Why Early Steam Machines Need To Be Upgradable

Steam Machines might be Valve’s answer to consoles, but that doesn’t mean they play by the same rules as Sony and Microsoft’s increasingly indistinguishable boxes. Linux is an open platform and Steam is constantly evolving. I do not think it’s unreasonable, then, to expect elements of PC gaming to creep into Steam Machine hardware as well. Just, uh, maybe don’t get your hopes up for Alienware to kick off that trend. The intergalactic planetary PC supplier has decided that upgrading its Steam Machines won’t be a modular process. If you want shiny new CPUs, graphics cards, or even memory, you’ll have to pick up a whole new box. While SteamOS can change conveniently and for free, hardware, as ever, comes at a price. And that’s a problem – one that hardware manufacturers should consider remedying if they want us to be at all interested in their first round of Steam Machines.

Dell’s sentient E.T. mask outlined its plans in an interview with Trusted Reviews, noting that it will release a new hardware revision every 12 months.

“Lifecycle wise, consoles update every five, six, seven years. We will be updating our Steam Machines every year.”

“There will be no customisation options, you can’t really update it. The platform will continue to evolve as the games become more resource intensive.”

General manager Frank Azor noted that we might be able to select, say, a faster CPU when we first purchase a box, but otherwise Alienware’s boxes will die the way we all hope to live: with the same innards. He went on to advise purchasing a form-fitting X51 if upgrading is your game. Makes sense, but doesn’t exactly bode well for this first run of Steam Machines, especially since Alienware is aiming to match “next-gen” consoles on price (and presumably hardware specs) initially. I get a sneaking suspicion that many early adopters will want to upgrade sooner rather than later.

Which is all well and good for Alienware’s bottom line (in a kind of gross but totally-not-unexpected-from-a-business sort of way), but it makes this particular Steam Machine even more unappealing to the crowd that Valve claims SteamOS and Steam Machines are currently aimed at: diehard PC gamers. People who are used to having options and building onto the same piece of hardware for as long as we can. That’s especially troubling given that Valve itself is hedging extra bets on Alienware’s as-of-yet unidentified gaming object. “This machine is the one that we think is actually going to serve the most customers and make the most Steam users happy,” said Valve product designer Greg Coomer. So it’s the standard-bearer, in a manner of speaking.

This puts everyone involved in a something of a strange position. Valve and Alienware know who they think early Steam Machines are for, but they haven’t really answered the question of why we should want one. The ability to evolve substantially over relatively short periods of time is doubtless one of Steam’s greatest assets in the Living Room Wars, but it’s not really being leveraged on the hardware side – at least, not in this particular instance. And yet the truth is, the ability to upgrade could very well make or break the first run of Steam Machines if they really are “for” people like us.

When new controllers and boxes start flying every which way, things will almost certainly get tricky – not to mention pricey – especially straight out the gate. We’re looking at a whole host of different form factors and release dates, and now Valve’s announced that third-parties can make their own controllers as well. Oh, and let’s not forget that Valve’s controller will probably also exist in a state of some flux for at least a little while. Hardware manufacturers will then iterate and iterate and iterate on top of all that. Price and convolution, ahoy!

If we could upgrade incrementally during what will no doubt be a period of rapid change, evolution, and (hopefully) innovation, wouldn’t that make everything so much easier? If my mind fails me and I decide I absolutely cannot live without an early Steam Machine, I know I’ll be on the lookout for the most modifiable, adaptable box. Not the least. It’s far too early in this race for anyone to be settling down and getting comfortable. The starting gun has barely even sounded.

That in mind, Alienware’s statement is almost comical. On one hand, it’s espousing its Steam Machine’s convenience and affordability, but in the same breath it essentially says, “Well, the X51 is probably a better choice for both those things in the long run.” And factoring in the price of smaller, more targeted upgrades versus picking out and purchasing a whole new box, yeah, I’m inclined to agree. I’m not saying an X51 is ideal, but something that’s more versatile than Alienware’s Steam Machine is. So why should we, longtime PC gamers, be interested in non-upgradable Steam Machines again? Is there something I’m missing?

When Steam first launched in a dismal state, it was able to mutate into the glistening overlord we all know and love today for free. While SteamOS might have a similar luxury, Steam Machines don’t. Hardware manufacturers’ best bet is to soften the blow. Make rolling with the punches easier and more affordable for us, or else we’ll just stick with our faithful old PCs, growing them into monstrous towers that drool cooling flood every time a tasty little Steam Machine whimpers by. We’re not going to become faithful Steam Machine ambassadors just because. If Alienware and Valve want Steam Machines to make it over their early hurdles and into Gabe Newell’s perfect living room promised land, this isn’t the way to do it.

Alienware’s first Steam Machine will be out in September. Are you at all interested? Do you think Alienware is on the right track after all? Or are you hoping other hardware manufacturers will pick up the slack?


  1. Artist says:

    Its indeed a nice marketing trick that every media outlet gives peoples the impression that the Steam Box is something like a console, which is rubbish!
    The box is a PC running an OS that hardly has much support from currently available, or new, games!
    The only good thing about that is that people buy the “Steam console”-myth which might make it into a counterweight to the closed-platform consoles.
    But how without the games that support it?

    • Cinek says:

      SteamBox will have more games at official launch than any of the current generation of consoles had. So how it’s that an issue again?

      • battles_atlas says:

        Because you can buy a modern console with pretty considerable faith (unless youre an idiot and back a turkey like the latest Nintendo) that there will be several years of games to follow. At this stage, it would be foolish to have such faith in SteamOS.

        • realityflaw says:

          I don’t understand your argument.

          I haven’t monkeyed around with the SteamOS, but I expect it can run any game that is compatible with Linux, which essentially means that games will continue to be developed for it, and for considerably longer than the traditional console life cycle.

