Xi3 Piston Console set for release on November 29

Xi3 Corporation is all set to deliver its Piston Console, revealed earlier this year, on Friday, November 29. Yes, that’s the day after Thanksgiving, a shopping “holiday” commonly known in the United States as Black Friday. Any prospective buyers that opted to pre-order the console – really, it’s more of a miniature, modular PC – during or before the SXSW 2013 Gaming Expo earlier this year can expect to receive their Piston “on or before” November 15.

The standard Piston sells for $999 ($899 if you pre-order) and packs in an AMD 3.2GHz Trinity processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, a Radeon 7000-series GPU, a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), and native support for up to three connected monitors. Buyers have the option of spending more for an upgrade to a larger SSD – 256GB for an extra $340 and 512GB for an extr a$750 – and the box is fitted with a second drive slot, allowing for up to 1TB of SSD storage, provided you’ve got the money to spend.

The real draw of the Piston Console is supposed to be its modular design. The pint-sized PC is designed for upgradeability, with the process of cracking it open and swapping parts in and out streamlined around a form factor that climbs just over 4 inches per side. That said, all of this amounts to promises. Xi3 has yet to detail the upgrade process beyond stating that it will release specially designed hardware upgrades as new technology becomes available. The box is too small to fit most standard parts – SSDs notwithstanding – so you’ll need to rely on Xi3 for upgrades.

It all sounds very nice in theory, but the Piston effectively strips away the chief advantage of going with a gaming PC: upgradeability. Xi3 can promise to make new parts available as much as it wants, but the fact remains this is a completely new and untested product. Will future upgrade options really offer enough variety to satisfy PC gamers that are used to weighing, say, a dozen or more graphics card options? Will they even be priced competitively, or will the proprietary design fetch a higher price? Then, at the other end of the spectrum, will console fans willingly step up to spend twice (or more) what the upcoming next-gen hardware just to get a machine that they’ll eventually be able to buy upgrades for?

This is the big unknown with the Piston: where exactly does it fall in the consumer landscape? The price tag is awfully high for a console gamer to realistically entertain and the hardware doesn’t appear – for now – to be flexible enough to satisfy the needs of a longtime PC gamer. Valve Software’s recently revealed Steam Machines – which many believed the Piston to be an early version of due to an undisclosed Valve investment in Xi3 – only complicate the situation. We’ve yet to see the hardware or get a sense of how much it costs, but it would appear that these Steam Machines are in direct competition with the living room-oriented Piston.

What do you think of this thing? Do you typically game on PC or console? Do you think the Piston achieves a balance between the two?

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