Well it looks like Valve and Xi3 just wants to tease gamers a little for now at CES 2013. After the brief announcement about Xi3 helping Valve to make the hardware of a ‘new product’, they’ve brought out (what we assume to be an early concept or prototype) a new small gaming box working under the codename Piston. The Piston is based off Xi3’s upper-tier X7A computer case (which looks almost identical to their current product pictured above, but clad in a black case) that’s slightly larger than a tennis ball (and many people have also drawn size comparisons to a grapefruit).
Xi3 says the performance-oriented X7A used as a base for Valve’s Piston (notice a piston is part of a valve which produces steam; Valve Corporation is really going all out in their pipe-and-plumber related naming convention) will allow for a quad core processor, lots of memory and storage up to 1 TB (that’s far more than the 250 GB that the current Xbox and PlayStation consoles offer) as well as a huge array of ports. The insides of the Piston, like Xi3’s other existing products, will be modular – which means they can be easily disassembled and swapped out with newer and better parts with minimal hassle.
There’s the standard Ethernet port, audio in/out ports and a SPDIF optical audio port on the Piston. But what really draws a lot of attention are the boatload of USB ports: four USB 3.0 and another four USB 2.0 ports along with quad eSATAp ports. Besides revealing the hardware on behalf of Valve, Xi3 has had little comment about the functionality of Piston, besides being able to run games at high-resolutions via Steam and support Big Picture mode on televisions. We at Games Per Second are taking a guess, though, that these 8 USB ports and 4 eSATAp ports are they because Valve will probably offer a lot of peripherals and/or controllers with the Piston when it finally becomes available; along with a vast array of storage add on options for flash drives and external hard drives. This makes sense if they do it because there are a lot of possibilities if gamers are able to backup their saved games onto flash drives and load up games onto both the Piston and their PC via portable storage.
Another interesting feature on the Piston is its display options. There are a pair of mini Display Ports (you’ll find these on many modern computers, including Apple’s MacBook Pros and Airs) along with a single hybrid port that supports both full-sized Display Port and HDMI connectivity. Just about all high-definition televisions use HDMI connectivity so it’s interesting that you might be able to also hook up your computer monitor to it too.
Xi3 is likely under an agreement with Valve about what they can and cannot say about this future machine, which is reasonable considering the ‘hush-hush’ nature of a product at early stages. What’s interesting is that Xi3 is only referring to this machine as Piston… they’re telling everyone that the Steam Box name is “your term for it, not ours”, which adds some mystery as to what Valve’s console/living room PC will ultimately be called. There’s no official release date or price for the Piston either, though the rumor-mill says Valve’s gaming machine will be released this year in 2013. Xi3 sells their own hardware, which the Piston is based on, for between $399 up to $999.
We don’t think discussing pricing at this point is appropriate, although many other gaming news sites are posting these prices like they are the real deal (they’re not) and prompting outbursts from gamers about being too expensive. There are many reasons why (price discussion is a waste of time right now): The exact specifications of Valve’s machine has not been confirmed (Xi3 is merely showcasing base hardware at a developmental stage) and Valve themselves have said absolutely nothing about price or whether there will be a ‘subsidy’ (the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles were both heavily subsidized when they were first launched and sold at a loss). For the record, the Sony PlayStation 3 was priced at $400-$500 when it first hit the market in 2006/2007… so it’s anyone’s guess how Valve will choose to price their machine until they finally announce it for themselves.