Xi3 Unveils Valve-Backed "Piston" Gaming PC

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Xi3 Unveils Valve-Backed "Piston" Gaming PC

"Piston" may well be the only gaming PC in the world that you can carry in the palm of your hand.

Unveiled at CES, Piston isn't a console but it's not exactly a conventional PC either, although it's much closer to the latter than the former. It's tiny, and it's backed, at least indirectly, by Valve, which has invested in specialty PC maker Xi3, the company that's actually building the thing.

What Piston actually brings to the party hasn't been nailed down yet, although Xi3's high-end X7A rig, upon which it is apparently based, features a quad-core CPU running up to 3.2 Ghz, 8GB RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage. On the outside, there are eight USB ports (three of which are USB 3.0), four eSATA ports, two Mini Display ports, analog and SPDIF audio input/outputs, an ethernet connector and an HDMI port, plus a connector for an external power supply.

The motherboard is split into three components that connect at right angles via slot connectors, which allows owners to upgrade their hardware by simply replacing individual boards. A big question for gamers is what sort of GPU Piston will offer; according to proposed specs for a failed Kickstarter bid from last year, it will sport 384 graphics shader cores and "handle graphics-rich computer games like Crysis 2 with ease." The specs also say the system will consume just 40 watts of power, a small fraction of the juice sucked back by conventional gaming rigs.

"This new development stage product will allow users to take full-advantage of their large high-definition TV displays for an amazing computer game experience," Xi3 President and CEO Jason A. Sullivan said. "As a result, this new system could provide access to thousands of gaming titles through an integrated system that exceeds the capabilities of leading game consoles, but can fit in the palm of your hand."

How much this mini-beast will cost is anybody's guess at this point, although Xi3 said on Kickstarter that the X7A will start at under $1000, which we all know means $999 and an expectation to pay more for anything beyond the basics. To be frank, I wouldn't give this system very good odds of making a go of it at anywhere near that price - the upgrade channel is way too narrow and 384 cores puts the GPU barely ahead of Nvidia's aging GTX-560 - but Valve's involvement makes anything possible.

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I do believe the sudden onslaught of Escapist traffic has crashed their website. Well done!

Andy Chalk:
features a quad-core CPU running up to 3.2 Ghz, GB RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage.

Sorry, how much RAM?

To be frank, I wouldn't give this system very good odds of making a go of it at anywhere near that price - the upgrade channel is way too narrow and 384 cores puts the GPU barely ahead of Nvidia's aging GTX-560

That kind of depends on what the next console generation looks like. The 560 may be "aging", but it's still perfectly capable of running just about anything currently on the market- and if the system was designed (as seems likely) to be used with TVs using Steam's new "big picture" mode, there's definitely a strict upper limit on the resolution the machine will be asked to cover.

Sqeeeeeee!

Though it seems a tad expensive :/

The price may seem steep, but considering the hardware you're getting as well as a 1000 gig SSD storage AND it's small size and portability, this sounds great.

Also Andy, you seem to be missing exactly how much RAM there's going to be.

rofltehcat:
Sqeeeeeee!

Though it seems a tad expensive :/

1TB SSD alone costs upwards of 1000 dollars. It's a good deal if you ask me.

Man I can't wait to Piston a Steamy box.

Waaghpowa:

rofltehcat:
Sqeeeeeee!

Though it seems a tad expensive :/

1TB SSD alone costs upwards of 1000 dollars. It's a good deal if you ask me.

It does, however, say that it can have up to 1TB. I doubt the basic $1000 will have that much space. Also, it says it is based on a PC with those specs, so it may be quite different.

The portability means it's a nice gadget if you have a lot of spare cash, but it's going to cost far more than anything else you can put together with similar specs.

Hah. they will run windows to. I think it will just be the "official" Valve box that will be Linux. once again 3rd party has shown up the 1st party.

Waaghpowa:
1TB SSD alone costs upwards of 1000 dollars. It's a good deal if you ask me.

Note that it says 'up to' 1TB, I bet the base model comes with a 16 or 32GB SSD like a lot of tablet pcs do. Or it'll have a mechanical laptop drive.

If it's anywhere near a thousand bucks it's doomed, you can just build a real gaming PC or buy a mid-high end laptop for that cash*, both of which will smash the little machine's head in. This is competing with the console boys, it needs to be under $500, preferably under $400 to make any market headway.

I think Valve are just using these guys as lab rats for their own Steam Box, seeing what the market will take and so on with only a small investment and no liability on their part.

Clever, if not necessarily very nice.

*For reference my gaming PC has an i53570k, hd78502GB, 256GB ssd, 750GB HDD and 8GB RAM. Ran me for 650 or about $1050, it plays everything on high or max settings at 1080p and it could have gone at least 200 cheaper if I'd nickel'n'dimed the parts instead of buying the brands I preferred. That's the market this thing is trying to land in at 'under $1000,' good luck guys...

