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Valve is finally opening preorders for the first official Steam Machines

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After an extremely long wait, Valve is launching preorders today for a small group of Steam Machines, console-like gaming computers running the company's own Linux-based Steam OS. According to Polygon, customers will be able to preorder an Alienware Steam Machine through Steam or GameStop. They'll also be able to preorder the Steam Link, which lets players stream games from a high-powered PC to other machines in their house, and the Steam Controller, Valve's more versatile take on a console gamepad. All three will be available in stores on November 10th, with a limited number of preorders shipping October 16th instead.

The controller and the Link are $49 each, and Alienware's Steam Machine starts at $449 (including a controller). That gets you what looks like a mid-range PC, with Intel's lower-end Core i3 processor, a 500GB hard drive, and a relatively modest 4GB of RAM. The machines go up to $749, with the most expensive model running a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. As with other gaming PCs, users can upgrade these parts themselves as they age, but they can't do the same with one of the most important parts: the custom Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics card, which is built into the motherboard. The graphics card is supposed to perform at the level of a GTX 860M or better, which makes it more powerful than a console but less powerful than a high-end PC. Of course, it's also quite a bit cheaper than those PCs.

These will be the first machines with Valve's custom controller

Alienware is only one of several companies building Steam Machines, and a number of them are expected later this year. Today, PC maker CyberPower will also be taking preorders through its own site for a November release. Technically, anyone can make their own "Steam Machine," and several companies (including CyberPower) already have. It's just a PC running Steam OS, which is free and currently available in beta. But these will be the first machines to actually use Valve's controller, which is supposed to be a major selling point — it's as couch-friendly as an Xbox or PlayStation pad, but the analog sticks have been replaced with (allegedly) more precise trackpads and virtually every control on it can be remapped for specific games. While plenty of games work fine with a normal console controller, this is meant for the subset that's either too old or two PC-specific to make the jump.

The major limiting factor is that Valve's operating system will only run Linux games, unless players use the Link to stream them from a separate Mac or PC. Valve has been pushing Linux compatibility in preparation for the launch, and between 1,000 and 1,200 games are supposed to be supported by November. That's between a quarter and a third of Valve's total library, based on the over 3,700 games it touted late last year.

This is a long-overdue release for a concept that's been hyped since 2013. Steam Machines were meant as a way to nudge console owners onto a PC path, and the first wave was officially announced in January of 2014. But they were released somewhat unofficially, especially after Valve ended up redesigning its controller, and there weren't clear reasons to use Steam OS instead of Windows or another flavor of Linux. Now, they're getting an official boost from Valve, incidentally set for release around the same time as Valve and HTC's Vive VR headset. The two projects might have limited overlap, though — like the Oculus Rift, the Vive is almost certainly going to require a high-powered gaming rig. And that's something that many Steam Machines emphatically won't be.

Verge Video: Hands-on with Valve's new Steam controller