The Week In Tech: Consoles, Steam Boxes, AMD

By Jeremy Laird on January 28th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Happy new year all ye hallowed RPSers. It’s time to get hardware back on track. This week, the theme is consoles. We’re talking next-gen Playstation and Xbox. We’re talking Steam Boxes. We’re talking hope for beleaguered AMD. Just maybe.

Let’s kick off with what appears to be leakage of some very detailed information regarding the specifications of the next Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox efforts.

Until the official reveal, probably in March at GDC, we can’t be totally sure how those next-gen boxes will turn out. But the stories circulating on the web look highly plausible. And, though they must remain in the ‘rumour’ category for now, they go something like this.

The next Playstation is codenamed Orbis. The next Xbox is known as Durango. Both will pack pure AMD technology, but with a slightly different spin than expected.

A Playstation 3, yesterday

First up, CPUs. And they appear to be identical. Eight cores. 1.6GHz clocks. AMD’s Jaguar architecture. Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.

On the graphics side, there’s more of a delta. Sony has ponied up for a Radeon HD chip with 18 GCN units and therefore a grand total of 1,152 shaders. Microsoft has allegedly cheaped out with 12 units and thus 768 shaders.

Memory-wise, it’s 4GB of nippy GDDR5 from Sony and 8GB of DDR3 supplemented by 32MB of dedicated EDRAM for the GPU from Microsoft. Controllers and various motion-detection paraphernalia aside, the hardware specs are rounded out by Blu-ray for both boxes.

What’s the meaning of this?

So, what does it all mean? First and foremost, it means both consoles will have properly feeble single-thread CPU performance. OK, Jaguar is somewhat of an unknown quality currently. But it’s the replacement for Bobcat, AMD’s low-power, poverty-spec architecture. And even AMD is only claiming an extra 15 per cent instructions per clock with the transistion from Bobcat to Jaguar.

If AMD’s full-fat FX CPUs offer minimal headroom to spare when it comes to single-thread performance in games, Jaguar will only be worse. And by worse I mean much. Factor in clocks and the result is likely to be well under half the per-core performance of AMD FX. Which in turn is well behind Intel’s nest. Nasty.

Of course, you could argue that’s no biggie. You’ve got eight cores. Simply spread the load. If it were that simple, an AMD FX eight-core chip would already have the legs on, say, a four-core Intel Core i5. But it isn’t. So it doesn’t.

What do we want? Core i5? When do we want it? Roughly November

Admittedly, these concerns don’t translate directly over to console land. With fixed hardware specs, games devs can make better use of the chips available. No doubt we’ll see better balancing of of CPU and GPU utilisation than is typical on the PC, for instance. And in general, operating system and general platform overheads are lesser on consoles.

But for me, those AMD Jaguar cores are still a worry. Getting the CPU bit of games engines to scale neaty across multiple cores has never been easy. It’s funny, really. You’d think Sony would have learned its lesson from the ridiculous (in gaming terms) Cell processor and its array of futile SPEs. I’d far rather see a plain old Intel quad-core chip – or even something like a quad-core AMD Phenom – than eight Jaguar cores.

Cheaper chips

The problem, of course, is cost. AMD Jaguar cores are teeny-tiny, so a chip containing eight of them will be cheaper than a traditional quad-core PC processor.

Tiny cores make for cheaper chips

But what about the graphics? AMD GCN refers to its graphics architecture, otherwise known as Graphics Core Next or the Radeon HD 7000 series. The good news is that it’s a very solid graphics architecture.

The rumoured specs puts Playstation Orbis roughly between a Radeon HD 7850 and 7870 in terms of raw rendering performance. Theoretically, Xbox Durango is off the pace and closer to the Radeon HD 7770.

In practice, there probably won’t be much in it. For starters, both consoles are targeting the 1080p resolution and even the Xbox GPU should be able to cope with that. And it could well turn out that it’s the CPU that most often bottlenecks performance. In which case the difference will be slim to none.

So, what does this all mean for PC gaming? Certainly, it ensures that even a mediocre PC will remain a more powerful gaming tool than either of the new consoles. That’s not a huge surprise. But it is a bit of a bummer given that console specs provide a baseline for the game dev community. A bigger step forward, especially on the CPU side, would have been welcome.

That said, the big step up in system memory from the measley 512MB of current consoles will be a blessed relief. Games with massive environments will be a lot easier to achieve and hopefully therefore more common.

AMD to avoid Armageddon?

It’s got to be good for AMD, too. Admittedly, the informed opinion suggests AMD won’t rake in enough money to save its skin from these deals. But there’s got to be an advantage to be had from every major game dev aiming its engines at the GCN graphics architecture. It might make up for all the money NVIDIA allegedly chucks at making games run faster on its graphics chips.

If that’s the big ticket consoles from Sony and MS covered, how might ye olde Steam Box fit into all this? At this point I confess my comfort zone has gone walkies. Because I’m not totally convinced I see the point of the Steam Box.

Valve’s Steam Box will run Linux. Really?

In fact, I’m not even sure exactly what it is. There are some funky claims involving games streaming down the line, but the immediate proposition is a small form factor PC. The version produced by Valve will be sold in three spec levels. And it will run Linux. It’s at this stage I come over flummoxed.

Is Linux gaming the future? I’ve never seen Steam running on Linux much less tried it. But certainly, I think Gabe Newell’s anti-Windows 8 rant, for those who recall it, was fairly hyperbolic. So, I can’t help wondering whether Linux Steam Boxes are actually axes for the Windows 8 grind.

More to the point, if I want a simple box for no-brainer gaming, I’ll have a console, thanks. What I like about the PC isn’t that it’s simple-to-specify toy. It’s that it’s infinitely configurable. It’s a machine for grown ups. And I’m not majorly fussed by the form factor.

Oh, and if anyone was wondering about the hardware compo of a few weeks ago, we’ll be outing the lucky winners soon. Until next time.


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  1. jalf says:

    So, what does it all mean? First and foremost, it means both consoles will have properly feeble single-thread CPU performance.

    Well, both existing console have always had utterly anemic single-thread performance. Both the PS3 and the 360 effectively rely on the Cell’s PPE units (which suck. A lot) for “general-purpose” computation. The difference is just that where the 360 has three of those, the PS3 has 1, supplemented by a bunch of SPEs.

    But both are horrendous in terms of single-threaded performance. And they were horrendous on the day they were launched. So I don’t see any big change there. It’s easy to underestimate just how weak CPUs consoles have *always* had.

    • dotslash says:

      guess that explains why I’ve never really needed to upgrade my various CPU’s in my various PC’s to play the latest greatest games – I’ve only ever really needed to upgrade everything around the CPU

    • sdancer says:

      That is not really correct. The PS3 is using a Cell processor, which has a PPC core, but it’s not the workhorse and needs to cope with quite a few platform restrictions.

      In comparison, the 360 has a normal triple-core PowerPC chip, which is quite a sane architecture. It is in no way, shape, or form related to Cell.

      • jalf says:

        That is not really correct. The PS3 is using a Cell processor, which has a PPC core, but it’s not the workhorse and needs to cope with quite a few platform restrictions.

        Nevertheless, the strongest core the PS3 has for general-purpose single-threaded computations is its PPE, which is not very powerful at all.

        In comparison, the 360 has a normal triple-core PowerPC chip, which is quite a sane architecture. It is in no way, shape, or form related to Cell.

        No, yes and yes.
        It does not have a “normal triple-core PowerPC chip” (how many other triple-core PPC chips do you see floating around? That is not “normal”. But even disregarding that, each individual core is certainly not normal either. It has no out-of-order execution, for example. Just like the Cell. It runs at a very high clock rate, just like the Cell. it has a deep pipeline, just like the Cell. it is, in fact, lifted almost directly from the Cell project. After IBM had done most of the heavy lifting of designing the Cell, Microsoft signed a very nice deal with them, basically saying “keep the SPEs, but those PPE’s? We’d like three of those, please”.

        You’re right, of course, that PPC is a fairly nice architecture. But you’re wrong that the 360′s CPU bears no relation to the Cell. Look it up. It’s hardly a secret.

        And if it *was* just 3 “normal” cores, it would have some *very* different characteristics. (Primarily, OOO-execution, but likely also a much shorter pipeline and a lower clock rate. “Normal” PPC CPUs in 2005 did not run at 3.2 GHz. On a good day, they might run at half that.

        • Milky1985 says:

          Power PC Processors tend to have lower clock speeds due to be more efficient or something, much like in the times of the Pentium 4, where AMD’s chips were giving ratings as they had a lower clock speed, but were much much better. I don’t thinki have ever seen a power PC processor that has had a clock speed of above 2.5 GHz really :P

          • jalf says:

            Yes you have. :) Both the PS3 and 360 technically have PowerPC CPUs, and they both run at 3.2GHz. They’re just somewhat differently designed than “normal” PowerPC CPUs, but they certainly use the PPC architecture (plus a number of extensions, in the case of the PS3)

            But yeah, that is my point. If the 360 used a “normal” PowerPC processor, then there is no way it would run at 3.2GHz (and as you say, the clock speed has next to nothing to do with actual performance. I’m not saying one or the other would be “faster”, just that the clock speed that the 360′s CPU runs at is pretty much proof that it is not a “normal” PowerPC processor)

    • Chufty says:

      Surely the point is, as only merely glossed over by the article, that the console architecture is fixed. That single fact is the difference between an 8-core Jaguar being a mediocre PC CPU but an awesome console CPU.

