. Along with the controller, Steam Machines are largely defined by Steam OS, a Linux-based operating system that any manufacturer can adopt, whether it's making a super-cheap machine or a top-of-the-line gaming powerhouse. Preorders finally opened this summer, with a limited number of customers getting their devices in mid-October before the official release.

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  • Nathan Ingraham

    Aug 12, 2014

    Nathan Ingraham

    Alienware's Alpha console will bring Steam to your living room this November

    If you’ve been wanting to get Steam games into your living room — and don’t want to wait for Valve’s official Steam OS— Alienware is now ready to take your money. Interested buyers can now pre-order the Alienware Alpha console, which starts at $549. That’ll get you an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB of storage, and a custom Nvidia-based graphics card with 2GB of dedicated memory. Alienware is also selling a number of other configurations with more memory, hard drive space, and faster processors.

    What’s most notable about the Alpha, however, is what isn’t included — instead of using Valve’s Linux-based Steam OS and the Steam controller, the Alpha is essentially a standard Windows 8.1 PC. After Valve announced that it would delay the Steam OS and controller to 2015, Alienware decided to design its own user interface on top of Windows rather than delay its console. The goal of that custom interface is to provide users a way to get right into Steam’s "big picture" mode without having to mess around in Windows or use a keyboard and mouse.

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  • Rich McCormick

    May 28, 2014

    Rich McCormick

    Valve delays Steam Machines and controller until 2015

    Valve, the company behind Portal, Half-Life, and digital video game download service Steam, has delayed the launch of its first pieces of hardware, pushing the release window of its Steam Machines and Steam controller from 2014 to 2015. In a post on Steam, Valve's Eric Hope suggested the release dates were pushed back to allow the company to work on the controller, after live playtests with wireless prototypes generated a "ton of useful feedback." While Hope said that feedback means Valve will be able to make its Steam controller "a lot better," it's also keeping the team behind the project "pretty busy making all those improvements."

    Valve's Steam controller, first announced in 2013, is the result of more than two years of research and design by the video game company. In its current form, the controller sports two touchpads on its front, in place the analog sticks present on most modern console controllers. Using the touchpads offers players very precise control over their games, but as The Verge reported last November, the experience isn't immediately intuitive for people weaned on analog stick or keyboard and mouse control.

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  • Chris Welch

    Mar 14, 2014

    Chris Welch

    Valve shows off updated Steam Controller design

    We knew Valve's Steam Controller would be undergoing some changes, and now the company is offering a more detailed look at its revised gamepad. The touchscreen seen on the original model has indeed been scrapped entirely in favor of four separate directional buttons on the left side and four face buttons on the right. They're labeled X, Y, A, and B — just like Microsoft's Xbox controller — and Valve's buttons also share the same arrangement and color scheme. Similar to the Xbox One, Valve's latest iteration of the Steam Controller features a logo that glows white when powered on. That round button is centered between two smaller ones labeled with icons for stop and play.

    "These analog buttons are offered in addition to the touch pads featured in the original prototypes," Valve said in a statement. The design of this latest version seems to have been finalized only recently; Valve says it's in the process of assembling demo units that it will bring to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next week. "We're excited to get some feedback from our customers on these latest changes," the company said. That suggests that Valve may not be done tweaking the Steam Controller as it prepares for a huge push in the living room with SteamOS.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Feb 11, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Valve posts entirety of Steam Dev Days to YouTube, explaining its console and VR strategy

    steam dev days gabe newell 640
    steam dev days gabe newell 640

    Valve is a notoriously private game publisher, and in January it hosted a private event. At Steam Dev Days, the company gathered developers to talk about its strategy for the company's Linux-based Steam Machine game consoles, virtual reality headgear, in-game economies, and game development, all with no journalists in attendance. While some news trickled out in the form of tweets, including when we can expect Alienware's Steam Machine to arrive and that the Steam Controller is due for another revision, we weren't able to get the full picture. Now, however, the entiretry of Steam Dev Days is on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 26, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Steam In-Home Streaming lets you play away from your PC

    steam in-home streaming stock 1020
    steam in-home streaming stock 1020

    With the right hardware setup, you may no longer need to sit in front of your gaming machine. With a PlayStation Vita, you can play PS4 anywhere in your house. With an Nvidia Shield, you can do the same with a Windows gaming PC. But what if you don't want to buy a multiple-hundred dollar handheld game system to play Tomb Raider in bed? Valve is building a game streaming solution right into its free Steam game platform, so you can sling games from your beefy desktop PC to laptops as thin as a MacBook Air. Late last week, Valve invited a host of new users into the Steam In-Home Streaming beta, and we made it in. Read on for our first impressions.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 15, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Steam Controller ditches the touchscreen for better backwards compatibility