          • hungrycookpot says:

            Check out the current lineup of games for Linux tho. It’s a tiny fraction of the overall number of games that get released for steam. And rightly so, I don’t know why anyone wastes time and money trying to support Linux for games, sad as it seems.

            So, a small part of the games available on Steam will be available on this console, which costs roughly the same as a PS4/Xbone.

            OR, you could get a real console, and have access to a full library of games, custom built for that console spec, for the next 5-6 years.

            OR, you could just buy a PC, hook it up to your TV, and have access to all steam games and all other PC games, dual boot with Linux if your neckbeard starts itching for it, and upgrade it whenever you want.

          • ulix says:

            OR, you could just run Wine.
            OR, you could install Windows on it, be it as a secondary/primary OS, or by replacing the SteamOS partition.

        • Carra says:

          It’s still a PC though. Worst case, drop windows on it and run Steam in big picture mode. Hey, I can now play most of my games…

          You still have a point though, every game that comes out on PC in the future should support SteamOS/Linux. But as long as there aren’t enough SteamOS’es installed there’s no profit in porting. Chicken, egg…

          • Corb says:

            It still begs the question…why buy it? If I can build a pc for $1500-$1600 that will last for a decent 4 years and then upgrade it with whatever affordable “next-gen” card is available vs $1500 over a 3 year period for 3 separate steam machines. It just doesn’t do anything better than what most of us already have. Not to mention “giving up” your M&K for a controller…..I already have a controller on my pc for the games that need it…I also have a joystick and other unnecessary but fun peripherals. For long term ownership and all around options it doesn’t compete. Neither does alienware for that matter…

  2. BobbyDylan says:

    Still dont see a market for these things.

  3. frightlever says:

    Um, isn’t this just because SteamOS, being a Linux variant, can’t guarantee optimal performance if you start swapping parts around? It does seem over-cautious, but if eg you stuck in an AMD GPU that had non-existent or buggy Linux support then Alienware is left fielding a bunch of questions. Or worse if you plug in a new GPU and the power supply gets fried because it can’t cope.

    Anyway, I’ve no doubt that any Alienware box that ships will be capable of being stripped down if you put your mind to it, but at least Alienware now have a get out clause if you go on to fuck it up.

    Also, “If Alienware and Valve”… SteamOS is a free download, this isn’t some licensed collaboration between the two companies. I expect there will be consultation but the whole idea is that Alienware are free to make their Steambox however they choose. The point is that any company can make a Steambox so if Alienware makes a bad one, you can take your custom elsewhere (or if you’ve any sense just build one).

    “So why should we, longtime PC gamers, be interested in non-upgradable Steam Machines again?”

    If the Steambox is smaller, cheaper or more powerful then those are all valid reasons to buy it over the X51 (which I still lust after for no fathomable reason). If the X51 beats it on all three points then no, there isn’t a reason to buy the Steambox from Alienware. I’m surprised you weren’t able to figure that out on your own, Nathan. It’s really only common sense.

    • Harold Finch says:

      The Alienware Steambox is not a cheap option. Should only be purchased by people with more money than sense.

      • Wisq says:

        Or with (lots) more money than time.

        But that’s standard for any Alienware stuff. Only person I’ve ever known who bought one was our (avid PC gamer) CEO, which makes perfect sense. Plenty of money, not much time, and wants to use that time to play games, not build systems.

      • Corb says:

        ok, pseudo math time:

        Alienware steam machine $500 x 4 years = $2000 excluding tax and inflation over 4 years.
        Midrange PC $1500-$1600 on first payment then lasts for about 3 years + $350 for a card upgrade in year 4 that will probably last another 2-3 years = $1850-$1950.

        PC is cheaper….AND it does more, and you can bring that cost down by cannibalizing old pc’s laying around (fans ~$5 ea., cd drives ~$50, old harddrives ~$50, your older cases ~$100, and stuff like that).

    • DrazharLn says:

      Linux has pretty great hardware support nowadays. I install debian (usually without proprietary firmware) on all sorts of consumer machines without trouble.

      High performance drivers for graphics cards are about the only problem area remaining, and that situation is improving.

  4. Amatyr says:

    It’s good news to me. It means that it’s likely they’re building these things with custom designs, soldered on chips, etc, etc … I don’t want a Steam Machine that takes any old graphics card I can buy off the shelf. Because I can already build a machine like that. I want something slick and slimline. Something that looks like a Mac Mini but with a Titan somehow jammed inside it. For a company selling a Steam Machine to sit under my TV to be worth buying, it needs to be a completely custom build, not using off the shelf parts.

    • atticus says:

      I totally agree with you. What’s the point with a “Steambox” if it’s just pretty much a standard small form factor PC with a Steam-logo on it? What makes it something new and different than we already have on the market?

      Having a non-upgradeable PC might not appeal to everyone, but as someone who has built PC’s for myself for the last 15 years it sure appeals to me. Bulding and upgrading is cost-effective but horrible and destroys your soul.

      I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of performance they’re going for, and pricing. Seems like all the internets are hating Alienware for this, but I like it!

      • Guvornator says:

        There is also, as many console owners have found out through the ages, the fact that once consoles start being upgradable, folks have to upgrade to run certain games. This both gives the manufacturers a reason to inflate upgrade prices and takes away one of the main benefits of owning a console in the first place.

        • realityflaw says:

          But the Steamboxes already have a diverse specification list, how could adding possible upgrades to that list change anything?

          • P.Funk says:

            Because options scare people. They want a comfy cozy fixed paradigm that relieves them of the stress of individual decision making and consumer responsibility.

          • Corb says:

            because it makes the cost you sunk into the box last longer. Yeah you pay for the new card, but unless you buy top of the line always, ($500 up) you’re probably going for somewhere around ~$300 which is way cheaper than a new rig with all new parts and will work just as well too.