      PC games scale poorly to multiple cores because not every PC has multiple cores. You can’t code your engine assuming everyone has 8 cores. Yet every single PS4 and Xbox3 console will have 8 cores.

      Take a look at the graphics on the latest console exclusives. God of War 4, Halo 4 and Uncharted 3 all look far better than any PC game would on “mid-range” hardware from 8 years ago.

      I’ll eat my hat if, 8 years from now, PS4 games don’t look every bit as good as the latest maxed-out PC games do today.

      • Jeremy Laird says:

        I did mention in the piece that consoles have lower overheads. But that’s not a joker card that solves the issue of efficient multi-threading in games. It’s not merely a case of developers suddenly pressing the “multi-core” button on the compiler and everything is rosy.

        Those Jaguar cores will probably offer roughly a quarter the single-thread performance of a current Intel Ivy Bridge core. Lower overheads and coding closer to the metal will only get you so far. My basic point here is that I’d have preferred a lower core count in return for better single-thread performance. Four cores, IMO, would be plenty for multi-threading. In simplistic terms, I’d prefer half the number of cores but twice the performance per core for a zero-sum overall performance comparison, if you get me.

        • tormeh says:

          It’s true that many problems are not suited to parallelization, but many are and in video games many problems usually need to be solved in a short span of time and independently, which should make it easier to parallelize. Yes, concurrent programming is difficult but given an architecture like this in both next-gen consoles I envision that future games developers will become quite good at it. This can only be of benefit for those of us who wish to use more than two of our cores when gaming.

          It might also mean that your quad-core CPU may last a little longer than otherwise.

        • liquidsoap89 says:

          Okay, so what would the advantage of single core power be? I always assumed that each core kind of “takes care” of a certain aspect of a game (1 core for ai, 1 for physics etc.). If that’s the case, why would it be more beneficial to have fewer faster cores, as opposed more slower cores?

          Oh, and sorry if I butchered the concept of cpu processing…

          EDIT: okay so I just read the comment right below mine. Disregard my question as the other is much better.

    • identiti_crisis says:

      Why, exactly, is single-threaded performance so coveted? Are we PC gamers biased because of OS and general applications’ slow transition from single-core computing? Has no-one noticed that the Cell’s SPEs can do general purpose computing, with a bit of setup (although inefficiently if it’s just for one piece of data). What of the GPGPU – General Purpose GPU – implementations that are taking various industries by storm?

      What the Cell showed was that Sony was right to focus more on parallel computing, and IBM themselves have taken those lessons on board in their newest chips. Even Microsoft specced a bespoke, monstrous vector unit for its version of the Cell project. It’s clear that heterogeneous processing is the future, and AMD is pushing towards it at quite a rate, faster than the other designers . That actually may be their saving grace, as long as the “mobile” stuff goes into that direction quickly enough (the traditional PC development spectrum has too much inertia and apparent old-man-style neophobia, otherwise true multi-core processing would already have proven itself).

      The fact is, games are highly parallelisable in their graphics, physics, sound, AI and anything else that has lots of items of similar data needing similar processing, i.e. practically anything in large simulations, i.e. open game worlds – plus, it’s the developers who are requesting this power in the first place. The real limiting factor on the PS3, aside from the initial lack of dev support and the massive change in hardware and required program structure, is its reliance on data streaming, but having bugger all bandwidth to achieve it and a puny buffer (RAM) to boot – see RAGE. The XBox360 is held back by a comparative lack of overall power, and also puny memory (but better overall access and more sensible data streaming in certain areas.)

      • jalf says:

        Why, exactly, is single-threaded performance so coveted?

        Because lots of what games do is not easily parallelized. And because most of what *can* be parallelized gets offloaded to the GPU anyway, so who cares if the CPU would’ve done a good job of it?

        Has no-one noticed that the Cell’s SPEs can do general purpose computing

        They cannot. Not for any usual definition of general purpose computing, anyway.

        What of the GPGPU – General Purpose GPU – implementations that are taking various industries by storm?

        They *certainly* cannot. GPGPU code has trouble even with the notion of a function.

        What the Cell showed was that Sony was right to focus more on parallel computing

        You mean… by being a pain to develop for and further bloating development costs, *and* making it harder to port to their console?

        The fact that Sony ditched Cell for the PS4 shows you everything about the “success” of the Cell CPU…

        The Cell was a nice idea, which was just overtaken by reality. The original plan was to have a CPU with enough vectorized number-crunching power to basically be its own GPU. Ditch the big expensive GPU, do everything on the CPU, and presto, cheaper, more flexible and more powerful console.

        Well, that was the plan. Turns out that long before they were ready to launch, GPUs had gotten so much more powerful that sticking to this plan would’ve crippled the console. So they stuck with the Cell, because they didn’t really have time to do anything else, bought a 7900-derived GPU from Nvidia, stuck them together and hey, instant console.

        Of course, that left them with a slight problem: what are we going to use our SPEs for, if they’re not going to replace the GPU?

        Of course, game developers are clever, and managed to get quite a lot of use out of the PS3 and the Cell, but please, let’s not kid ourselves. The PS3 was designed on the assumption that the SPEs would be used for the bulk of the GPU’s work, and since that ended up being unnecessary, they ended up in a weird in-between role, trying to do some general-purpose work, some graphics, some physics, and generally just being a pain in the ass for no real gain.

        It’s clear that heterogeneous processing is the future

        sure, which in no way implies that single-threaded performance is unimportant. On the contrary, it emphasizes that there is no “one size fits all”. That while we certainly need beefy vector processors like the GPU, and we certainly need more than one general-purpose core, we also need some beefy cores for single-threaded code.

        The fact is, games are highly parallelisable in their graphics, physics, sound, AI and anything else that has lots of items of similar data needing similar processing, i.e. practically anything in large simulations, i.e. open game worlds

        Well, no. Graphics and physics are already offloaded to the GPU. Sound is just not very CPU-intensive, and can be done wherever it’s most convenient. The cost of that can pretty much be ignored.

        AI is certainly not parallizable. It is all branches and dependencies and different entities affecting each others. That’s exactly what you *don’t* want when you’re parallelizing code. Most of the processing involved in your open game worlds suffer from that problem. There may be hundreds or thousands of NPCs, or monsters or trees or whatever else, but they all depend on their environment, on the time of day, on the position of the player, on how much health they currently have, on what the other NPCs in the area are doing and so on and so on. That is not very parallelizable. And in fact, that is why we still need single-threaded performance. While most work can be offloaded nicely to the GPU, someone still has to run all the messy code which can’t. All the branches, the data-dependent code, the interpreted scripting code.

        • identiti_crisis says:

          So you’re basically saying that because things are this way now, that there is no chance of it changing? Isn’t the fact that we have GPGPU at all showing that progress can, and will, be made further? What about the part where devs are demanding parallel power, outside of graphics concerns; if single threaded performance were that important for games, would they not be demanding more serial power? But I include the current notion of a “GPU” as part of that parallel budget – it’ll be used for far more than just graphics in future. Notice also how they’ve steadily become more and more general in their design, too. And I’m not suggesting that serial processing should be abandoned, but it’s clear that the weighting is shifting still further into more parallel power, which means programs etc. need to evolve with it – the more we rely on our “non-thread-safe” past, the more difficult parallelisation will remain.

          I think a major problem with parallel code is that people don’t really think that way. I’m sure you could precondition an AI routine that runs only in parallel in discrete steps, much like graphics already does – shading of individual pixels can be interdependent in exactly the same ways you’re describing. Think about how masks can be used to filter input, it’s pretty much the same thing as logical tests, which can be performed (alone) in parallel, too. Sure you use more memory that way, but it is a lot quicker once the numbers of individual data points go up beyond a certain threshold. The very fact that physics calculations can be offloaded to the “GPU” is also telling, even though the hardware isn’t at all intended for that purpose.

          Besides, I know for a fact that you’re wrong about sound – it cannot simply be ignored, that’s just another inertia thing. Sound itself has been ignored, so it has not grown in complexity alongside the other things. Based on that alone, I’m not sure how much of the rest of your post to take seriously. It is, after all, an open area of research, and no-one seems to think that more parallelisation is impossible – difficult to solve (especially for legacy code), yes, but that’s nothing new.

          Maybe you should update your “definitions”, lest you yourself be “overtaken by reality”. ;)

          • ohnoabear says:

            I think the main issue is that a lot of what game engines use the CPU for–updating world state, handling input and running the main game loop, AI, etc.–is, if not inherently serial, then at least burdened with dependency and concurrency issues that are difficult to resolve in a system that needs to run in psuedo-real time. Programmers have been working on this issue for years (it’s not like this is the first console generation to feature multi-core processors), and it sounds like the state of the art is better than it was in 2005, but there’s a lot about game execution that’s just difficult to parallelize.

