The Piston, Xi3’s so-called “Steam Box” made with the backing of Valve, trotted out its odd little PC at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and promised the moon. It’s an upgradeable gaming PC that purports to be as simple to set up and enjoy as your average video game console, and be ready to run games on Steam’s “Big Picture” mode as soon as you plug it into the television. The tiny machine came one step closer to taking its place in the increasingly crowded living room gaming market over the weekend when Xi3 started taking preorders for the device. But there’s a catch.
Xi3 started taking pre-orders for the Piston on its website over the weekend, and right now the machine is a lot more expensive than the average video game console. All three available Piston models come with 8GB of RAM and a 3.2Ghz Quad Core processor, but the base model with a 128GB hard drive costs $900. It will go up to $1000 on Mar. 17. The other models available, one with a 256GB hard drive and another with a 512GB hard drive, are $1240 and $1650 respectively.
By comparison, newer consoles like the Nintendo Wii U and Ouya, demonstrably weaker machines, are $350 and $99 respectively. Both Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 can be had for $250. The PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s still unannounced Xbox 720, both due out in the fall, are expected to retail for around $400 by industry analysts. Even compared to the PlayStation 3’s outrageous release price of $600 in 2006, the Piston is remarkably expensive.
Plenty of custom made gaming PCs are comparably priced to the Piston. The Alienware X51 upgraded to match the Piston’s specifications will cost approximately $1100, but it will lack the compact form factor of Xi3’s device. As demonstrated by Digital Trends though, a similar PC can be built using various off the shelf parts for just $500.
As of now, The Piston won’t be the machine that makes Steam-supporting PCs into console conquerors for the mainstream. Consumers are already weary of spending on console games and console game hardware. The other consoles Valve is helping develop will have to be much, much cheaper if they’re going to pull in the same consumers that flocked to Wii and Kinect over the past six years.