    • Buffer117 says:

      I’d not really thought about it before, but I kind of agree with you. I certainly don’t think all Steam Machines NEED to be upgradeable, as the article title suggests, as long as some are to cater for that market.

      I bought and built my last PC 3 years ago and haven’t touched the inside since, I currently don’t have any plans to do so either. I may towards the end of this year/start of next year get a newer graphics card than my 570, but I’m not sure I NEED to. In a couple of years I will probably get a whole new PC and build it bar case and PSU.

      So therefore if a well built, well designed, well cooled and small form Steam Machine is available to me for the price of a PS4 (fingers crossed), I’m starting to think I would consider it. Most AAA games are FPS and I will play them on my desktop anyway so this thing will for the majority of time be rocking indies. If it runs Metro Last Light smooth as butter at launch (again fingers crossed!) then there’s probably a good 3-5 years of use before I upgrade anyway and by which point will I want to upgrade just a single component? Doubt it, form factor may change, different cpu sockets, next ddr RAM, new interface on the chassis (USB 4?) etc. etc. so it will probably be as near as damn it a whole new system I want anyway. And the real beauty will be my new box will play everything the previous one played and I still own just better and faster, screw you MS/PS.

      I’m not as outraged or offended as I apparently should be.

  5. Ein0r says:

    Just sell those early steam machines under Early Access, and nobody will care.

  6. bstard says:

    Looking at what Valve did up to now with Steam I don’t think the coming few years are of much ‘production level’ of interest to this company. Coming are the experiment years. What matters is 5+ years. By then Linux is the main development platform of the PC, the Boxes have matured, every zomb.. ehm konsole kid knows the brand, bugs are overcome, hell there might even be porn on Steam. Absit omen.

    • Artist says:

      Linux is dead on the desktop market and I doubt that even Valve can change that. Ubuntu was a bold approach but in the end the public/developers didnt buy in. Sad but true.

      • bstard says:

        Linux runs on billions of devices since Google showed their muscles. Valve can do likewise. Linux (or: a linux kernel based OS) ‘failed’ on the desktop due to limited content / software. Thats about to change.

        • Artist says:

          “DESKTOP market” read before posting…

        • Marinetastic says:

          About to change?
          There isn’t a single AAA title due out this year that’s getting a Linux release

          • Premium User Badge

            phuzz says:

            What about HalfLife 3?

            I jest, I jest. Mind you, I’m not even sure I could name one AAA title that is coming out this year, so I probably shouldn’t have tried to answer your question.

        • Cinek says:

          “Linux runs on billions of devices” – how is linux running billions of desktops again?
          And Google with it’s desktop Chrome OS did nothing to the gaming community – quite contrary: It’s pretty much only desktop OS that doesn’t support any games what so ever with exception of these running in browser (which every single OS supports).

          • aoanla says:

            They’re being disingenuous.

            Of course, Linux *does* have a huge install base (scientific compute clusters, all of Google’s and Amazon’s and …’s data centres, embedded devices, TVs, many routers, your portable NAS backup drive) even without mentioning Android (which the poster was presumably referring to).

            It’s also perfectly fine as a desktop OS (and the reasons Ubuntu failed to make much inroads there are mostly to do with the difficulty of *anything* that isn’t Microsoft making really significant inroads against their already established dominance – even Apple haven’t made *that* much gains, and they make their own “stylish” hardware).

          • bstard says:

            Brace yourselfs. These days most people dont use the classic desktop anymore. They use android phones and pads and Tellies. A shame, I know. But they do run linux as their primary OS. It’s those people’s desktop. And so will the people who now think themself as desktop PC gamers in about 5 years. Well, I would place my money on that. I still remember the situation 10 years ago when Steam arrived. We’d never give up phycicals (games sold on disks/CD’s), but look at us now.

          • derbefrier says:

            Bstard you seem to be missing the point. The fact that linux is a base for tablet OS is irrelevent. This is a pc gaming site. So consider your argument in that context. I will never be able to run most games on android. Just thousands of shitty apps. I am never going to be running ARMA 3 in my galaxy tab. Linux just isn’t a competitor for desktop/livingroom gaming. Your numbers you are so proud of literaly mean nothing in the correct context of using linux as a primary OS on a gaming PC

          • aoanla says:

            eh. They’re *not* desktops, though.

            I agree that the majority of people who have a smartphone (and/or a tablet) use it as their primary computing device.

            However, “desktop” usability doesn’t just mean “big box that sits in the corner”, it also implies some things about the intent of access (typing on a tablet is not anywhere near as nice as typing on a laptop, let alone a desktop keyboard), size of display etc. I agree that potentially, with advances in user interface technology, it’s possible that the smartphone-primary population will genuinely move to smartphone-as-everything functionality in about 5 to 10 years (especially if wearable displays actually ever take off…)

            However, I suspect that the phrase “desktop” is being used as a synonym for “gaming poweruser” in this case. I am skeptical that smartphones and smartphone OSes will displace that section of the computer market that rapidly (although, of course, that section of the computer market is potentially shrinking). For that userbase, Windows, unfortunately, still has an inherent lead and lockin.

          • bstard says:

            @derbefrier: I guess that makes two of us. I’m not proud on anything here, I dont even own a smart phone or pad. I’m trying to scetch my view of the mid-term gaming scene on PC’s. The software for those wont be targetted at Win64 anymore, but on Elf binairies. All the other BS, fear for change and confusing set aside.

            -edit- Note I used Android as an example to show Linux can be made succesful, I never intended this as a replacement for gaming hardware. I admit my words where not that clear as they could have been.

          • P.Funk says:

            I don’t get this distinction people are making between non desktop and desktop hardware. In the end what we’re seeing is an explosion of the networked device usage by the average consumer. Whats more we’re seeing that Unix derived operating systems dominate the networked digital device market (see Mac being derived from BSD which is derived from Unix btw) and therefore we see that when it comes to the desktop marketplace in the end its out of sync with the ongoing development of the other computer accessories that are becoming essential to day to day life.