            That said, I think Mr. Laird is perhaps overstating the prominence of the processor in the design of a game console. If you look at the last few console cycles, the bottlenecks have traditionally been with memory access or graphics hardware, not the CPU. If I was designing a gaming console to have the maximum performance at the minimum of cost, I’d skimp on the processor before I trimmed down the memory speed and capaity or GPU power.

  2. Llewyn says:

    One thing for certain about those console deals, if they turn out to be accurate, is that AMD’s product line will survive for the foreseeable future even if AMD itself isn’t saved by them. There’s no way that MS or Sony will commit to specs for a new generation of consoles without some form of safeguard that they will have a stable supply of those components for the projected lifespan.

    This means that AMD’s manufacturing capacity has to survive to a significant extent and, I suspect, that a wider AMD product range has to survive in order to mitigate the costs of excess capacity. R&D would inevitably suffer in such a scenario, but that’s arguably not AMD’s strength to begin with.

    That would mean uncertainty is largely limited to AMD’s ownership and independence. If only one of the big boys were getting into bed with them I’d assume that the deal would allow for MS/Sony to take control of AMD in the event of it going under, but I doubt that either of them would agree to a long-term commitment if such an agreement were in place with the other.

    • Continuity says:

      Meh, I don’t think this guarantees anything about AMD at all, all Sony and Microsoft have to do is licence the chip design in such a way they they can continue to produce them regardless of AMDs state. Don’t forget after all that AMD doesn’t make chips any more, its all outsourced, so the capacity to physically produce the chips has nothing to do with AMD.

      • Optimaximal says:

        It’s outsourced in the same way as most technology is – to a third-party but AMD has the control of the whole process.

        I can’t see Microsoft or Sony playing nice with each other where IP/patents are involved. There’s also a number of concerns with the EU if one company starts operating anti-competitively.

        • Continuity says:

          Regardless, I cannot see both Sony and Microsoft being stupid enough to get into bed with AMD unless they have licence/contractual protection in the event that AMD fold, given AMD’s precarious position.

          • Baines says:

            Money and self-delusion are both powerful forces.

            It could be that both Microsoft and Sony see AMD as too big to fail. It’s one of the big two graphics chip designers. It has been around forever. It has a large product line, and it also gets long term deals from console manufacturers. Surely such a company can ride out any temporary financial issues. Surely, right? It would never fail, right?

            And the other is money. Microsoft and Sony want a deal. Both want a cheap product that is “good enough”. And both are willing to cut corners, or make stupid decisions, in their attempt to get a good deal. AMD wants and probably needs the long term guaranteed cash of the console deals, which will remain for the next several years regardless of how their PC market changes.

          • Guvornator says:

            Or maybe the contracts were signed before AMD decided to share their impending doom with the world. The plans for these consoles are probably years old.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          They could’ve just struck a deal like how smartphone makers do with ARM: license a design and implement them yourself in your foundries.

          This would make them impervious to AMD’s death, as they probably made sure the contract would work even if they disappeared.

      • hatseflats says:

        I guess they either have a license or can buy a license if AMD goes bust.
        Otherwise they could just buy the company. Its market cap is only $2 billion. Chump change.

  3. Continuity says:

    Curiouser and curiouser. Can these specs run a decent resolution at 60fps vsynch I wonder.

    At least this will lift a lot of the limitations that have been cramping game design, in particular RAM.

    • frightlever says:

      Sony says their new box will be suitable for 4K gaming, which is 3840 pixels × 2160 pixels. Pushing 4X as many pixels has to cost somewhere else.

      • Optimaximal says:

        I think it’s already been confirmed they’ll be using hardware upscalling, like the current generation boxes do.

      • Nallen says:

        This is, with respect, bollocks. Much like the claim that the PS3 supports HD gaming – it doesn’t even render at 720p.

        • frightlever says:

          If you wanted to be respectful you’d have explained about the up-scaling like the other nice man did. I don’t think you were really trying to be respectful.

          • jalf says:

            Well yeah, that goes without saying.

            Saying “with respect” pretty much means “with no respect whatsoever”. I thought everyone knew that?

      • Stochastic says:

        My guess is that these machines will be targeting 1080p, but as with this console generation, they’ll probably end up running games at slightly lower resolutions and then upscaling to 1080p. Also, I wouldn’t count on 60FPS w/V-sync becoming the norm. All hardware has finite resources, while as game developers are going to be pushing for the most vivid visuals possible–this results in a compromise between graphical splendor and playability, 30FPS gaming.

  4. Bobka says:

    “More to the point, if I want a simple box for no-brainer gaming, I’ll have a console, thanks.”

    Do people *not* see the value in having an unlocked living room game-box that does not incur enormous development costs (tens of thousands for a patch, anyone?), does not belong to a company that demands platform exclusivity (Sony originally demanded LIMBO be a PS3 exclusive in order for it to be on PS3 at all), and most importantly, does not require developer ports?

    Locked consoles that require ports to run on PC are a significant part of the reason many games aren’t release on PC simultaneously, or at all. Closed, PC-alien consoles reduce our available range of games and their quality, which in turn reduces our ability to vote with our wallets and participate in the market for video games, which in turn damages our standing in the eyes of the producers and marketers who decide what games get made and what platforms those games get made for.

    A console that runs a PC OS with PC hardware would, if successful, have a necessarily positive impact on the range and quality of games available on desktop and laptop PCs. At the very least, we would get all the games console gamers get, but minus the buggy ports and delayed releases.

    • Continuity says:

      I think we see the advantage, the question is just who will buy it? PC gamers have PCs and console gamers will stick to what they know i.e. xbox/playstation.

      There needs to be some other driver to move people onto a steambox.

      • HadToLogin says:

        Well, already half of PS2 crew decided to go with Xbox360 in current-gen (well, that’s what numbers of sold units suggest, unless PS2 was an always-breaking-piece-of-plastic that had to be bought again and again?). Why both X and PS can’t split again to make room for Steam Box.
        Especially if Valve make some really good marketing. Many console gamers are playing it mostly for indie games – that’s a good point to sell it (“SteamBox have indies, more of them, and cheaper too”). There’s also “everything you done on your PC, now you can do it in your living room” And last, most obvious “Half Life 3 – Steam Exclusive, with every Steambox”.

        • Milky1985 says:

          Actually if your talking sold units you are forgetting about the Wii (seems to happen a lot, places like Eurogamer don’t mention the Wii cause they don’t like to have admit that their favorite console box is 3rd not second :P). I would imagine half of the PS2 bunch, the more casual focused ones would have jumped to the Wii rather than the 360

          In fact the 360 is i believe behind the other 2 console everywhere except the US where it is quite far ahead of the PS3.

          • HadToLogin says:

            Actually, I “forget” about Wii because they have their own world. You don’t buy Wii to play Call of Duties or Skyrims, you buy it for Mario and Pokemon. I can’t imagine anyone jumping from PS2 into Wii because that’s a bit like stopping going to cinema to start attending opera. It’s different type of entertainment.

            I know how strong Wii is. But it’s “something completely different”. When you get PS3 and Xbox you’ll get more or less same games (yes, there are exclusives). With Wii, you get completely different set of games.

          • drewski says:

            Whilst it’s true that the PS3 outsells the Xbox 360, the attach rate for the 360 is much better than the PS3. I don’t have any specific data for it, but I suspect Sony’s habit of bundling the PS3 with their better HD TVs as a Blu-ray player has boosted their sales numbers significantly higher than they otherwise would be.

            Not that it really matters – both sold plenty, and both are very succesful.

      • limimi says:

        Out of everything I’ve heard about the Steambox, the only part I’m interested in is this Thin type stuff they are planning down the future – like with that nvidia handheld. I have a beast of a PC already, but some games would be more fun to play on the couch, so if they packaged together something cheap to stream games from my PC to the steambox I would be on it like white on rice. Other than that, it seems pretty useless.

        Also if Steam are planning on making it console-like (as in simple to use and access everything) I really hope they allow people to make their own plugins for it like XBMC – if I could get a simple and neat way to manage media through the steam interface I would be happy as heck.

        As it is, they currently sound like Valve’s take on Dell or HP or whatever – except with a video games bent. So I will no doubt suggest any of my friends and family who bug me about tech support stuff go and buy one – to save me the hassle. For people like us though, probably useless.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        I’d buy one right effing now, if only to show a little appreciation for the way Valve saved PC gaming. I actually have a perfect place in mind for a Steam Box.

        And since it’s not technically a console, my wife might let me own one. I’ll tell her that it can run productivity apps.

      • uh20 says:

        “i feel like a steambox, as i am trying to get my pc games to the living room.”

        theres no gauge to show how many people have my interests though, but thats my reason.

      • iainl says:

        I can’t speak for everyone, but as an XBox 360 owner I’m one that won’t be upgrading to the next one. The increasingly invasive advertising and poor value of Live Gold, along with every former 360 exclusive eventually coming to the PC, just means I don’t think I can face another. I may see what Sony offer, particularly if it runs PS3 titles I’ve not played, but I’m happy with what I’ve found moving back to PC gaming. Doing that under the TV might be the compromise I was looking for.

