Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

That Depends on Whether They Need One

Ars Technica UK published an editorial called, Hey Valve: What's the point of Steam OS? The article does not actually pose the question in it's text -- it mostly rants about technical problems with a Zotac review unit -- but the headline is interesting none-the-less.

Here's my view of the situation.

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The Death of Media Center May Have Been...

There's two parts to this story, and both center around Windows 8. The first was addressed in an editorial that I wrote last May, titled The Death of Media Center & What Might Have Been. Microsoft wanted to expand the PC platform into the living room. Beyond the obvious support for movies, TV, and DVR, they also pushed PC gaming in a few subtle ways. The Games for Windows certification required games to be launchable by Media Center and support Xbox 360 peripherals, which pressures game developers to make PC games comfortable to play on a couch. They also created Tray and Play, which is an optional feature that allows PC games to be played from the disk while they installed in the background. Back in 2007, before Steam and other digital distribution services really took off, this eliminated install time, which was a major user experience problem with PC gaming (and a major hurdle for TV-connected PCs).

It also had a few nasty implications. Games for Windows Live tried to eliminate modding by requiring all content to be certified (or severely limiting the tools as seen in Halo 2 Vista). Microsoft was scared about the content that users could put into their games, especially since Hot Coffee (despite being locked, first-party content) occurred less than two years earlier. You could also argue that they were attempting to condition PC users to accept paid DLC.

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Regardless of whether it would have been positive or negative for the PC industry, the Media Center initiative launched with Windows Vista, which is another way of saying “exploded on the launch pad, leaving no survivors.” Windows 7 cleared the wreckage with a new team, who aimed for the stars with Windows 8. They ignored the potential of the living room PC, preferring devices and services (ie: Xbox) over an ecosystem provided by various OEMs.

If you look at the goals of Steam OS, they align pretty well with the original, Vista-era ambitions. Valve hopes to create a platform that hardware vendors could compete on. Devices, big or small, expensive or cheap, could fill all of the various needs that users have in the living room. Unfortunately, unlike Microsoft, they cannot be (natively) compatible with the catalog of Windows software.

This may seem like Valve is running toward a cliff, but keep reading.

What If Steam OS Competed with Windows Store?

Windows 8 did more than just abandon the vision of Windows Media Center. Driven by the popularity of the iOS App Store, Microsoft saw a way to end the public perception that Windows is hopelessly insecure. With the Windows Store, all software needs to be reviewed and certified by Microsoft. Software based on the Win32 API, which is all software for Windows 7 and earlier, was only allowed within the “Desktop App,” which was a second-class citizen and could be removed at any point.

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This potential made the PC software industry collectively crap themselves. Mozilla was particularly freaked out, because Windows Store demanded (at the time) that all web browsers become reskins of Internet Explorer. This means that Firefox would not be able to implement any new Web standards on Windows, because it can only present what Internet Explorer (Trident) draws. Mozilla's mission is to develop a strong, standards-based web browser that forces all others to interoperate or die.

Remember: “This website is best viewed with Internet Explorer”?

Executives from several PC gaming companies, including Valve, Blizzard, and Mojang, spoke out against Windows 8 at the time (along with browser vendors and so forth). Steam OS could be viewed as a fire escape for Valve if Microsoft decided to try its luck and kill, or further deprecate, Win32 support. In the mean time, Windows PCs could stream to it until Linux gained a sufficient catalog of software.

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

This is where Steam OS gets interesting. Its software library cannot compete against Windows with its full catalog of Win32 applications, at least not for a long time. On the other hand, if Microsoft continues to support Win32 as a first-class citizen, and they returned to the level of openness with software vendors that they had in the Windows XP era, then Valve doesn't really have a reason to care about Steam OS as anything more than a hobby anyway. Likewise, if doomsday happens and something like Windows RT ends up being the future of Windows, as many feared, then Steam OS wouldn't need to compete against Windows. Its only competition from Microsoft would be Windows Store apps and first-party software.

