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Hands-on with the Xi3 Piston and 7-Series – meet Valve’s console

Hardware manufacturer Xi3 and gaming giant Valve announced earlier today that they have partnered to craft a gaming system, bringing to fruition the long rumored gaming rig that many have unofficially dubbed the “Steam Box.” Since that announcement, we’ve had the opportunity to get up-close with the development platform, which officially goes by the name of Piston, for now. Like the name, the casing is almost certainly a temporary shell, and the prototype is essentially unknown hardware wrapped in a spare Xi3 7-series case. The final product will probably look different, but there’s no reason to think it will be any larger, or fundamentally change the design. Xi3 and Valve still might for several reasons, but for now we have no cause to think they will.

The system’s lack of size is striking. It measures no more than 4.3 inches on any side and seems to weigh only a couple pounds (official specifications don’t yet list the weight). Xi3 made it clear that this is not by any means a final product, but it looked extremely well prepared for something that was announced only a few hours earlier. The real question is whether the Piston’s diminutive dimensions make it to production – or if the system is expanded to reduce costs, improve cooling, and add storage capacity.

Hardware specifications of the Piston are not available. Xi3 does have specifications for its 7-Series, however. The 7-Series is powered by a selection of AMD dual-core and quad-core APUs with integrated Radeon graphics. Other features include optional solid state storage, four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and eSATA. The system is absolutely packed with connectivity – as you can see above. It also is designed to easily be upgraded, something that should further increase the appeal of rig for PC gaming. 

The similarity between the Piston and 7-Series begs the question – are these the specifications of Valve’s gaming PC? Xi3 and Valve are keeping that a secret, but the hardware inside the 7-Series would make sense. The APU’s integrated Radeon graphics could handle almost any game at 720p and many at 1080p, yet its efficiency keeps the system small.

One possible hurdle is price. Xi3 told us that its 7-Series with a quad-core processor would sell for $999. That’s a lot more than a standard game console. It is possible, however, that Valve might off-set the cost to boost sales or change the design entirely. Decreasing the plethora of connectivity options and using a smaller mechanical drive would carve some costs from the product. We’ll have to wait and see what path these new partners take.

You don’t have to wait to buy a Xi3 7-Series, however. The system will become available after the official announcement on January 8th. Gamers who can’t wait for the real thing could make their own “Steam Box” by purchasing the 7-Series and using it with Steam’s recently added Big Picture view.

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