      • psepho says:

        My hyperbolic rumour-sense is tingling… It must be HL3!

        Look at how Halo broke the Xbox into the market way back when and how Valve broke Steam into the PC market via HL2/Orange Box. Valve must know that they need to pull people onto their platform from consoles, rather than from PC where they have maxed out the market already, and for that they need a viable tv box (that is seamless with the existing platform) and a flagship franchise that will sell it. The attraction of existing consoles is at its weakest over the next 12 months, Valve haven’t had a major new game out for several years now, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a late reveal for HL3 in the next four or five months with a view to drawing in people who can’t wait for the next gen consoles towards steamboxes.

        It’s fascinating to think that twenty years ago neither Playstation nor Xbox existed — it was all Sega vs Nintendo and weird proprietary cartridges. I wonder whether we’re about to see another shift over the next few years towards open platforms as SteamOS gets PC openness into tv boxes and as Android starts to push out of phone/tablet market. Probably wishful thinking…

    • Llewyn says:

      No, because there’s no real indication how a PC ‘console’ would address those issues any better than PCs currently do. Porting problems won’t go away just because the hardware’s fixed.

      • Kageru says:

        All of these consoles are PCs, with porting made easier because they have a much reduced range of possible target configurations. The steam box will be making a trade off in that it will have more configurations which costs reliability but gains in user choice.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Can’t you just drop most of the processes that operate in Linux, removing a lot of the cruft that comes along with an OS? If you combine the ability to remove abstraction layers with a standardized hardware, shouldn’t the tradeoffs come relatively close to the advantages of consoles?

      • psepho says:

        But if you have a baseline configuration for the steamboxes that Valve mandates, or that is driven by SteamOS requirements, then you ensure that that baseline is catered for by your game and bug-free thus giving the reliability and ease of use that a tv box needs. At the same time, you can have as many extra bells and whistles as you like to wow the higher-end users. Plus you don’t have to worry about platform certification or porting.

        I’m not a developer; however, I would have thought that that would make for quite an attractive development environment.

        Furthermore, with the availability of minimal Linux distributions, you could even have the option of writing your own stripped down OS into the gamecode itself — so the game would effectively run straight on the metal. That might be another interesting prospect.

    • Teovald says:

      The consumer does not care about things like the impact of the different development environments between themselves. Only a very small fringe know or care about this.

      We live in interesting times though. Acer just reported that its Chromebooks (ChromeOS is based on an UNIX kernel) are selling great while he can’t say the same thing for his windows 8 models.
      The same chromebooks have been occupying the top of the sales on for some time. Of course they are really cheap and that explains some of their success. But it is the first time we see laptops that do not run Windows or MacOsX that people actually buy.
      There is a window of opportunity for a SteamBox as well and it would be really interesting to see Linux gain some market share thanks to this.

    • brulleks says:

      Nope, because I don’t have a living room.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      There are a lot of gamers out there that simply hate messing around with graphics settings, operating systems and digital storefronts, so I can sympathize with the ambivalence towards the steambox, especially if it comes in different specs and an esoteric OS.

      The real issue is that there are dozens of different devices competing for a place in the living room and they all do similiar things. Even tvs and blu-ray players can do youtube/internet browsing and other media tasks now. Smartphones and tablets can do it all, with the right cables. There’s dozens of android devices similiar to the OUYA already available too. Steam is entering a very crowded market. All those different competitors are going to push hard for proprietary content to give them an edge, so as great as it would to have an “unlocked” system, I don’t think it’s very likely.

      • Brun says:

        Piston already has a huge advantage over some of those similar competitors due to Steam’s game library. It already exists thus Piston would be immune to the weak or shallow release offerings of other consoles (the Wii U has taken considerable flak for this).

        • TheFlameBeneath says:

          If the Steam Box will run Linux, it will *not* have the Steam game library from the start. I’m both a Linux user and a Steam user, and while I love what Valve is doing, it’s also true that there’s only a handful of games compatible with Steam for Linux (add the first Half Life and CS to the list here: Most of them are indies, which can be interesting and fun, but are not enough to satisfy the masses of console gamers the Steam Box seems to be targeting. There are some nice titles in there as well, and things seem to be getting better every week (Valve is actively converting some of their games, more and more Greenlight games get published for Linux, Paradox started converting some of their games as well, etc.), so I can hope for a bright future in Linux gaming… but as of now, there is still a lot to be done to appeal the masses of both PC gamers and console gamers.

    • Stochastic says:

      I’m curious as to what’s going to separate a Steambox from a plain old PC. How is Valve going to simplify the PC experience so that the technical aspects that are part and parcel of PC gaming, like selecting graphics settings, are abstracted away from the user. If these aspects aren’t abstracted away, then what really makes a Steambox fundamentally different from an affordable, small form factor PC?

      Also, how is a 300 person gaming/digital distribution company going to compete in a very crowded home entertainment market? Valve likes to talk big, and I admire their ambition and Google-like dedication to visionary projects such as VR and biometrics, but can they really pull this off? I sure hope so, but I’m very skeptical that this will turn out to be what people are expecting.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Wouldn’t a standard set of hardware do this automatically?

        • Baines says:

          PC owners can go back to complaining that their cutting edge gaming PC is wasted because games are being built for the larger market of four year old PCs, rather than complaining the games were built for the larger market of consoles.

      • Stochastic says:

        Maybe, I guess I just don’t see how this will work in practice. Will the Steambox preselect the graphics settings based on what Valve has determined is ideal for the system’s specs (much like Nvidia’s “GeForce Experience”)? Or will users still have the option to tweak settings as they please? Also, I was under the impression that the Steambox isn’t an actual kit of hardware so much as a hardware program Valve is sponsoring. The actual machines themselves will be constructed by established manufacturers in, as Gabe put it, good, better, or best configurations. If this is the case, then there probably won’t be a standard hardware spec.

        I’m all for the idea of a Steambox, I’m just a little worried about how it’ll work in practice and I don’t see how it’s all that different from existing PCs.

        • Ragnar says:

          Yes, much like GeForce Experience. SteamBox installs the game off Steam, as you would on a PC now. The installer checks the version of the SteamBox you have and/or the SteamBox configuration you’re using, and uses that to automatically set the graphics settings for the game.

  5. rustybroomhandle says:

    ‘Valve’s Steam Box will run Linux. Really?’

    We can debate whether there’s any need for this device at all, but it’s quite certain that it won’t be shipping with any Microsoft or Apple OS. They are not even options here for OEM licenses, for what I assume are obvious reasons.

  6. Lars Westergren says:

    If these specs are correct, I think the upcoming console generation has its work cut out for it. They are being squeezed from the PC side when it comes to customer expectations of graphics and performance, and from the Wii and mobile devices when it comes to cost.

    Both Sony and Microsoft are facing big market threats and a long time revenue decline. Even if the console division wants it, it’s not guaranteed the other parts of the company are willing to accept a loss on every device sold.

    • Optimaximal says:

      I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest they’re being squeezed from the PC front on graphics, rather the more open business model.

      The current consoles have stagnated so much that the majority have accepted that they just don’t need to upgrade as often. There’s still the small hardcore market, but that’s hardly enough to constitute a squeeze.

      • Cinek says:

        “I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest they’re being squeezed from the PC front on graphics, “
        O RLY?!

        • Continuity says:

          I think you two just have a difference of emphasis: Sure there are some titles where graphics on the PC have caused limits to be pushed to breaking point on the consoles, but for the most part its the inverse, with consoles holding back graphics on the PC.

          However I’d say that for the average console consumer the PC as a platform may as well not exist, they don’t know or care. Take my flat mate for example, he has two PS3′s but had no idea that AAA games were on the PC or that the graphics were anywhere near as good as on the PS3 (never mind far surpassing).
          So its a hard sell to say that the PC market is having much impact on the console market in any significant respect IMO.

      • Sleepymatt says:

        Also – it is Sony and MS’s actual intention to restrict the “upgrade” frequency to approximately 10 year cycles, not console owner’s saying “why bother upgrading?”. They make their money on licensing, they *lose* money on the console itself, which is an excellent reason not to make people upgrade continuously.

    • Milky1985 says:

      People were already complaining about the single core performance of the WiiU , saying it was too low, but now its looking like the single core performance of the new consoles isn’t going to be much better!

      Hopefully all 3 consoles can offload enough to the GPU to keep the gfx levels high enough to be up to peoples current standards, ATM I don’t see this generation pushing GFX forward as much as the jump to the 360/PS3 did.

      • Brun says:

        ATM I don’t see this generation pushing GFX forward as much as the jump to the 360/PS3 did.

        This shouldn’t be that surprising. Look at the jump from, say, DirectX 8 to DirectX 9, and compare it to the jump from DX9 to DX10/DX11. The first jump was far more substantial in terms of graphical fidelity. We’re starting to hit diminishing returns in terms of *noticeable* graphics quality – technical quality can always improve, but user perception is what counts. Paying a significant price in cost, power, and heat, for effects that most users won’t even notice isn’t worth it.