            Ultimately a bridge between your tablets and phones to your PCs must occur because while we can love and adore our phones they are not ultimately “hub” hardware. They cannot store your photos long term or serve your home network. Home networks are served by big desktop boxes and thus the link between your Andoid/Mac/whatever based devices is still a PC.

            There is a future for non-Windows based desktop development and I frankly find it hilarious that people seem to think that there isn’t. People have this “this is how it works NOW” mindset, when thats largely irrelevant. Its what can be done in the future.

            Between streaming to full blown linux compatible development, its very likely we can see Linux rise as a competitive gaming platform. The biggest hurdle will be the drivers for devices, but with steamboxes we can see that boundary vanish out of necessity. Then there’s development which itself will come via Valve and who knows who else. It may take years for full triple A support, but in the end Linux is actually a very powerful platform for development so its actually attractive on its own merits.

          • joa says:

            The only reason “Linux” runs on millions of phones is because it provided Google with a base to work from.
            To make an effective operating system out of it they had to rewrite almost 90% of it.

      • GiantPotato says:

        The desktop market itself is changing though, so while Ubuntu couldn’t compete with Windows 7 it might be an very attractive alternative to Windows 9. Reading the statements that Microsoft is making these days, it’s becoming clearer that they’re not really developing any desktop OS’s anymore. They might conceivably even ruin Windows 7 through service packs, if it becomes a big enough obstacle to their grand vision of one crappy OS for everything.

        • LionsPhil says:

          What a wonderful future to look forward to.

          “We use Linux now. It’s better than Windows. Not because Linux got better, but because Windows got worse.”

          “…I miss Windows 7.”

          • GiantPotato says:

            On the other hand, you could argue that Windows itself is a stale, homogenizing product that tied PC enthusiasts to a mainstream market that they hated and that hated them back, and now it’s finally going away.

            I’m actually excited to see this happen, even though it’s going to mean the end of easy driver support and old game compatibility. It’ll hurt, but it’ll be worth it to have PC gaming back in the hands of people who at least have a stake in its success. Microsoft’s attitude has always been someplace between indifference and hostility when it comes to anything without “Xbox” in the name.

          • BTAxis says:

            I don’t think it’s “going away” anytime soon though. Windows will have to get a whole lot worse before I’ll switch to Linux (I’m actually completely comfortable with 8, thank you) and I think the same goes for a large majority of Windows’ user base.

          • jrodman says:

            As a windows and microsoft hater, myself, I recognize that the path from Windows 3.1 through 2000 to windows 7 involves a lot of improvement. I would hardly call it stale.

            I’d prefer an open system like Linux to become the default, and I use Linux as my primary desktop since 1997, but I don’t think the reality supports your vision.

          • GiantPotato says:

            I don’t mean “stale” in the context of the OS usability itself, I mean it within the context of PC gaming. Every gaming-related innovation that MS has introduced to Windows in the last 5 years (and maybe even longer) has been tailored to unify the PC and Xbox platforms, not advance the PC as its own medium. That is what I mean by “homogenizing”: Windows has limited what the PC as a medium can provide. The real benefit of the Steam Machine is that, if it catches on, it puts the PC back in uncharted territory.

    • Cinek says:

      “By then Linux is the main development platform of the PC” – In 5 years time? I hear that since… like 10 years or more. Easily. Meanwhile still next to no game are developed on linux or ported to linux. Yea, perhaps there’s been some progress thanks to GOG and Steam Linux support, but so there was a progress in Mac support – meanwhile by most of avaible data: MacOS market share is rising more quickly than Linux market share in regards of gaming.

      So please – stop this pro-Linux BS that got nothing to deal with reality.

      • bstard says:

        I know, but never before a, the, mayor games firm has moved toward Linux. It’s not the Indy / Opensource / hobbiists anymore, it’s the main industry thats moving.

        • Artist says:

          Actually ID Soft was developing on and releaseing for Linux for a very long time but stopped that rather recently (2009).

          • bstard says:

            Too little economic mass for proper GPU drivers and Average Joe proof installations imo.

      • DanMan says:

        You’re right about the Mac. But Linux and Mac porting goes hand in hand. If you do one, the other comes pretty much for free and you’d be silly not to do both.

    • basilisk says:

      What matters is 5+ years. By then Linux is the main development platform of the PC

      I like how, despite all reality, the Linux dream keeps living on.

      • P.Funk says:

        Nothing was ever accomplished by those who humped the status quo as if it were the only thing possible.

        • joa says:

          Linux is a total mess. If you know programming then just take a look at the source code – it’s completely incomprehensible. They use #define and things which you are taught not to use from day 1! There is locking everywhere because things are not designed properly. It’s a single-processor operating system with SMP support bolted on afterwards.

          • sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

            Discouraged from using #define really??

            #define MAX_NUMBER_DOODAHS 42 is perfectly fine and expected. Much better than sticking 42 all over the place.

            I’ve yet to see a large piece of software not full of #defines. And I’ve seen quite a few. Ok, you can do horrible things with them but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them in a good way

          • Kaira- says:


            I guess you could be more wrong if you tried a little harder, but what you have just said was utter bull.

          • Ich Will says:

            You’re told not to use them on day 1 because on day 1 you are too inexperienced to use them properly. Day 720, you’re told how to use them properly and the world is your oyster.

        • basilisk says:

          I’m not at all saying the status quo is the only possible scenario. But the thing is, we’ve been reading this exact same sentence predicting glorious future for Linux for more than a decade now. And what did Linux on desktop achieve in the meantime? A quadrillion new distros were born, some of which were, as usual, heralded as the Next Best Thing, and eventually fell by the wayside, as is the way of all distros. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.