I can't wait. I think I'm going to replace my aging lappy with one of these. I mean it's not like I ever use my computer where there isn't an outlet and on top of that the specs/portability factor are decent for the price.

Was it still Valve backed when they tried doing a kickstarter?

Genocidicles:
Was it still Valve backed when they tried doing a kickstarter?

Well if Valve backed it then would they have a need for a kickstarter?

So this is the Steambox: An Orange or Black... Asterisk looking thingy that's really more of an Underpowered Linux based PC then a Video Game Console? I don't think I need another PC. Sorry Valve.

gigastar:
Well if Valve backed it then would they have a need for a kickstarter?

Yeah I had a bit of a brain fart. Still if Valve is backing this it could mean the price will be lower than what was listed in the Kickstarter.

Looks like I got a little rammy with the backspace key, but the X7A spec cites 8GB of RAM. And as noted, the "under $1000" tag is the predicted starting point for a 64GB SSD - the 1TB mark is the upper end and will obviously cost a hell of a lot more.

The GTX-560 is a capable card now, but I'm concerned about where it will be in three years. Here's how I see it: People looking for a relatively casual, plug-and-play gaming experience in the living room can get all they want from whatever Sony and MS come up with next for half the price or less. And no serious PC gamer is going to pay more than $1000 (and I've actually seen sites quoting $1100 to start) for a rig with serious built-in obsolescence. I just don't see what sort of niche this kind of hardware, at this kind of price, can possibly fill.

Bear in mind, of course, that this is essentially a prototype, so everything is subject to change.

Yeah that $1000 dollars included a TB of SSD, which is about $1000 on it's own retail, a more sensible !TB of mechanical 2.5 inch 7200rpm HDD would put this probably closer to $400.

This looks awesome. Potentially VERY expensive, but awesome nonetheless. Well, time to start saving...

A $1000 PC that's supposed to compete with consoles? Good luck with that. I highly doubt there's enough of a market for this. Sure the hardware you get for this price isn't bad but most people still don't want to pay that much for this. I have a gaming PC that's much better than that and for the living room I can get a console that will cost much less. I don't see exactly who's the targeted demographic here. I have no doubt that it's great for some people but certainly not enough.
The only thing good about this is its size but that's hardly a selling point for 1000 bucks.

People, PEOPLE. It's NOT going to have $800 of SSD in it... Personally I think it's going to have SD storage, similar to a micro SD or what they put in phones now, and since a 64GB microSD cared costs about $10 from China that means $100 is well over 750GB of that type of storage, and it is technically Solid State.

Andy Chalk:
quad-core CPU running up to 3.2 Ghz, 8GB RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage. On the outside, there are eight USB ports (three of which are USB 3.0), four eSATA ports, two Mini Display ports, analog and SPDIF audio input/outputs, an ethernet connector and an HDMI port, plus a connector for an external power supply. ...

How much this mini-beast will cost is anybody's guess at this point, although Xi3 said on Kickstarter that the X7A will start at under $1000, which we all know means $999 and an expectation to pay more for anything beyond the basics. To be frank, I wouldn't give this system very good odds of making a go of it at anywhere near that price - the upgrade channel is way too narrow and 384 cores puts the GPU barely ahead of Nvidia's aging GTX-560 - but Valve's involvement makes anything possible.

So, it's an overpriced, underpowered, not so modular PC.

Who keeps greenlighting these projects? Motion controls, designer PCs, awkward, nuclear powered handsets that can't leave the house, 100 dollar controllers that get in your field of view of the television set...

I know this is some sort of desperate attempt at something, but I have no clue what. Do they seriously think that people are not going to be buying good games? Has it become so difficult to make a fun game with a modicum of depth and complexity and some originality that it just makes more sense to shove investment into something no one was asking for or needs?

After the Wii, you'd think people would put more thought into the names they give their gadgets.

Well, it's not like gamers wouldn't be able to tweak any other name into something unflattering anyway.

Hoplon:
Yeah that $1000 dollars included a TB of SSD, which is about $1000 on it's own retail, a more sensible !TB of mechanical 2.5 inch 7200rpm HDD would put this probably closer to $400.

we are slowly coming into a next console cycle also, in a few years crysis 1 and 2 will not look so great next to xbox 720 and ps4 games. add to that the increasing relevence of tablets and whatnot into the console gaming area.