I would say that Valve might even have a better chance than Microsoft in that case.

GDC 15: Maingear Launches Customizable Drift Steam Machine

Subject: General Tech | March 6, 2015 - 05:46 AM |
Tagged: SteamOS, Steam Machine, maingear, gdc 2015, gdc 15, gaming, drift

Maingear is joining the Steam Machine fray at the Games Developers Conference with its announcement of the upcoming Drift Steam Machine. The Drift is a configurable small form factor gaming PC that will come equipped with Valve’s SteamOS operating system in November.

Maingear Drift Steam Machine.png

Maingear’s new Steam Machine uses a small aluminum unibody chassis with optional Glasurit automotive paint to create an exceptionally attractive gaming console. It comes in two base systems – the Maingear Drift and the Maingear Drift SS – from which users can further customize based around the Intel H81 and Z97 chipsets respectively.

The Drift is the entry level system starting at $949. This system includes a MSI H81-i motherboard, Intel Pentium Anniversary Edition G3258 processor, 8GB Corsair Vengeance 1600 MHz memory, a NVIDIA GTX 750 Ti, 500GB Seagate Barracuda hard drive, 8x DVD drive, and a 450W Silverstone power supply.

Maingear’s Drift SS takes things up a notch by moving to a Gigabyte GA-Z97N-WIFI motherboard, Intel Core i5-4590 processor paired with Maingear’s Epic 120 Supercooler closed-loop water cooler, a NVIDIA GTX 970 GPU, and a 250GB Samsung 850 EVO in addition to that 500GB hard drive in the Drift PC. The higher end liquid cooled Drift SS starts at $1,949.

Maingear Drift Steam Machine Rear IO.jpg

The Drift SS comes at a hefty premium but it sure would look impressive in your entertainment center!

Maingear is offering up the systems for pre-order today and will start shipping the customize-able systems next month. Note that systems shipped before November will come with Windows 8.1 x64 and not SteamOS (though you can emulate the experience by booting Windows into Steam Big Picture Mode or installing the beta yourself).

Source: Maingear

GDC 15: ZOTAC Announces the SN970 Steam Machine - Powered by a GTX 970M and Intel Skylake CPU

Subject: Systems | March 4, 2015 - 05:11 AM |
Tagged: Skylake, zotac, valve, SteamOS, Steam Machine, steam, gdc 2015, gdc 15, GDC, GTX 970M

Favor a steamier TV gaming experience? ZOTAC has announced a new Steam Machine on the eve of Valve’s presentation at GDC on Wednesday.

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The SN970 presumably gets its name from the GTX 970M mobile GPU within, and this does the heavy lifting along with an unspecified 6th-generation Intel (Skylake) CPU. The massive amount of HDMI outputs (there are 4 HDMI 2.0 ports!) is pretty impressive for a small device like this, and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports are a premium feature as well.

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There's a lot going on back here - the rear I/O of the ZOTAC SN970

Here's the rundown of features and specs from ZOTAC:

Key Features

  • SteamOS preloaded
  • NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 970M MXM graphics
  • 4 x HDMI 2.0, supports 4K UHD @ 60Hz

Specifications

  • 6th Gen Intel Processor
  • NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5
  • 8GB DDR3 SODIMM
  • 64GB M.2 SSD
  • 1 x HDMI in
  • 2D/3D NVIDIA Surround
  • Dual Gigabit Ethernet
  • 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x 2.5” 1TB HDD
  • 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Mic-In, Stereo Out
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC Card Reader

The release for this new Steam Box isn't specified, but we will be doubtless be hearing more from Valve and their partners tomorrow so stay tuned!