          Until Linux removes the one gigantic obstacle preventing widespread adoption, i.e. its insane levels of user-facing fragmentation, it simply cannot take off. And removing the obstacle would betray everything that Linux was built on, causing the mother of all shitstorms. Therefore, not likely.

      • jrodman says:

        The dream of “Linux will be the majority platform in 2 years!” is obviously BS.

        But “Linux is going nowhere” is also BS. The platform, even as a desktop, is quietly growing. Will that amount to something significant? I have no idea. However using it as a desktop platform gets easier every year for me, as the productivity apps increasingly mature and the world shifts to a variety of primary personal computing platforms, instead of only just one.

  7. james.hancox says:

    If you want an upgradeable Steam Box, then buy an upgradeable Steam Box. Using standard mini-ITX boards and PCIe cards means that your Steam Box is bulkier, with more slots, connectors and PCBs, and with a poorly integrated thermal solution- but in return you have much more flexibility, and can upgrade down the road if you want to. The reason that the Alienware Steam Box is more compact than rival Steam Boxes is because it goes for this soldered down, integrated approach. It’s a tradeoff. Some people will like the tradeoff- others won’t, and that’s also fine! The joy of the Steam Box is that you are allowed to choose.

    • Sharlie Shaplin says:

      Yeah, if I wanted one I would just build one myself.

  8. Potmos says:

    Hook a PC with the steam OS into the TV via HDMI, sorted.
    Really don’t see that much need for specialist hardware, at least for the people on this forum.

  9. AreWeHavingFunYet says:

    Thank God I already have a Steambox and an upgradeable one at that. All I need is a sticker.

  10. pollosaurus rex says:

    It’s like Alienware is actively trying to sabotage the whole Steam Machine thing… and Valve are happily going along with it.

    • Death_Masta187 says:

      The only thing Alienware is doing is sabotaging it for themselves. Because this is still a PC there are always going to be cheaper and better options to choose from.

  11. Malcolm says:

    Given that at least two of the announced steam machines use the off-the-shelf mini-ITX cases such as the Fractal Design Node 304 I don’t really see the issue. Either build from scratch or buy one of those safe in the knowledge that it takes standard parts.

  12. lamontagne says:

    I don’t mind it to be honest. 5 years ago I’d refuse but now I just want to be able to pick up a box and play my games. It is cheaper to build your own, and more rewarding, but it’s just not a large enough part of my hobby to be worth. I built my last PC about 3 years ago, and from that point it’s just been the box wot I put games on.

    If every few years I could just refresh the box and keep going that’d be fine by me. Invariably when I upgrade my machine I end up buying most components afresh; I generally only carry across ATX case, DVD drive and HDDs so it’s not a massive loss and means I don’t have to spend hours researching components and the current state of the market.

  13. AshRolls says:

    If Alienware is going to match price with the next gen consoles at a similar hardware spec then modularity will have to be sacrificed. Unfortunately modularity is expensive and when it comes down to a battle between no modularity and an extra £100 price tag on top of the console, no modularity will win.

    Nothing is stopping another manufacturer making a modular steam machine here. Alienware may be the standard-bearer but I think they have made the correct choice.

    • pollosaurus rex says:

      how can a “no modulariry + a new machine every year” logic be the correct choice?

      • Cinek says:

        Because it means very short list of possible specs for game devs to bother with – and by that you inherit huge advantage that consoles got: ability to write software tailored to hardware.

        IMHO modular SteamBox == dead SteamBox.
        There’s nothing such thing would offer for anyone that microATX doesn’t offer already.

      • james.hancox says:

        Works for the iPad, doesn’t it?

        • LionsPhil says:

          You mean the mass-market everyone-copies-it device with a serious cult of cool around it that makes it half a piece of jewelry?

          Much as cold-cathode bling may be popular with a certain demographic, I don’t think Alienware boxes compare.

          • james.hancox says:

            It also works for the Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7, every Samsung tablet under the sun… bringing out a faster refresh once a year is just standard practice at this point. Not everyone cares about upgrading their PCs, and for those who do there are alternatives to pick.

          • Baines says:

            Valve and Alienware both have a “cult of cool”. They just don’t have it to the extent of something like Apple.

      • somnolentsurfer says:

        Just because it’s refreshed every year does’t mean you have to buy it every year. Most phones get refreshed every year, but they’re still sold on two year contracts.

        And if you replace your Steam machine every two years that’s probably less often than you had to replace your 360.

  14. bad guy says:

    I don’t think that the cats are interested in upgrading their Steam machines.

  15. Seafort says:

    I wish Valve would get more involved in the Steambox venture other than standing back and watching what 3rd party companies do to their vision.

    I have no idea who they are trying to market these Steamboxes to. Does anyone?

    It’s just an expensive prebuilt PC which may or may not be able to upgrade depending on which company built them.

    This will be more confusing for new customers than it already is in the PC market. In my eyes it’s already failed and needs more structure and guidance from Valve if it is going to make PC gaming more mainstream and protect the PC market in the years to come.

    • Cinek says:

      “I have no idea who they are trying to market these Steamboxes to.” – console gamers and young geeks (who haven’t got into PC gaming yet).

    • lizzardborn says:

      They are trying to protect the PC platform from the wallgardening of Windows. Also having a platform to bring past AAA games to tablet devices.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      “I have no idea who they are trying to market these Steamboxes to. Does anyone?”

      Going by the multitude of responses I get to that question every time I ask it, nobody — especially Valve — has a fucking clue.

      “Everyone and no one” is probably the most accurate answer.

  16. wisnoskij says:

    No one upgrades PCs anymore, because their is no reason to.

    If they had come out with this 10 years ago sure, I would agree, but tech is no longer advancing like it was 10 years ago.