    Gallery Photo: Steam Controller and Steam Machine press pictures
    Gallery Photo: Steam Controller and Steam Machine press pictures

    The Steam Controller is going to change. According to two game developers tweeting from Valve's Steam Dev Days developer summit, Valve has decided to remove the controller's central touchscreen. While it sounds like the gamepad's twin trackpads will remain intact, the touchscreen was deemed redundant and possibly even distracting from games, as Valve wants players looking at the television instead of their hands. That doesn't mean there won't be customizable controls in the center of the gamepad, though. Players will simply use a feature that Valve's calling "ghost mode."

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 15, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Alienware's Steam Machine will arrive in September

    alienware steam machine stock 1020
    alienware steam machine stock 1020

    Alienware has perhaps the most exciting Steam Machine coming to market, and now we know when it will arrive. According to a tweet from Dave Oshry, a video game marketing exec attending Valve's Steam Dev Days developer summit, the company just announced that Alienware's Steam Machine will launch in the September timeframe. That's quite a ways away.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 9, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    SteamOS now supports Intel and AMD graphics

    steam os 1020 stock
    steam os 1020 stock

    Building your own Steam Box just got a heck of a lot easier, because the SteamOS operating system isn't limited to Nvidia GPUs anymore. As of the latest SteamOS release, both Intel and AMD graphics are supported. Mind you, SteamOS is still very much in beta, and the Linux video drivers are in a beta state as well, so don't expect too much. AMD specifically mentions that there are some screen-tearing issues, and that things can slow down when the SteamOS overlay and games are running simultaneously. Valve engineer John Vert writes that the company is still working with Intel and AMD to fix a number of these issues.

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  • Adi Robertson

    Jan 9, 2014

    Adi Robertson

    Valve reportedly about to release a standard interface for virtual reality controllers

    Next week, Valve will release a software development kit that gives developers a standard way to implement controls in VR games, the BBC reports. Valve designer Brian Coomer has apparently said that the kit is "days away" and will be released at Steam Dev Days, which start on January 15th. There's not much more detail given, but the company has already said it plans to reveal a prototype that will show "what affordable Virtual Reality (VR) hardware will be capable of within a couple of years." Valve has previously worked in partnership with Oculus, whose latest VR headset — a prototype known as Crystal Cove — was announced at CES.

    The controller development kit will reportedly come as part of the larger set of software tools for Steam Machines, about a dozen of which have also been revealed this week. Valve has made itself a link between manufacturers and developers, creating a platform that ensures compatibility across a variety of hardware, and it's well-positioned to do the same for virtual reality controllers, which range from simple gamepads to elaborate circular treadmills. "We've been talking to Oculus pretty extensively... about how we can help them with Steam," Valve told us last year.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 7, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Steam Machines are here: how Alienware is realizing Valve's console dream

    Gallery Photo: Alienware Steam Machine industrial design
    Gallery Photo: Alienware Steam Machine industrial design

    Nearly two years ago, we broke the news that Valve was working on its very own game console. The reasons weren't yet clear. We didn't yet know that the company wanted to throw off the shackles of Windows with its own Linux-based operating system, or that a host of PC manufacturers would take it seriously enough to build hardware.

    Today, the Steam Machines are here. Valve has just announced the first wave of computers that can officially be called Steam Machines at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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  • Valve announces 13 Steam Machine partners, including Alienware

    Valve has been unveiling its SteamOS initiative piece by piece, and at a brief event today it announced an important new detail: which companies will actually be selling Steam Machines. Thirteen partners were announced at the event, including Alienware, Falcon Northwest, and iBuyPower, among other custom PC makers. There's no word on precisely when the machines will hit the market, but Valve business manager DJ Powers tells us that its hoping to see some on the shelf in the latter half of 2014.