Source: ZOTAC

E3 2014: SteamBoy Project Is Not a Valve Product

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | June 15, 2014 - 05:51 AM |
Tagged: x86, SteamOS, Steam Machine, Steam Controller, steam, mobile, handheld, E3 14, E3

To be doubly clear, if the title was not explicit enough, this announcement is not made by Valve. This company is called, "SteamBoy Machine team". If not a hoax, this is one of the many Steam Machines which are expected to come out of the SteamOS initiative. Rather than taking the platform to a desktop or home theater PC (HTPC) form-factor, this company wants to target the handheld PC gaming market.

steamboy-hero.jpg

Image Credit: SteamBoy Machine team via The Escapist

If it comes out, that is a clever use of SteamOS. I can see Big Picture Mode being just as useful on a small screen as it is on a TV, especially with its large font and controller navigation. The teasers suggest that it will use the haptic feedback-based touchpads which Valve are expected to base the Steam Controller on. It will also include a 5-inch touchscreen.

The Escapist got into contact with the team and received a few more specs:

  • Quad-Core CPU (x86)
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32GB built-in storage

Even if this company does not make good on their expectations, companies will now be considering portable SteamOS devices. This is the sort of outside-the-box thinking that Valve was pushing for when they wanted to create an open platform. Each party will struggle to win in their personal goals, yet they can also rely on the crowd (other companies or individuals) to keep up in areas where they do not want an edge.

Philosophy aside, the company is targeting 2015 with a "Standard Edition" supporting WiFi and 3G. It would make sense to have a WiFi-only model, but who knows.

Source: Escapist

Steaming on a Sempron

Subject: General Tech | April 16, 2014 - 05:31 PM |
Tagged: steambox, amd, sempron, athlon, Kabini, SteamOS

A popular question that has arisen from the release of the four new low cost Kabini processors has been their effectiveness in powering a Steam Machine. Phoronix have just finished testing the new Athlon and Sempron chips, paired with several laptop IGPs using Catalyst Linux driver fglrx 13.35.5/OpenGL 4.3.12798 on Ubuntu 14.04.  They tested Counter-Strike: Source, Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, and Portal at a variety of resolutions to see just how much performance these chips offer.  None of the chips could offer acceptable performance at 1080p and only Portal was delivered at 60fps assuming you used 1024x768.  They will be following this review with another that will pair discreet GPUs with Kabini which should increase gaming capabilities greatly.

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"Earlier today the latest installment of our extensive Linux testing of AMD's new Athlon AM1 APUs were shared in the form of RadeonSI vs. Gallium3D benchmarks of the Radeon R3 Graphics found with these new entry-level APUs. Not included with that open-source vs. closed-source driver testing was any Source Engine / Steam Linux game testing due to an XCB DRI3 issue, but this article is devoted to looking at the Catalyst performance for the Sempron 2650, Sempron 3850, Athlon 5150, and Athlon 5350 to see whether any of these APUs can make the cut for a budget Steam Machine."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Phoronix

Intel NUC BIOS Update Fixes Debian Booting

Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 13, 2014 - 01:25 AM |
Tagged: ubuntu, SteamOS, nuc, Intel, debian

Two days ago, Intel added a new BIOS for the NUC to their download center. Its main update addresses a problem with booting some operating systems, such as SteamOS. Ars Technica published an editorial a couple of weeks ago about using the Haswell-based NUC with four Linux distributions. It basically comes down to the NUC not seeing a bootloader file that Debian-based OSes leave in their own branded folder. The BIOS was available less than two weeks later.

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The update also addresses (PDF) fan speed control, a bug with disk encryption passwords, a couple of BIOS settings, and a system hang with certain USB thumb drives.

If you have a NUC and want to make it a SteamOS (or Ubuntu, etc.) device, this should fix your woes. I mean, there was already a workaround involving four terminal commands but it is that much easier nonetheless. It is available now at Intel's store.

Source: Intel

SteamOS Beta Non-UEFI Support & Other Untested Features

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 22, 2014 - 06:27 AM |
Tagged: valve, SteamOS

When Valve launched SteamOS, it was definitely a beta product. Its installer prompted Ryan to make a troubleshooting video on our Youtube channel. It also apparently required a computer equipped with a UEFI which only became common about two or three years ago. It is also very difficult to install as a dual-boot configuration which complicates its coexistence with Windows (because Microsoft will certainly not support it from their end).