    And this is good. It is good that the Steam machine will not be upgradable, and just have a version number. They can test each version, you can trouble shoot easily with a bunch of identical machines. I don;t think the people who are goign to buy these just want to buy the Steam logo and some customized OS, they want the consoly experience of not having to pick your own hardware and not have to worry about compatibility or system specs

  17. Junkenstein says:

    The problem here isn’t the lack of upgradability, it’s the fact that they plan on releasing a new version every year.

    • Baines says:

      Alienware is following the laptop, tablet, and smartphone market.

      I’ve seen elsewhere people comparing it to consoles, but yearly versions are straight out of the smartphone market instead.

      • Snargelfargen says:

        Do you have a persuasive reason why Steamboxes should be compared to tablets and smartphones? I don’t necessarily disagree, but if you look at consoles, smaller iterations like the Wii-U have failed. The laptop market has also been in a death spiral for years, with vanishingly tiny profit margins on hardware and steadily decreasing sales.

        I think it has a lot to do with customers’ expectations. Normally, people who purchase an expensive TV, console or desktop expect it to last quite a while. Apple has managed to turn that around completely which is certainly impressive. I am skeptical that Alienware is capable of the same feat.

        • Baines says:

          I said Alienware is following the tablet, smartphone, and laptop approach, not Steamboxes in general. Fixed, non-upgradable hardware with new versions each year. That is the system smartphones, tablets, and laptops use.

          The Wii-U failed for reasons beyond being a “small iteration”. It was chasing a casual market that wasn’t going to be there, after Nintendo had already lost both the player and publisher sides of the gamer market. Nintendo was facing a failure regardless of what they released.

          Are laptops in a death spiral? They are losing the casual computing market to smartphones and tablets, but at the same time they appear to be eating into the desktop market. For better or worse, desktops appear to be about as endangered as laptops despite being upgradable.

    • Moraven says:

      Ouya planned this and they are approaching their 1 year mark. Wonder if they will do so.

    • Carra says:

      Consoles do have that going for them. Buy one and you’re set for 6 years. Then again, the games are a lot more expensive than on PC.

  18. Wulfram says:

    I think upgradability can be an over-rated virtue sometimes. People buying Steamboxes are going to tend to be people who don’t want to build their own, after all, so they may not want to be poking around inside their box. Or they might be people who value form factor.

    And if you’ve got the right mix of stuff and don’t need to be cutting edge then by the time your graphics card needs updating you’re quite probably looking for a new CPU and more RAM and more hard disk space too, and your motherboard might not be compatible with what you want.

    • lizzardborn says:

      Upgradability is almost dead. Upgrading cpu with same generation rarely makes sense, if you pump ram to the max at purchase – no reason to upgrade it after that. So the only real upgrade to be had is more storage (for which there is no place in a steam machine) and change GPU every odd year or so.

      The current trend is – buy machine, in 2 years change GPU, on the next 2 – just buy new PC.

  19. h_ashman says:

    The fundamental problem with Alienware’s ar is the X51 isn’t even truly upgradable. Yeah you can switch some parts around, but to save space they moved the power unit to an external proprietary power brick (300W if I remember rightly from the various reviews I’ve read). So you’ll always be power capped by that.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Yep, Dell/Alienware’s desktops have never been configured for upgradeability. The psus are specced as low as possible where they can still reliably power the internals and the smaller cases can often only accomodate low profile graphics cards. Even full-size desktops need a new psu, and the smaller X51 case has issues accomodating full-size graphics cards,

      • smiggs says:

        I came here to say this, Dell have never been known for the expandability or upgradability of their machines, they use custom motherboards often with soldered on graphics cards, they view their boxes as appliances with a maximum life of 4 years. There will be many other options for Steamboxes I certainly wouldn’t be looking to Dell for leadership, who Alienware aside are moving away from the consumer space and setting themselves up as an exclusively business to business company.

  20. h_ashman says:

    The fundamental problem with Alienware’s ar is the X51 isn’t even truly upgradable. Yeah you can switch some parts around, but to save space they moved the power unit to an external proprietary power brick (300W if I remember rightly from the various reviews I’ve read). So you’ll always be power capped by that.

  21. Snargelfargen says:

    Just about everybody who has bought a flat-screen TV supposedly capable of streaming netflix and other services has already run into difficulties. Making Steamboxes unupgradeable makes sense in the short term (for Alienware’s bottom line) but that well is going to dry up as consumers become more knowledgeable. Hardware/software cycles tend to be self-reinforcing and while that’s commonly accepted for smartphones, the reaction for home theater systems has been one of bewilderment and disappointment.

    That said, it won’t deter the same folks who buy $2000 gaming pcs in the name of futureproofing. I’m a little disappointed to see Valve’s streaming solution transforming into a niche luxury product though.It could have been so much more!

  22. Moraven says:

    “So why should we, longtime PC gamers, be interested in non-upgradable Steam Machines again? Is there something I’m missing?”

    Steam machines target market really is not longtime PC gamers who already build and upgrade their own machines.

    And really anytime you want to upgrade your CPU every 4-5 years, you need new socket anyway. You might get by on not upgrading your PSU, assuming the GPU you pick is not a guzzler.

  23. adwodon says:

    This kind of misses the point, which granted isn’t a hugely strong one and that is that Steam machines are designed to be an intermediary between consoles and PC’s, playing PC games in a PC-like environment with some of the customizable aspects of a PC, but with a small form factor and low noise level for minimal living room presence and locked down hardware which makes things easier for developers when optimizing.

    If certain steam machines from specific manufacturers are dominating sales then there is good reason for both Steam OS and the developer of the game to optimize for that setup. Combine this with the cheap cost of bulk ordering / manufacture over time and eventually Steam machines will drop in price relative to their PC counterparts whilst potentially outperforming them.