    As for whether we'll see hardware from Valve itself, it isn't something the company is ruling out — though it is staying typically quiet on the subject. But one thing is for sure: the 300 prototypes that Valve sent out in 2013 aren't going to be making a further appearance. "That was an exercise to kind of prove the concept and get them in customers' hands to get real honest feedback," says Powers. "We don't have further plans to manufacture more of those boxes and run a bigger beta or sell them."

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 6, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    CyberPowerPC Steam Machine will compete with consoles at $499

    cyberpowerpc steam machine
    cyberpowerpc steam machine

    While some of the companies adopting Valve's living room gaming fomula are simply grafting the SteamOS operating system onto powerful Windows PCs, CyberPowerPC has just announced a Steam Machine designed to actually compete with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for around the same price point.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 6, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Digital Storm details its first Steam Machine: a hybrid Windows and SteamOS combo for $1,899

    digital storm bolt ii flat stock
    digital storm bolt ii flat stock

    Digital Storm was one of the first companies to reveal its Steam Machine — its own take on Valve's formula for the perfect living room gaming PC. Today, the company's getting the news out ahead of Valve's announcement yet again, formally announcing that the new Digital Storm Bolt II will go on sale later this month for $1,899.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Jan 6, 2014

    Sean Hollister

    Valve reportedly has 12 Steam Machine partners

    ibuypower steam machine 1020
    ibuypower steam machine 1020

    iBuyPower, Digital Storm, and Piixl have all announced their Steam Machines — computers which run Valve's SteamOS game platform — and tomorrow Valve is holding a press conference to announce many more. How many? Engadget has a list of 12 companies that it claims are all among Valve's official Steam Machine hardware partners. According to the publication, usual suspects like Alienware, Falcon Northwest, and Origin PC are all on the list, as well as Gigabyte, CyberPowerPC, Zotac, Next, Webhallen, Alternate, Materiel.net, and Scan Computers. While some of those names are boutique PC builders, others are electronics retailers.

    Engadget writes that the list may not be complete and other third-party companies may announce their own Steam Machines as well. Last we heard, Valve expected Steam Machines to ship in the second half of 2014. Presently, the company is trialling the concept with 300 beta testers, each of whom received an official prototype box built by Valve itself. The Linux-based SteamOS operating system is also currently in beta, and is free for anyone to download.

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  • Andrew Webster

    Dec 13, 2013

    Andrew Webster

    You can download SteamOS right now

    Gallery Photo: Steam Controller and Steam Machine press pictures
    Gallery Photo: Steam Controller and Steam Machine press pictures

    As promised, Valve has made its SteamOS available to all — and barring server issues, you can download it right now. The Linux-based operating system weighs in at 960MB, and will be used to power the company's Steam Machines game platform. Today Valve is also shipping out prototype units to 300 lucky testers. The free download is only really for the most dedicated among us, however. "Unless you're an intrepid Linux hacker already," Valve says, "we're going to recommend that you wait until later in 2014 to try it out." If you're feeling brave, you can grab it at the source link below — though of course you'll have to wait to play around with the fancy new controller.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Dec 11, 2013

    Sean Hollister

    SteamOS will be available to download on December 13th

    steam os 1020 stock
    steam os 1020 stock

    On December 13th, Valve will ship a prototype Steam Machine to 300 lucky fans, including a powerful upgradable chassis, a Steam Controller, and the Linux-based SteamOS, the company announced today. The rest of us get a consolation prize, however: Valve will also make SteamOS available for everyone when the prototypes ship.

    While the company suggests that the new operating system won't necessarily be easy to install — "unless you're an intrepid Linux hacker already, we're going to recommend that you wait until later in 2014 to try it out," says Valve — it means that we should get a deeper look at how it works and how it performs ahead of the company's CES announcements.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Dec 11, 2013

    Sean Hollister

    Digital Storm's first Steam Machine will be a $1,469 gaming PC

    digital storm steambox 640
    digital storm steambox 640

    Digital Storm has a Steam Machine too. The boutique gaming PC manufacturer has just announced its own take on Valve's formula for a Linux-based game console, and it just goes to show how diverse these computers will be when they hit the market next year. Instead of trying to compete with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 like iBuyPower's $499 rig, the new Digital Storm computer will start at a comparatively pricy $1,469.