        • D3xter says:

          Tessellation alone would make the jump from DX9 to DX11 quite noticeable, unfortunately it’s not really being implemented into games and when it is, it’s more sort of a “gimmick” feature since the main development platform are the consoles. You will likely see an amazing increase in the graphicky bits as the new consoles roll out anyway on the basis of DirectX11 (or equivalent) being the new “standard”.

      • Baines says:

        The complaint by some developers against the WiiU is that its CPU is less powerful than the current PS3/360. It has already affected some games.

        Even by console standards, Nintendo focused on GPU power instead of CPU. From what I’ve heard, programmers are expected to use the GPU to supplement the CPU’s work, if necessary?

        Koei complained that they were having trouble porting (the CPU reliant) Warriors Orochi 3 to the Wii and expected that they’d have to cut back on stuff like the number of onscreen enemies. Some other developers have mentioned issues as well. On the other hand, if your game wasn’t stressing the PS3/360 CPU, then you could apparently port it to the WiiU without much hassle, and get a quick and easy graphics boost in the process due to its GPU. (As was claimed at least at one time about the Darksiders port.)

        • FriendlyFire says:

          The GPU can supplement the CPU, but it’s much harder to code. Many, many algorithms are purely sequential, but GPUs are ridiculously parallel. Porting them from one to the other is hard, sometimes impossible, and it’s definitely something not many developers want to do if they can avoid it. This is why I expect we’ll see a lot of feature trimming, as it’s much easier to cut down certain calculations than to port them to the GPU.

      • edwardh says:

        Excuse me? What jump? Unlike previous generations, this one was the first one to NOT provide a major improvement in terms of graphics. At partly unprecedented prices. Which is why for the first time, I did not buy a console right at launch but waited for almost two years, until I got a used one at the price I thought a 360 was REALLY worth – $200.

        • Brun says:

          Er…the graphical differences between the original Xbox and the 360 are pretty extreme. Maybe not as extreme as going from 5th to 6th generation, but very, very noticeable. Texture and model quality in particular – compare something like GTA: San Andreas to GTA IV.

          • edwardh says:

            Doesn’t matter if you have increases like e.g. N64 -> Dreamcast -> Game Cube and you consider the PC hardware available at the time. Which had nothing on Dreamcast when it first came out and Game Cube… man, I could only wish there would’ve been games looking as great as e.g. Rogue Leader on PC at the time. I was drooling when I saw those explosions, that sweet lighting and all those ships flying around.

            Used to be that consoles had a benefit in terms of graphics over PC for about 1-2 years after release. 360/PS3 did away with that. For the first time, visuals were pretty equal to PC at release.
            And now it looks like for the first time, visuals will be worse than those of PC games at release.

  7. DaftPunk says:

    At least there will be more RAM this time,this means more open games right,RIGH!? ok.

    • Continuity says:

      god I hope so, things have frankly gotten ridiculous at this point.

    • All is Well says:

      Finally, I can play games like Skyrim and GTA on a console!

      • Continuity says:

        I understand the sentiment, but none the less hardware limitations have been a massive crimp on design and have forced developers to spend lots of time and money optimising engines which could have been put to better use. Plus i’m sure you’re not suggesting that the PS3 version of skyrim was flawless…

      • Batolemaeus says:

        Funny that you’d mention GTA, since it’s a prime example of the limitations of consoles impacting a game that wants to be open world. The entire world around the player is a carefully maintained facade, but the amount of cars materializing out of thin air in full view, and disappearing in a puff of game logic is wrecking my suspension of disbelief. There is very little persistence out of scripted game events due to the same limitation.

        In all Bethesda rpgs, the player is funneled through gate after gate in a desperate bid to conserve memory. Every dungeon, every house and every town have to be gated. The outside world must be devoid of any persistence and cleaned regularly.

        These two devs were able to throw a lot of brainpower into building these engines, and they had to compromise to the point where it was very noticeable or downright immersion breaking.

    • Stochastic says:

      I’m ignorant on this matter, but won’t textures occupy the VRAM alloted to the GPUs rather than the more general purpose system RAM? Or do consoles work differently from PCs in this regard?

      • Continuity says:

        As consoles aren’t modular like PCs the RAM tends to be in one bank which is then shared for everything (or sub-divided as with the PS3… but none the less still one bank), where as with the PC of course any mid-high end graphics card will rely 100% on its own on-board VRAM.

  8. cunningmunki says:

    I don’t get your beef with the Steam box concept. If you don’t like Linux you can just install Windows, and are you seriously saying you’d rather have a console with out-of-date-as-soon-as-its-released specs which uses old-fashioned, expensive to produce optical media than an easily upgradable and customisable, gaming-dedicated PC with inexpensive digitally-distributed games? That’s crazy-talk, I say.

    To me, it seems the next couple of years are going to see an Apple vs Google type contest in the ‘console’ (and I use that term very loosely) arena. Android-esque, customisable PCs and similar open-source gaming gadgets versus the Apple-esque, closed-source hardware with an expensive, subscription-based, eco-system.

    Of course, if Apple start building gaming hardware, as rumoured, and Android starts running Steam, then we’ll have an Apple vs Sony vs Microsoft vs Google & Valve contest! And then Atari will return from the grave, team up with Nintendo and destroy all of them!!!

  9. Dana says:

    More PS4 game ports to PC. Thanks AMD !

  10. Optimaximal says:

    Gabe wants to target the living room because its currently largely untapped by his money-making machine because the current mechanisms of ‘tapping’ it are too bulky.

    The Windows 8 attack is just ‘sufficient justification’ to get people interested, because you have the ‘I don’t like/am unsure of Windows 8′ market, the ‘I don’t want to buy another Windows OS’ market and the ‘we want Linux games’ market all rolled into one and that probably creates a demographic that justifies the work.

    After all, the big Apple push seems to have died a death (or is treading water, with ports being pushed out alongside Linux releases).

  11. kororas says:

    Im actually looking forward to what valve can offer the console market. If it all pans out well i rekon it has the potential to seriously shake up this market segment.

  12. yabonn says:

    Because I’m not totally convinced I see the point of the Steam Box.

    Guaards! GuaaaaAARDS !!!

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      You better call more guards, because he’s not the only one that feels that way.

  13. Stevostin says:

    What I like about the PC isn’t that it’s simple-to-specify toy.

    I am with you on this but wait, if we speak strickly about gaming, is that a relevant thing ? I mean how many of the games we’ve enjoyed this year do really work with “a variety of system” ? Not Dota 2, not To The Moon, not most indies and not a good deal of console ports. On the top of that you have games that scales with hardware, but personnaly it pretty ruins the mood when I have to spend half an hour tweaking to find the setting I like best – and even that can stay on a fixed rig.

    I like my Cintiq, my Edirol, my SSD, but when it comes to gaming, I could do with a standard setup as long as they’re an OS, ability to mod, edit .ini, and of course keyboard & mouse.

    • Optimaximal says:

      I’d say ‘the majority of indies’ do work on a variety of platforms, specifically because a) the Mac App Store is fruitful and b) Humble tend to prefer Linux and Mac support.

  14. Lenderz says:

    One thing I’m surprised that you didn’t cover off in the main article is that although the actual hardware inside the console is mid-low spec PC stuff as millions of these hardware devices will be built with identical hardware and without the PC middle layer (OS/Drivers/API layers/DirectX) in the way developers can code directly to the metal, knowing exactly what they’ll get out.

    This means that the same hardware is much more capable within a console box than it is in your desktop, you’d be surprised of the efficiency that can be generated by “direct to metal” coding, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that a well coded implementation would be able to squeeze 75%-100% more out of those GCN chips in a console than they can in exactly the same chips in a PC.

    The issue is that you have to code to API Layer and a driver on a PC then that interprets the correct commands for the hardware, PC developers cannot code “direct to metal” because of the broad range of graphics cards on the market, if they did what worked on a AMD 7770 wouldn’t work on a AMD 6850 or GTX 650 etc.

    (Edit – To clarify I’m a PC gamer through and through and am not saying “look the consoles will be super dooper” rather “don’t just assume because its mid range parts it’ll actually be bad” – I believe that there is a mis-understanding when you talk about console hardware that people rarely talk about, and thats the sheer efficiency of knowing exactly what hardware you’re coding for. I can’t help but think that Sony are possibly shooting themselves in the foot by going for a more expensive/more complex GCN chip, which in cross platform games I imagine that few people will put many improvements in place for. They’ll code for the lowest common denominator. The Xbox, again.)

    • Continuity says:

      I think that goes without saying, we’ve seen it time and again already.

    • Matchstick says:

      While a console may have a known hardware set it isn’t necessarily the same throughout the life of the console.

      If a developer finds a “feature” in the GPU of the first gen hardware of the X-Station 6000 and makes use of it to speed up a rendering pipeline by coding direct to the bare metal, there’s no guarantee that when the X-Station 6000 Slim comes out 3 years down the line that the same chips with the same particular quirk are going to be in place.

      If that happens then MicroSony are going to look pretty stupid in bringing out a new version of a console that’s not actually compatible with itself.

      For that reason it’s safest to use the official APIs and allow the console manufacturer to optimise the APIs to the known hardware.