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Thankfully, most or all of these issues are being addressed in the latest beta SteamOS ISO... at your own risk. They are very careful to highlight that this beta has not been properly tested. Given that their initial release could nuke a random hard drive full of data, I would take that warning seriously.

These changes come from the project, "Ye Old SteamOSe". I am not sure that it solves the USB overwrite issue that we experienced (unless it was already fixed at some point) but I would expect that custom partitions and dual-boot would be impossible if that bug still existed. The highlighted features, according to the announcement's comments, are:

  • Non-EFI support
  • DVD install support
  • Custom partitions in Expert mode (cannot resize NTFS partitions).
  • Dual-boot in Expert mode.

If you would like to give SteamOS installation another shot, on a machine that you feel comfortable testing software with, then check out the Steam Universe thread.

Steam In-Home Streaming Closed Beta First Wave Begins

Subject: General Tech, Networking | January 15, 2014 - 07:27 AM |
Tagged: valve, SteamOS, pc game streaming

In-Home Streaming could be the feature most likely to kick-off SteamOS adoption. This functionality brings existing PCs to televisions without requiring the user to actually bring the box to their living room. Likewise, to justify purchasing a SteamOS behemoth, it seems likely to me that Valve will allow streaming back to Steam client from Steam Machines.

Video Credit: Devin Watson (Youtube)

Obviously the catalog of Windows games is the most obvious usage for In-Home Streaming but, in some years, maintaining just one high-end computer might dominate.

We will soon find out more about how it works. Valve has just allowed the first wave of development partners (and apparently many others) to the In-Home Streaming closed beta. Youtube videos are already beginning to leak out, or not-leak out depending on the NDA if one exists, which show it in action. The video, embedded above, is of a Lenovo T410 with an Intel Core i5 and integrated graphics streaming DayZ over Wireless-G. It looks pretty good at, they claim, without any noticeable lag.

The floodgates are open. Now, we wait with our umbrellas.

Source: Steam

CES 2014: AMD Supported in SteamOS "Out of the Box". Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9.9 in SteamOS Public Stable Branch

Subject: General Tech | January 9, 2014 - 10:18 PM |
Tagged: SteamOS, CES 2014, CES, amd

The Steam platform prides itself on benefiting from the many billions of dollars spent by the PC industry in-fighting. Two-and-a-half of the consoles seem to realize that they cannot keep up with the constant churn as the PC trots along its exponential curve. They, now more than ever, align themselves with our industry instead of running their own R&D treadmill. Each of these companies now license the efforts of AMD.

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Simply put, consoles struggle because their business model plans on a big loss followed by a few years of rest to have a chance of breaking even. Slow and steady wins the race.

SteamOS is a console that, instead of seeing how much it can justify locking down, goes the other way. So, when the prototype units were announced, it felt really weird to see a fairly wide selection of components... from a set of Intel processors and NVIDIA discrete graphics cards. AMD and Intel were a bit late for one reason or another.

But only just a bit. An updated AMD graphics driver, the Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9.9, has just been integrated into the SteamOS public stable branch. This driver is expected to fix tearing, overlay performance, in-game performance, and "malfunctioning return to desktop".

The driver will also be released on AMD.com soon.

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

CES 2014 Podcast Day 2 - ASUS, Lucid, Valve, Seagate and more!!

Subject: General Tech | January 7, 2014 - 10:21 AM |
Tagged: video, valve, SteamOS, Seagate, podcast, lucid, LaCie, iosafe, CES 2014, CES, asus

CES 2014 Podcast Day 2 - 01/06/14

It's time for podcast fun at CES!  Join us as we talk about the second day of the show including new products from ASUS, Lucid, Valve, Seagate and more!!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano and Ken Addison

Program length: 57:03

Be sure to subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube channel!!

 

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!