    It’s a long play though and you’re right to point out that isn’t necessarily a good thing, but none of these companies involved are stupid and none of them seem to be leaning too heavily on this. It’s wise for manufacturers to get in on this provided they don’t overreach as getting a foothold on the future market could see tremendous gain, they just don’t want to overestimate what is likely to be fairly low consumer demand but keep enough interest going over the years for it eventually grow into a viable alternative to a PC (or a console).

  24. Spoon Of Doom says:

    I still haven’t quite understood what the difference is between a Steambox and a normal PC, other than that SteamOS comes preinstalled on those boxes and there probably is a Steam logo stamped on there somewhere. You can get all kinds of cases for PCs as well (including, but not limited to, cases that look good in the living room), so that isn’t really a feature. To me, it is the Alienware effect: same hardware with a bit of design => ridiculously overpriced box, even compared to other prebuilt machines. Of course with Alienware Steamboxes, you have this effect to the power of two. Or power of three, considering you can’t even upgrade them apparently. But as everybody and their dog are producing different Steamboxes, you don’t even have any of the advantages that consoles offer, like consistent hardware specs. Not that this would help anyone at all, because Steam games also have to run on all other machines which can freely install SteamOS as well, not to mention traditional Steam clients installed on Windows, Mac or Linux.
    As a result of all this, I have no idea why anyone would be interested in those things, and who these people are supposed to be. I can see absolutely no advantage for either customer, game developer or even Valve for that matter (except _maybe_ some licensing income from people marketing those devices as Steamboxes? I don’t know).

    TL;DR: Is there anything at all different in a Steambox as compared to a PC with SteamOS installed and stuffed into a pretty case? Serious question.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      “It just works and plays games in the living room” The difference is in how it is perceived.

      There are real tangible differences of course, but that’s not important.

      The Steambox is aimed at folks who don’t mind spending a lot of money to save a little time and want to feel good about their purchase. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just a niche target.

    • AreWeHavingFunYet says:

      Squeezing a gaming PC into a media center case might not be a good idea, unless you’re gonna fit it with some fancy (and expensive) cooling system. Buying Alienware will *probably* let you avoid such problems. Nevertheless, as a person who has only ever gamed on PC and has never owned anything resembling a console, I’d never consider buying a SteamBox if I was looking for a living room gaming device. I’d simply buy a console.

    • newprince says:

      TL;DR: Is there anything at all different in a Steambox as compared to a PC with SteamOS installed and stuffed into a pretty case? Serious question.

      No, there is not. You don’t even need SteamOS, really. Just use Big Picture Mode on your TV and *bang*.

      You could also in the near future throw SteamOS on an SSD or something and get all the Steam Machine action. And conceivably dual boot into Windows/Big Picture Mode or stream your Windows games to a HTPC. There’s lots of options, and Steam Machines is the “I don’t have a PC and just wanna buy something to put under my TV” solution.

    • P.Funk says:

      Steamboxes are for people who buy Dells and Gateways and whatever. People who struggle with logging in when they’ve misplaced their passwords.

      The big advantage of a steambox will be buying a ready made machine that will have hardware that is 100% driver supported. Right now driver support and Linux is always a looming question mark when building a machine.

  25. Oberoth says:

    The only Steam Machines I’m the slightest bit interested in are cheap ones that run games streaming from my main rig. And the only reason for that is the fact that I live in a two story house and spend most of my time on the first floor.

  26. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    This isn’t that surprising. The market for Steamboxes is going to be people with less knowledge of PC hardware. If they had more knowledge, they wouldn’t bother buying a prebuilt machine marketed as a specialized device. If they had little knowledge/confidence in building from scratch, they’d buy a prebuilt, traditional PC and upgrade specific parts as they went.

    The way we talk about these things should be the clue. We aren’t calling them PCs running SteamOS, which is what they are. We talk about them as Steamboxes. If we didn’t want them to be treated as something different, we shouldn’t have discussed them as if they were something different.

  27. dahools says:

    Nathan although I hear what you are saying about them being upgrade-able. I just don’t see it being feasible. How many of these machines have you seem with your own eyes?

    The photos in your post are miss leading they make the alienware steam machine look quite big, These things are small, are designed to be custom parts because of this, they are never really going to be upgrade-able.

    Have you seen an x51? Someone I know here where i’m working has one on his desk. Its roughly the same size as an original PS3 (its thinner but a bit taller). I know this because his PS3 and XB360 stand next to it. I didn’t even realise this was his PC at first.
    Even that x51 has custom parts in it, external power brick and a daughter board coming out of the PCI-E which allows the 660ti to sit sideways in the case saving on width, are the first two that come to mind.
    The largest gfx card it accepts is a GTX760 because it cant accomodate anything bigger and/or power anything higher up the pecking order of gfx cards.

    How future proof do you want them to be? As everyone knows who builds and upgrades their machines you are out of date before your parts arrive in the post half the time. The rate that intel change socket sizes and the rate that the 2 GFX companies produce new hardware for new software standards (shader models, direct x etc) plus the continual advancement in USB, pci-e, sata specs amongst other things.

    All these things in a form factor that’s suppost to be the size of a console,it can be bad enough in some mid tower cases that have got the room for standard parts.

    I think the original batch of steam machines should be pretty set as to their HW config as per manufacturer as I think if anything it will give the OS a baseline for software to be developed for, a sort of minimum level and extra bells and whistles for those with better HW i.e self made steam machines or SFF (small form factor) PC’s.

  28. UnholySmoke says:

    Is anyone else just waiting to see what the minimum specs are for a SteamBox that can stream a game from their desktop, before deciding whether or not to pick one up for cheap/build one?

    Admittedly, I am in that lucky minority where I am the only gamer in the house. But look, my £30 Raspberry Pi is not a million miles away from being able to send controller data to my desktop and receive streamed HD video and audio back, right? And it handles all my home media, iPlayer etc just fine – at 1080p. So, minimum specs for a network-game-streaming-media-centre box please, Valve. If it’s sensible, I’m in. Or am I missing something?