      • Lenderz says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m under the impression that coding direct to metal already occurs in this generation of console.

        Plus that when a new revision of a console comes out it isn’t a completely different chip that goes in, much more likely to be a die shrink, smaller, quieter and more energy efficient, but fundamentally the same architecture.

        Carmack Quote to prove me right :

        ““…it is unhappily true that we have these consoles here running at sixty frames per second, and we could have these massively more powerful PC systems that struggle sometimes to hold the same framerate because of unnecessary overheads. If we were programming that hardware directly on the metal the same way we do consoles, it would be significantly more powerful.””

        • Matchstick says:

          I certainly can’t say that it isn’t done but I have read of devs being told off after after being caught doing it.

          As for the hardware, most die shrinks shouldn’t have an effect on the intended functioning of a CPU/GPU, but as console devs are always looking to squeeze all the performance they can get, they have been known to use bugs in hardware to get an edge and that sort of thing risks disappearing in a future hardware revision.

          A classic example of this is the Atari 2600 game Cosmic Ark where there’s a version ofg the game which exploited a hardware bug in the 2600 to allow the background starfield to be turned on and off.

          • Lenderz says:

            Using a bug in hardware and coding direct to metal are very different things however.

            I would suggest that if you were coding directly to the metal you would know about bugs in the hardware and intentional features and would avoid exploiting bugs as you could be limiting your future audience if the game stops running on a later revision.

            That said the big publishers actually put several pounds into developing their own middleware to exploit the advantages of coding direct to the metal without having to reinvent the wheel the entire time, and their middleware is a lot more efficient than Game Code to Directx to Driver to GPU due to the static nature of the hardware.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Didn’t Carmack code straight to metal on Doom 3 on PC? I am sure I remember reading him saying that they squeezed out those best-in-class graphics and lighting effects by deliberately avoiding using the API. Were graphics cards simpler then? What exactly stops developers from making a multi-tiered version of a STM program, that can adjust itself to the particular hardware you have? Or is that the point of the API? IR NOOB sorreh

        • Lenderz says:

          You’re assuming that LotsofAndroidConsoles will have the power needed for AAA gaming, from what I’ve seen they won’t. Thus will more likely be either specifically coded for, or be lumbered with smartphone/tablet games, I don’t think you’ll see the likes of Far Cry 3 running on an Ouya.

          You’re also making the assumption that this increasingly fragmented gaming market will remain fragmented and that this won’t lead to more platform specific games.

        • Baines says:

          It has always happened, and it presumably still happens. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony tell developers to not do it, but some developers just want that edge.

          And it does lead to problems.

          The PS2 went through a lot of hardware revisions over its life, and with several of those revisions, it lost compatibility with both PS1 and PS2 games. Issues ranged from minor visual annoyances to game crippling. Yes, the PS2 slim could not properly run some PS2 games. (The one I recall was Jak X racing, where attempting to save caused the game to freeze.)

          Console makers want to discourage it for another reason. It makes emulating games harder. With the rise of downloadable “classics” and the move away from hardware based backwards compatibility, the ease of emulation becomes important.

          • Lenderz says:

            This reply is to JKjoker:

            - Good point that man, in 3-5 years I guess an Android platform using mobile phone tech might well kick the arse of a Xbox3 or PS4. The technology has been progressing pretty impressively for a while now, I’m firmly of the opinion that third party “publisher specific” direct to metal middleware will continue to exist, as the performance gains are too great to ignore, that said my point that not having the OS/DirectX/Driver calls to talk to the GPU still allows a console GPU to perform a lot better in that gaming box than it does on a PC, the overheads are still a lot less even if not direct to metal…

        • SuperNashwanPower says:


        • Brun says:

          also considering the current trend i think AAA games will have smaller slice of the gaming pie next gen

          This analogy is misleading (if you’re talking about smartphone gaming cannibalizing AAA). AAA’s slice won’t get any smaller, on the contrary, it will almost certainly get bigger. The size of the pie (if you’re including smartphones) will also get bigger, so the % of the total market occupied by AAA will be smaller, but the absolute numbers will still be bigger vs. the current generation.

          Also, smartphones and AAA games tend to attract different markets, thus the Android “consoles” are going to be targeted at different demographics than 8th Generation consoles.

  15. Bhazor says:

    “Graphics powered by a big fluffy tom”

  16. DarkLiberator says:

    HD7850 is no laughing joke in terms of raw graphics power. And since its going to be optimized like crazy on console, maybe we will see 1080p 60 fps games on PS4, though expect jaggies still. :P

    Isn’t Sony promoting 4k resolutions for PS4?

  17. Kageru says:

    The steam box goal is to get a PC platform and the PC eco-system into the living room where it has zero presence. With a side benefit of protection from MS trying to be apple and future reductions in the number of homes with a traditional desktop. It will be running linux because competing with microsoft using the platform they control and paying a substantial chunk of money for the privilege is obviously doomed to fail. Just like the PS3 wasn’t running windows.

    It’s a good gamble on Valve’s part. Might fail due to lack of interest but at worst it gets the PC market (that they depend on) thinking about the post desktop era, gives them some protection against microsoft going insane as their market shrinks and doesn’t really cost that much since they’re not building super-expensive stuff like chips… all the bits will be off the shelf or third party. And with microsoft distracted, the next gen consoles pretty weak and with relatively standard layouts, steam bringing content and many games being developed with toolkits that are reasonably architecture neutral it could work.

    • uh20 says:

      i think the key to go into the hole for the whole “linux support” is developer friendliness
      i have been looking into free development engines/software, and you can start off making a plain opengl3 game with o.k. graphics and whatnot fairly easy, but theres still some roadblocks.

      but yea, for anyone thats getting shocked by the word, just realize you trust yourself to linux every time you put a doller in a vending machine. ^_^

  18. Lemming says:

    I thought we established that Piston wasn’t “Valve’s Steam Box”?

  19. uh20 says:

    running on a unified linux o.s. is a lot better claim than running on some specific windows/linux console spin-off, stop complaining.

    It seems whenever a product is to use something other than windows, they spin off linux into some proprietary mess that you cant call linux anymore, that piston is finally going to run the original per-say.

    Hopefully that means us pc gamers can feel the performance boost of native opengl games, where the developers can bother even less to port to every system known to jeromy
    (except the xbox, as it cant do opengl)

  20. Mr. Mister says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I bet one of the main points of Piston will be working as an emulator for the three consoles (because exclusives). I’d be sold on that.

  21. markcocjin says:

    Jeremy Laird, you do not write like a PC gaming journalist.

    You seem not not understand why PC gaming is better in the long run compared to consoles and you absolutely do not see the point in Linux.

    Steam will be on Linux not because Gabe personally hates Windows 8. Steam will be on Linux because Windows gaming will soon lose its freedom. Of course you do not know what’s it like because it has not happened yet.

    Linux is freedom. Freedom of PC gaming from one mighty key holder of the Windows PC gaming gate. You take away Microsoft, and you take away the middle man. And before anyone argues that Valve will be this new gatekeeper, remember that you can still install Windows on a Steam console and even Origin if need be.

    And if you think that Valve’s monopoly on PC gaming is similar to Microsoft’s, then you’re confusing customer choice with paid system exclusivity. Steamworks games might be a choice of the developers of third party games, but it was not these developers that made Steam mighty in the first place. The customers voted for Steam dominance in the PC gaming industry.

    • caddyB says:

      Agreed. If Linux gets enough market share it’s safe to assume the games ( read: publishers ) will support it.

    • Cinek says:

      Steam will be on Linux because Windows gaming will soon lose its freedom.
      I call it BS. It’s as much BS as whole this propaganda of Linux overtaking Windows in PC market that happens since ’90s.
      For Your, and mr. Gabe’s Information: You can install any software on Windows 8 just as you could on Windows 7. And you will be able to do the same with Win9, 10, and 11.

      • uh20 says:

        microsofts a sneeky group, they tell you things are open and ok, and restrict whats out of the light

        for example, they do not let you alter the system, or to use it for a console, etc., you have to use microsoft specific directx for full performance, you have to pay for the o.s. AND its updates, for christs sake.

        you dont even get to choose desktops in windows, so when 8 rolls out, your forced to look at that wierd screen covering everything up when you click on something.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Although I think markcocjin is being unnecessarily paranoid and didn’t elaborate on his point as much as he should have, I might understand what he’s referring to: there are at least two Win8-exclusive PC games (Skulls of the Shogun and The Gunstringer), and there are already complaints littered throughout the interwebz about contemporary PC games not working at all on Windows 8.

        It’s an easy bet that we’ll be seeing plenty more Win8 exclusive games, and given the architectural jump from Win7/Vista to Win8, it’s hardly a surprise that so many people are having compatibility problems with their current games libraries.

  22. Hahaha says:

    They are both going to use bluray? so we know who will be laughing through this gen then……

    • smoke.tetsu says:

      I hate to be a naysayer but I kind of doubt it. There’d be more to it than just technical stuff. Even if it where easy with them all standardizing on x86 CPUs and standard GPUs they’d have to get Sony, Nintendo & Microsoft to agree to let them do it too with licensing.