Seems to me that should look to pull a sony, sell the hardware at a loss, make up the net with games sales on your steam service. steam has the advantage of even pulling in more per game sale than sony did.

the modular thing looks nice, depends how easy it is to do and how much the upgrades cost, but that little detail there gives it some light down the road, the whole package running on 40 watts is impressive but how long will that psu hold up when these boxes needed upgraded to keep up with the competition.

but one overlooked factor how many gamers have huge libraries of games on steam, and how would a portable box that plays all their current steam games wo breaking a sweat benefit them? assuming you can tie you steam account to your little box, then it stands to reason that your steam will be on your little box and any games you buy on it would show up on your pc also. this maybe the angle valve is looking at, with expanding their consumer base secondary.

*looks at specs*

Okay, so it's going to use an AMD A10-4600M Laptop APU (#cores, CPU speed, #shader cores all match and TDP under 40W). Big fucking whoop.

cerebus23:
the whole package running on 40 watts is impressive

Considering that the most likely culprit for CPU and GPU in this thing is an AMD laptop APU, it's really really not impressive.

as ever the problem with people is they are crap with money and are alot more willing to buy something that is cheap at the start and then costs alot for games than buy something expensive at start and then save in the long tearm.

it might help if there is more you can do on it. not just games but the whole multi media package. also you dont know how large a run will be made and the profit/loss margins on each sale. it might be it does not matter if they only sell a small ammount.

Andy Chalk:
The GTX-560 is a capable card

Yes but the HD 7660G is not and if my suspicions on it using an APU are right (and the model), then that's what the Piston will have.

Ok for those who are getting confused:
- this is not a console, it is a tiny PC
- all the stuff you need to do to run things on PC you still need to do
- this costs about the same as a normal PC would
- this will be less flexible
- these things are upgradeable to 1TB, but the entry point of $500 only comes with 16GB

This isn't some magic dust in a box just some standard components packed tight.

cerebus23:
Seems to me that should look to pull a sony, sell the hardware at a loss, make up the net with games sales on your steam service. steam has the advantage of even pulling in more per game sale than sony did.

Seems to me Sony had a shit storm with that.

Also, lets be clear, he's doing that hardware down compared to current PC's (looks like it's an AMD A10) compared to current gen consoles it might as well be a Cray main frame.

Even the next gen consoles will be barely on par with this and this will have a fraction of the dev costs since no dev kits needed at 1500 a pop or what ever ridiculous figure it is.

Why is it so hard for people to come up with good ideas... 1000 dollars min for a tiny pc with old hardware, only perk being that its tiny...

sneakypenguin:
Why is it so hard for people to come up with good ideas... 1000 dollars min for a tiny pc with old hardware, only perk being that its tiny...

Sounds like something Apple would come up with.

Mr.K.:
- this is not a console, it is a tiny PC

I missed this in my original post. I have a fairly energy efficient rig, but the thing still heats up the room nicely in the winter, even when my window is open. This tiny thing looks like an improvised mortar shell. A mortar shell that explodes on the ground.

Any console is a "tiny PC." A tablet is a "tiny PC." Your smartphone is a "tiny PC." All these devices are more powerful than any PC from 10 years ago, for a fraction of the size. A PC doesn't have to be x86 or running Windows. A MacBook is a personal computer regardless of what Apple wants you to believe.

Also, this won't cost $1000. Mass-scale economies and costs absorption by Valve (who's freaking rich) will drive the price down. Should I remind people that for years Microsoft was losing money for each console they sold? They make money on the license fees for the games, not on the hardware.

The problem I foresee is the cooling. You can't have a powerful GPU if you can't cool it properly. If you want to cool it properly you need active cooling (fans, for instance). But this makes noise, and you don't want noise in your living room. The form factor will also be a problem for the cooling: you need smaller fans, which need to spin faster than large ones for the same amount of air flow. Smaller fans spinning fast are much noisier than their opposite.

This means the device will be either noisy, or not as powerful as it could be. Which is not necessarily a problem, since it'll have to run at 1080p max (maximum resolution for TV sets until 4K really takes off) - while on a PC the resolution can be 30-50% or more higher. Also you are father from the screen in your living room than when in front of your PC, so details matter less.

I'm very excited by this nevertheless. I only hope I can use my regular Steam library on it, so I can choose to play games on my PC or on my "Piston" console.

If this turns out to be good. . . Goddam man, that would be amazing. The ability to play any pc game anywhere in the house, and take it somewhere as easily as i can pack a laptop? (besides the moniter i guess) hell to the yes.

Furism:
This means the device will be either noisy, or not as powerful as it could be.

It's a 40W unit, so that means laptop components. All the listed specs match up to a system running an AMD A10-4600M Laptop APU.

Also, if you take a gander at an exploded view of the X7A, one of the sides is basically a mid-sized (probably 120-140mm) fan... and I hope they meshed the intake grill or dust build up will quickly become a problem.

In other words, depending on your criteria, it will be both noisy and underpowered (and it will probably run hot anyway).

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