  29. newprince says:

    Not understanding the constant Linux hate by people who have never used it. Sigh.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I’ve used it extensively, and I am not a fan of the Linux culture. I appreciate the option of an open-source OS as much as any programmer, but I really dislike when game developers waste their time supporting the tiny fraction of users who run Apple or Linux. If you want to play games, stop trying to be unique and get an OS that supports them, not the other way around.

      Game developers have more important and entertaining stuff they could be doing except porting their games to yet another OS.

      • Pliqu3011 says:

        “[..] but I really dislike when game developers waste their time supporting the tiny fraction of users who run Apple or Linux. If you want to play games, stop trying to be unique and get an OS that supports them, not the other way around. ”
        Think about how circular that reasoning is.
        “Developers shouldn’t make stuff for linux because there are no people that use linux because there are no developers that make stuff for linux because…”
        If developers want to spend time making their games compatible with a free and open framework, then I can only encourage that.

        Besides, who are you to judge what a developer is or isn’t allowed to do with his time?

      • newprince says:

        That’s really unfortunate you see it that way. Linux and its variants have already shown themselves to be the best environment for servers and programming (and also MacBooks, being Unix-like), and you know the best way to make an old netbook/laptop/desktop be fast again? Get rid of Windows and throw Lubuntu or something on it. Meanwhile, the desktop is obviously heavily Windows, but can it really be attributed to how awesome Windows is as a desktop OS? I would say no.

        As for gaming, I think you need to look to history. Start with DirectX vs. open standards here. Who owns DirectX? Now, would you honestly assert that DirectX was this neutral framework, and that Linux and Mac were just too stupid or unconcerned to work with them? Hogwash. They wanted, at least in Linux’s case, to be able to work with open, non-MS owned tools, but DirectX arguably stayed ahead in certain areas. We could argue about why that is, but regardless, those closed tools are going away, even if many have this weird insistence they remain closed. Both NVidia and AMD have different projects they’re working on to change the landscape and support SteamOS/Linux much better. But hey, there’s many people who still maintain that closed-source, proprietary hardware and software is just somehow “better”. It usually has more to do with them not knowing or having the patience to build their own things and learn about what it is they are interested about. Why in this day and age, of YouTube walkthroughs, Googling anything reliably about how to make a computer work, are we still tied to making more work for ourselves with click-click-click solely UI interaction and overpriced pre-built systems? It boggles the mind.

        If you want to talk about Windows as a hegemony in gaming OSes, well, more bad news. Microsoft itself has made it clear that Windows no longer = gaming OS through its own actions. It has cast its lot with console gaming now and forever, unless the XBox brand somehow fails soon. Windows 8 was a clear departure into aping Apple’s success, and an overreaction to a threat it perceived in the desktop market. The ONLY bone it thew to PC gamers in the past ten years, which turned out to actually infuriate us as only MS can, was the atrocious Game for Windows Live. And you seriously wonder why game devs, game distribution platforms like Steam, and actual end users/gamers want Linux support?

  30. ten_six says:

    This, to me is the real problem with any of the Steam Boxes. What’s their target consumer? It isn’t people that play on consoles. It’s not the Steam community – because they already are using their PCs. It’s not the old die hard gamers because all of them are running windows games so they can play their entire library at any given time. It’s not the new generation of kids that play games on their tablets/phones/PDAs.

    The Steam client itself I can see being used by people that bake their own PCs for the living room. Other than that, the hardware these vendors are attempting to push, meh! Who wants a locked down PC that can’t be upgraded? Even worse, if you buy one you know in a year it’s outdated and you can’t upgrade them piece meal.. you have to buy a complete new one. That’s just rubbish.

  31. GiantPotato says:

    Maybe some other company will start selling DIY Steam Box kits, but I can’t see Alienware or any other company that provides end-user support offering this. Even most core PC gamers can’t tell the difference between bad hardware and buggy drivers. It’s not something that comes up very often under Windows.

  32. RagingLion says:

    YES!! This is the main thing I want from a computer. I long for the simplest of systems of plugging in a graphics cards, processors etc in a chunky module to upgrade a computer and I want it guaranteed that don’t can go wrong in terms of compatibility in doing so. I haven’t ever wanted to go near upgrading a PC because of this. It’s one of the things I’ve been excited by when hearing about the Steam Machines – hoping that they would do this.

    It may also be true that a good streaming option would be my ideal Steam machine.

  33. Wedge says:

    We’ve been stuck on the same base CPU’s and GPU’s for THREE years now, and there’s nothing in the immediate pipeline looking to blow them away. I don’t see the big deal, other than I can’t imagine being able to make a new machine that is a relevant upgrade in only a year’s time the way things have been lately.

  34. Corb says:

    In another term: “Why alienware is digging its own grave”

  35. petrucio says:

    The Gigabyte SteamBoxes that we got in Steam Dev Days are somewhat upgradeable – it’s pretty easy to upgrade the memory and Hard Drive with other notebook-sized components – I know I’ll probably put an SSD on it a couple years from now.

    Different users might want different things, and different manufacturers will be there to provide it. I really don’t see Valve telling the manufacturers how they should go about this.

  36. malkav11 says:

    The Steambox is solving a need that I don’t have. I am just fine playing games at my desk with a 24″ monitor and proper mouse and keyboard controls. No part of the “couch experience” (I don’t even have a couch) would be an upgrade for me without a massive overhaul of my living space that would cost far more than it’s worth. I am also just fine upgrading a handbuilt desktop PC every now and then as it becomes relevant.

  37. BiggerJ says:

    Welp. An Xbox-One-ian blunder. One down, thirteen to go.

  38. JadedPrimate says:

    One more reason to mock people who buy Alienware.