      This comment was originally to a comment that was made about emulation of other competing consoles on the Steambox. Either my comment got lost or the OP edited his comment to make me look foolish.

    • adonf says:

      Sorry, but who ?

      • hypercrisis says:

        blu-ray, like DVD, is sony (amongst others) developed. Same reason Nintendo didnt use DVD. Same reason Sega didn’t use DVD. Microsoft backed the wrong horse with Toshiba, and so here we are today. I imagine MS will end up joining the BRDA though so nobody will be finding it that funny, there just happens to be this disinfo factoid on the internet that sony own blu-ray.

  23. Jazzy Josh says:

    To be fair, Steam on Linux actually runs quite well. In fact TF2 runs great! If they would port Dota 2 I might just stay on Linux for awhile.

    Really though, it’s not Steam running on Linux that has to happen, games have to run on Linux. I wouldn’t mind developers specifically targeting the Steambox because getting that right is a whole lot closer to getting games on Linux than not targeting Linux at all

    • Matchstick says:

      More than just the games being written for linux, proper graphics and sound drivers need to be in place as well.

      While the situation is better now than it has been, Nvidia, ATi, Creative etc are still putting a fraction of the effort into Linux development that they are into Windows and that has issues for performance and reliability.

    • Continuity says:

      I think the problem is still the question of who will buy the steambox? Valve isn’t Sony or Microsoft, and while they may be sitting on a cash mountain they don’t show any signs of behaving like Sony or Microsoft. I don’t expect to see mass production of steamboxes, massive advertising campaigns, deals with AAA publishers and brick and mortar retail chains… I don’t expect Valve to do any of that… and yet they won’t make even a hint of a dent on the console market unless they do.

  24. Fitzmogwai says:

    Well, perhaps having anaemic single-threaded performance is actually a good thing, as it will mean that devs will finally spend some proper time and effort on multi-threading their code, and at last we’ll all be able to make full use of our monstro quad core iCore FX thermal monsters.

    • TJ says:


    • Martel says:

      I would love to see this spread out into non-gaming areas as well, as it seems that hardly any devs of any software fully utilize multiple cores.

      • Koozer says:

        That’s because concurrency is a nightmare to work with! I can’t wait for the day when compilers can automatically thread code for us.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Mathematics impossibility AFAIK. Scalability and all that. Reduced returns and it’s effects. Etc.

          • Continuity says:

            Sure, but there has to be a “sweet spot” for efficiently using the available cores, and I don’t think we’re at it yet… So room for improvement.

  25. adonf says:

    Just to make things clear, those are x86-compatible CPUs, right ? To me that is the biggest change from the previous generation that were RISC-based.

  26. Radiant says:

    The steambox will probably see most use to stream games from an upstairs mega pc.

    In the same way that onlive tried to but, you know, actually do it well.

  27. Svant says:

    I built my own steambox, sure its running windows 8. But it runs everything that runs on PC, certain titles simply works better on a big screen with a controller. Especially games that have hotseat multiplayer. Think Lego game series, Magicka etc. This is something almost any PC gamer could enjoy, even if “they already have a PC”.

    On the consoles, it really does sound underwhelming especially on the cpu part… Looking at games right now it feels they are quite limited by the CPU. Take Planetside 2 for example, the reason why big fights slow down is usually not gpu rendering issues but CPU issues with keeping track of everything that is happening. Would be nice to have games were the number of characters on screen, or size of the world and its systems was not limited by the cpu.

  28. The Random One says:

    “Certainly, it ensures that even a mediocre PC will remain a more powerful gaming tool than either of the new consoles.”

    Hey, that’s great news! I have a mediocre PC!

    And I don’t particularly mind having graphics slowed down by consoles. To be perfectly honest, any game that came out after around 2008 looks perfectly identical for me, graphics wise.

    As for the Steam Box: I for one would like a gaming platform that was configurable (even if not infinitely so) but that I could mess with without worrying that I’d throw $500 down the drain if I forgot to take out my pants.

  29. Tei says:

    8GB of ram on the videocard will help with these horrible low-res textures that consoles have used this generation, so console games will stop looking terrible for some time, and will allow artist to show his work better.

    A weak CPU is bad for console, but not sure about us. Since ports from console to PC are unoptimized, perhaps having games designed for a weak CPU will be good for these ports? games designed for a crappy CPU will run well on our powerfull CPU’s. And maybe will get game devs to use more cores, some engines will be remade so sound / physics or other stuff could exist in a separate thread. And this again will be good for our CPU’s.

    The blue-ray is good in that will allow to package the textures I talked about before.

  30. The Smilingknight says:

    Yo RPS…. youve been punked.

    Its all a hoax.
    tsk, tsk, tsk…

    • Tei says:

      Are you sure? I don’t find any mention to x-surface in RPS article.
      And at this point, everything is speculation and rumours. It should be read like that “a rumour”, no matter how RPS write it.

    • Earl Grey says:

      Uhm… except the RPS article has no real mention of what was said in the hoax and clearly states that it’s just (plausible) rumors?

      • The Smilingknight says:

        :ryker – data -picard triple facepalm:

        Everything the article writes about came from a hoax that dude made. AMD processors, the specs – all of it.

        • Ford says:

          no, the specs RPS are talking about have been known weeks before the pocket-lint hoax.

        • Earl Grey says:

          Before you hurt yourself from all that face palming, I’d recommend you read the article again and compare it to the hoax email:

          The specs mentioned in the RPS article have been rumors floating around for a while now. Granted some similarities (Why the hoax was successful-it fitted the rumors) but it is in no way the direct copy you’re implying it is.

          • The Smilingknight says:

            Im not implying anything of the sort you cheap strawman apologist.

          • Earl Grey says:

            Calm down dear. No need to be resorting to that shabby line of argument.

            To quote you: “Everything the article writes about came from a hoax that dude made. AMD processors, the specs – all of it.”

            Certainly does imply that all of Jeremy’s details were copied from the hoax. If you were entirely correct, I and others wouldn’t of pointed out otherwise. :-/

          • Brun says:

            Im not implying anything of the sort you cheap strawman apologist.

            Most Picard-worthy thing in this thread: angry internet man regurgitates words he heard in other arguments (but doesn’t understand) like “strawman” and “apologist” to in an attempt to bolster his credibility.

        • Jeremy Laird says:

          Whether the specs are accurate or not, only time will tell. But it is not true that they all come from the hoax. The hoax, for instance, has no details on the Xbox’s shader count and no details at all re the next Playstation.

          As the hoaxer himself has said, he took specs from the rumours/leaks that had already been circulating.

  31. Screamer says:

    So crappy CPU = crappy AI in our games again :/

    • Lenderz says:

      No, just no. If AI can be coded in a multithreaded way well, due to the nature of these CPUs we could see a very interesting evolution in game AI.

      • Velko says:

        Maybe it will even achieve sentience? We don’t know.

      • Continuity says:

        Well, remains to be seen, somehow I rather imagine design is as much a limiting factor as processing power, though that has definitely been one of the limitations we’ve seen this generation.

        What would decent AI in games even look like? who knows, I don’t think we’ve really seen it yet, the design time and processing horse power always goes to graphics/art first and everything else second.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Game code should overall become more efficient and well threaded, something like it was back in the 90′s (except there weren’t any multi-core CPUs).

      • Screamer says:

        Well being that the CPUs are running at so low a speed and their low amount of operations per cycle I’d say there still won’t be much left for the AI. Almost everything will be used to feed the GPUs as the CPU is clearly the bottleneck.

        • Continuity says:

          I would imagine though that AI would be one of the areas that could more easily take advantage of multiple cores, as each instance of a particular AI could be discrete and allocated to different cores.

          You’re right though, the CPU does look like the bottleneck, at least if you look at the specs with the eye of a PC gamer.

  32. P.Funk says:

    “Valve’s Steam Box will run Linux. Really?”
    Made me smile. I’ve been waiting for the maturation of Linux gaming to come for a long time. Seems as though this may be the first spike in the railroad.

    Unfortunately also this:
    “More to the point, if I want a simple box for no-brainer gaming, I’ll have a console, thanks. What I like about the PC isn’t that it’s simple-to-specify toy. It’s that it’s infinitely configurable. It’s a machine for grown ups. And I’m not majorly fussed by the form factor.”

    I don’t agree nor do I understand this line of reasoning. How can you claim to adore the infinite configurability of PCs then question the value of Linux gaming? If PCs are gaming platforms for adults, then Linux is a PC OS for adults.

    I’ve always had to fight Windows to make it run the way I wanted, often more than buggy games with no patches, and other than a few isometric Mac games from my youth I’ve never even paid attention to gaming on Macs. Linux however can be as streamlined as Windows straight from the box or you can build the kernal yourself from the ground up. Its the ultimate hotrod for a hardcore gaming nerd, while still being flexible for a mid-core user. Also, I’m pretty sure Linux did the whole 3d desktop GUI things well before Windows.

    Even if you don’t use Linux based gaming, you should encourage its development. It will force more advances than windows and either way it seems as though game makers and their hardware support want to see this through given the fact that Valve is pretty married to the idea and nVidia is now putting proper effort behind their drivers for Linux.