    "Rather than try to compete with console pricing, our system takes aim at the high end of the market and capitalizes on PC gaming's biggest advantage, raw performance," the company's statement reads.

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  • Josh Lowensohn

    Dec 6, 2013

    Josh Lowensohn

    Piixl Jetpack straps a SteamOS PC to the back of your TV

    Jetpack
    Jetpack

    British computer maker Piixl has a new SteamOS gaming box on the way that can go sight unseen in living rooms thanks to a design that latches onto the back of most flatscreen TV sets, walls, and underneath tables. The computer will run Valve's SteamOS, though according to Pocket-Lint, it will also be able to run Windows or Linux. Users can also install whatever graphics cards they want with what Piixl says will be "universal" GPU compatibility.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 26, 2013

    Sean Hollister

    iBuyPower's Steam Machine offers PC specs for the price of a new Xbox

    ibuypower steam machine 1020
    ibuypower steam machine 1020

    Valve's official Steam Machine prototype isn't cheap, but it won't be the only Steam-powered video-game console available come 2014. This morning, iBuyPower revealed a prototype of its own upcoming Steam Machine, which will go on sale for just $499 next year. For the price of an Xbox One, the computer will offer a multicore AMD CPU and a discrete AMD Radeon R9 270 graphics card — that's a $180 GPU all by itself — and come with Valve's Steam Controller as part of the package deal.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 4, 2013

    Sean Hollister

    Valve says it wouldn't make 'Half-Life 3' a SteamOS exclusive

    Valve The Sacrifice coffee table book stock 1020
    Valve The Sacrifice coffee table book stock 1020

    For decades, each new video game console has offered exclusive games you couldn't play anywhere else. Nintendo has Mario. Sega had Sonic. Microsoft has Halo. But Valve, developer of Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead and Dota 2, says it won't play its trump card. Though the company plans to launch a line of Steam Machines in mid-2014, it won't make any of its hotly-anticipated games exclusive to the platform.

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  • Sean Hollister

    Nov 4, 2013

    Sean Hollister

    We play with the Steam Machine, Valve's game console of the future

    Gallery Photo: Steam Controller and Steam Machine press pictures
    Gallery Photo: Steam Controller and Steam Machine press pictures

    Valve Corporation, the video game developer responsible for Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress, and the digital distribution platform Steam, has an ambitious plan to reinvent the video game console. But don’t expect the so-called Steam Machine to take on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 quite yet. Right now, the company is focused on catching the attention of 65 million PC gamers who've historically turned to expensive custom rigs in the name of high-FPS entertainment — and it just might have a shot at that.

    Last month, Valve invited us to its Bellevue, Washington headquarters to see one of the very first Steam Machines in action, try the Steam Controller, and obtain further insight into the company's plans.

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  • Chris Welch

    Oct 20, 2013

    Chris Welch

    John Carmack says odds of Steam Machines being successful are 'a little bit dicey'

    As one of the most respected voices in gaming, John Carmack is quick to point out that he got it wrong when predicting the fate of Steam, Valve's now hugely popular distribution platform for video games. But when asked for his thoughts on the company's SteamOS and Steam Machines, Carmack said he's not convinced Valve is destined for repeat success. "There's an interesting kind of retrospective on it," Carmack said during Nvidia’s Montreal conference, reflecting on days long ago when Valve approached his Id Software about adding Doom 3 to Steam's launch lineup. "We basically said, 'Are you crazy? This would be nuts to try to kind of tie yourselves to this little, notional digital distribution platform.' But clearly, Valve has played a good, strong, long game."

    So why isn't Carmack convinced Valve can reproduce that success, this time in the living room? "I'm afraid that I may be at that same point right now where I'm like, 'Making your own sort of little console OS? Are you crazy?' And, you know, maybe 10 years from now, they're going to look like brilliant prophets again with it." But Carmack said, "it still seems a little bit dicey to me, getting everything moved over to Linux, pushing from that side of things." Still, Valve's track record is evidence that the company may just be able to pull it off. "If it was some other random company, I would be pseudo-scornful, but it's Valve, so I'm not." The relevant part of the discussion starts at the 29:49 mark in the video below.

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