  33. Duke Nukem says:

    While I think that Linux gaming is feasible and should be a lot more common these days, I’m with you on the SteamBox thing. I love Gaben, but his company’s machine doesn’t have any use for me or for most of my friends. I’m not going to buy something which I can’t tinker with.

    • newprince says:

      We don’t really know how much you’ll be able to tinker with it. Hardware makers *might* jump at the chance to make the parts for it. Allowing full interchangeability and whatnot.

  34. JP says:

    “Games with massive environments will be a lot easier to achieve and hopefully therefore more common.”

    They aren’t getting any cheaper to make. The next console gen is a suicide pact, where a linear curve crashes into an exponential curve.

    • Brun says:

      And thus the drive will be to figure out ways to make them cheaper (as it should have been for a long time now). Those that can do it will survive. Those that can’t will perish.

  35. Kong says:

    No need for a box in the living room. My PC has wheels…

    Should give it an upgrade, to make it follow me around. Then I can say:
    No need for a box in the toilet.

  36. newprince says:

    I have Mint running on my netbook, and have experience with Steam for Linux. It is still slow going, but Valve seems really dedicated to it, and I really want to see it succeed. I want a PC developer to think from the start that they should make this thing for Windows, Linux, and Mac from the get-go.

    No one feels a little nervous about the direction Windows has been going? Linux might be a pain to learn, but at the end of the day you can’t argue its value and advantages. It’s be strange to have a box PC, but if it’s running Linux, allows me to stream from my PC in my office to the living room TV, I mean… why would we need consoles?

  37. newprince says:

    What if Valve launched a Linux and Mac-only game to thicken the plot a bit? ;)

  38. SuicideKing says:

    There is an advantage of a multi-core, low-IPC x86 CPU and a GPU that’s the derivative of a standard PC part:


    Devs will have to make well threaded games that have to be clever and efficient with the CPU code, otherwise the game will sort of suck.

    PC porting will be a non-issue, really, since you’re using x86-64 anyway. So threading and AMD’s graphics drivers should be well supported.

    If the anemic 1.6 GHz Jaguar cores allow the consoles to hit 30 fps, imagine what a 3+ GHz multi-threaded Intel CPU will do.

    Maybe their own Piledriver/Steamroller chips become more competitive too, currently their not too bad.


    • Snargelfargen says:

      I’m genuinely excited about what could happen when game developers really start working on multi-threaded games.

      That said, AMD is also helping out Intel. The Piledriver CPUs still don’t compare favourably to Ivy Bridge in a lot of multi-threaded applications.

  39. TechnicalBen says:

    “quad-core AMD Phenom” May I say… “AMD Phenomy 4 life!”
    [typed out on his hacked AMDx3, now AMDx4 Phenny 940!]

  40. Jambe says:

    Is Linux gaming the future? I’ve never seen Steam running on Linux much less tried it. But certainly, I think Gabe Newell’s anti-Windows 8 rant, for those who recall it, was fairly hyperbolic. So, I can’t help wondering whether Linux Steam Boxes are actually axes for the Windows 8 grind.

    “I know virtually nothing about this inchoate newcomer, but I do know that it’s competing with the new version of an established, proprietary operating system.”

    Indeed! Are you suggesting that there’s something morally wrong with Valve wanting to compete with Microsoft’s more walled-gardeny operating system (or with the even more pinned-down consoles)? Valve’s grinding of this particular axe strikes me as a very good thing.

    More to the point, if I want a simple box for no-brainer gaming, I’ll have a console, thanks. What I like about the PC isn’t that it’s simple-to-specify toy. It’s that it’s infinitely configurable. It’s a machine for grown ups. And I’m not majorly fussed by the form factor.

    If I want a simple box for no-brainer gaming, I’ll put together (or buy readymade) a $4-600 HTPC and stick Steam on it. If Valve’s Linux initiative makes free operating systems a viable alternative to Windows, they’ll have shaved $100-140 (or 15-25%) off the top of basal PC gaming, making it an even-better competitor to locked-down console-town! Surely this is a great thing.

    Also, so what if “simple-to-specify toy” versions of PCs are put out by various companies? That will only grow the market for PC games, which should be to everyone’s benefit. Unless you’re trading in some sort of implied conspiracy, envisioning a future wherein Valve promulgates a free and open-source operating system only to turn and lock it down (how exactly that would happen with Ubuntu is beyond me, given the nature of GPL).

    I am actually concerned about Steam’s proprietary nature, and I wish they’d do something like Humble Bundle and allow you to download unencumbered versions of games where the publisher/creator allows it… but that’s another issue.

    In any case, I think this “no, a PC is a giant tower whose guts I can tinker with” attitude is borderline Luddism (and I sometimes scratch-build custom PC chassis for extra income; I’m not anti-PC). PCs are inexorably morphing into smaller and more streamlined devices. It should be our primary concern (in true Doctorow fashion) that the software and hardware we consume be amenable to changing and inspection — that computing doesn’t become a nest of walled gardens impervious to our will.

    I really enjoy your contributions to RPS. It was a nice take on these console-rumors and AMD’s involvement. I just have some ethical principles which make me a bit uppity wrt the nature of computing.

    • Brun says:

      allow you to download unencumbered versions of games where the publisher/creator allows it

      Er…can’t you already do this? Games that don’t make use of Steamworks aren’t encumbered by Steam or Valve. They may be encumbered by third-party DRM chosen by the publisher (GFWL, for example) but for games that don’t choose DRM you’re free to run the executable independently of Steam.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        You can only really do that with a limited number of games, and it’s becoming increasingly rare with each new game release that uses Steamworks. Hell, even a lot of the new games that don’t use Steamworks but are tied to a Steam account won’t load as a separate process from the client.

  41. PopeJamal says:

    “I’ve never seen Steam running on Linux much less tried it.”
    “…I think Gabe Newell’s anti-Windows 8 rant, for those who recall it, was fairly hyperbolic.”

    I think this pretty much sums up the last section of this article. Considering this is a technical article, that last bit was surprising…wel…non-technical. It was a really good read before it just sputtered out there at the end…

  42. czerro says:

    I think author is a little confused as to what AMD’s APU offers. Essentially it is the perfect fit for console designers who have been working forever to integrate their CPU/memory/GPU pipelines for pure efficiency. How powerful are the chips in the current gen consoles compared to the i5 author believes is warranted? They are all PowerPC IBM implementations. When was the last time you wanted a PowerPC in your rig? They are tiny little lemmings, but due to hardware design and a cohesive specification, developers have been able to squeeze pretty decent looking 720p graphics out of them. AMD’s APU is significantly more powerful and the infrastructure is already there. That’s not to say that these chipsets won’t be streamlined in specific ways, but they will easily perform 720p/1080p gameplay. I imagine the memory pipeline will be adjusted for higher/faster bandwidth with proprietary controllers on chip. Lastly, Steam box and linux. The linux element will be invisible to the end-user. When sony releases a console, are you concerned whether or not the OS is windows? No: A) obviously it isn’t B) it doesn’t matter as long as it performs correctly C) most users don’t even realize it’s a proprietary unix/linux derivative anyway. Valve doesn’t want to work around locked proprietary linux kernels though, they want an essentially opensource implementation. “Here is our frontend, an OS overlay. Feel free to develop your own steambox that works within these specifications (which are pretty open and simply come down to having the proper libraries available)”. Think 3DO. What Valve has, that 3DO didn’t, is a huge library of games and a huge following of gamers already invested in current and future content. This all looks really good to me. We won’t see as much division in game development. PC gamers won’t have to suffer from awful ports. The mainstay consoles from Nintendo/Sony/Microsoft will still have their enticing exclusives. Casual PC gamers who want to enter the fray can get themselves a decently priced plug-and-play PC with a Steam front-end. Or maybe you are a hardcore gamer, some company will be manufacturing a steambox powerhouse for 500 bucks. Everything is consolidating in the development department, while more options are opening up in the hardware department. This can only be good.

    • Ford says:

      PowerPC is easily the best Enterprise-class CPU available today. It would run rings around anything x86-64 has to offer by virtue of its beastly clocks and cache sizes, not to mention the ridiculous granularity of its hardware partitioning. It’s why IBM are chewing up the big tin market.

      However, they cost as much as a small car, and are not binary compatible with x86 code, so it’s all a bit moot.

      • czerro says:

        Well, I am referring to real-world applications and the very real PPC implementations in the 360 and PS3. AMD’s APU, while not that impressive looking, is easily leaps and bounds more powerful, and tightly integrated, than the current gen consoles. I suppose you are referring to the server market, but I still think it’s difficult to find a place where the PPC fits in outside of specifically farmed designs for consoles. You’d have to go back to the imac to find a standalone consumer level PPC system. Those things were powerhouses right? Infact, I tried to look up some iMac G5 performance comparisons, and just like Apple, I can’t find anything with actual numbers. Just shill reviews stating that the G5 trumps Intel chips in performance ‘once again’. No numbers or graphs of any sort available mind you, except in direct comparison to previous iMac gens. I didn’t realize Apple had created a little tech bubble for itself even back that far.