Xi3 Piston: Why You Should Stay Away From The Not-Steam-Box

Xi3 Piston: Why You Should Stay Away From The Not-Steam-Box

It's not a Steam Box, but they want us to believe it is: Xi3's Piston might be the most confusing product in gaming this year, thanks to some muddled messaging and a deal with Valve that never went anywhere.

So at this point you might be wondering: what is this thing? Why do people keep calling it a Steam Box? Is it worth our time and money? Is this a scam?

Don't worry — we're here to sort things out.

So, wait... this isn't a Steam Box?

Right. Let's make this as clear as possible: the Piston is not a Valve-branded product. It will not come with Valve's Steam controller. It won't be called a Steam Box — or a Steam Machine — and it actually uses Windows instead of Valve's proprietary SteamOS operating system. (Well, it'll ship with Windows — this is a PC, so you can install whatever operating system you'd like.)

Why are people still calling the Piston a Steam Box?

Two reasons.

Reason 1) Valve actually showed the Piston at their CES booth earlier this year, and presented the machine as if it were one of their Steam Boxes. Valve has said from the beginning that there will be two types of Steam Boxes: the ones made by them, and the ones made by third-parties. Valve's representatives implied that the Piston would be the latter.

Somewhere along the way, the two companies split — maybe because of the whole "Windows vs. Linux" thing, or maybe because of the Piston's underpowered insides. Then, bizarrely, Xi3 threw Valve under the bus.

"Contrary to Valve's vision, Xi3 believes that the way to take this to market today is to do so with a Windows OS at the core, coupled with the ability to not just get to one platform/store for games, but to get access to all game stores/platforms," Xi3 boss Jason Sullivan said in a statement earlier this year. "In closing, what Valve does or doesn't do with its Steam Box will be up to them. So Gabe, it's up to you. The ball is in your court."

Valve also distanced themselves from the Piston. "Valve did some some exploratory work with Xi3 a couple years back, but currently have no involvement with any Xi3 product or the company," a Valve representative also said earlier this year, and repeated last week when I reached out for further comment.

Sounds like a nasty divorce.

Reason 2) Believe it or not, Xi3 is actually still calling the Piston a Steam Box — and in a FAQ posted on their website last week, the hardware manufacturers blamed reporters for the confusion.

Q10: Is PISTON the Steam Box or not? A10: Xi3 has never described its PISTON Console (PC) as the Steam box or a Steam Box, especially since it appears that Steam Box is a term created by journalists and not by Valve. To be clear, however, PISTON Console owners will be able to access and play games on/through Steam since it is a Web-based platform open to anyone with an Internet connection and a Steam account, either on a Windows- or a Linux-based system. So in this regard, PISTON could be considered the first commercially available Steam Box.

Translation: "We've never called ourselves the Steam Box — that was all journalists... but we're the first Steam Box."

Wow! That's confusing.

It sure is! But it benefits Xi3 to have their product associated with Steam, a service that everyone loves, so the Piston makers are embracing the confusion. (It doesn't help that Valve is actually calling their living-room PCs "Steam Machines" instead of Steam Boxes. There's no such thing as an official Steam Box.)

OK, so what is the Piston?

It's a PC designed for your living room. It'll be out on November 29. It costs $US999.

A thousand bucks?

Yep. For that you get an AMD Trinity with a built-in Radeon HD 7660G GPU, and, via Piston's FAQ...

The PISTON is powered by a quad-core, 64-bit x86-based processor running at up to 3.2GHz, includes 384 programmable discrete-class graphics cores and is supported with 8GB of DDR3 RAM. As such, PISTON can run the most popular operating systems, including Windows, Linux, UNIX and others, along with the games and applications written for those OSes. PISTON comes standard with dual SSD connectors, one internal microSD card slot, and 128GB of solid-state SSD storage (upgradeable to 1TB), includes 3 display ports (miniDP, HDMI and DisplayPort connectors), 12 total USB ports (4 USB 3.0, 4 USB 2.0, and 4 eSATAp/USB 2.0 combo ports), digital audio ports and more, and supports up to 4K resolution (4096x2160 pixels).

Is all that really worth a thousand bucks?

Not at all. You're getting very little storage and a mediocre graphics card. Current-gen games will not run well on this system at 1080p, and as we move into the next generation of consoles, the biggest games might not even work on the Piston. Meanwhile, the $US400 PS4 or $US500 Xbox One will run plenty of games, as will the higher-end computers you can build for less money. Xi3 promises that the Piston will be easier to upgrade than your average PC, but that just means more cash out of your pocket — especially since you'll have to upgrade using Xi3's proprietary motherboards.

Building your own computer with similar specs, by the way, would only cost you $US600 or so. Sure, those parts aren't an exact match, and yes, the Piston is significantly smaller than your average PC case, but if you're looking for a machine to sit in your living room and run computer games, what's the difference?

What about the controller?

The Piston will ship with its own controller, made by a company called Scuf Gaming. It's basically an Xbox 360 controller.

This all sounds pretty sketchy.

Yep. Between the disconcerting marketing plan and the underpowered hardware, this seems like a PC to avoid. And no, it's not a Steam Box.


    Brutally honest: I like it.

    Let's see if the same approach is taken to the finalised Steam Machines as I feel several of these criticisms could be levelled at them as well.

      How could you? There's almost 100% less information on them...

    At first I really fell in love with the Xi3...but not so much anymore. Particularly price vs hardware.

    "64-bit x86-based processor."


      Pretty much every PC sold today has a 64 bit x86 processor. What's confusing about that?

        Spent too much time downloading stuff from MS and other manufacturer drivers (system deployment etc) and I'm just used to seeing the two options x64 and x86.

        But yeah, I get it now.

      x86-64 is a supersystem of x86. That's why your 32bit apps work on you 64bit machine.

    Xi3 is rapidly becoming my currently most hated company.
    They products are overpriced proprietary garbage.

    A PC is awesome because you have lots of big reputable manufactures making compatible components with varying features in a market full of competition.
    These guys seem to think that people will want their overpriced equipment which is incompatible with normal PC components and of unproven quality. I believe they are quite deluded and I hope more people realise the rubbish these people a pushing.

    Modular PCs are cool but if you think about it, they already are modular. If you really want a small PC you can still do that with MiniATX motherboards although admittedly you'll sacrifice some GFX power since graphics cards can be quite large. I don't think the market for a "tiny" PC is really that big. Portability was never high on a PC wishlist. That's what laptops and tablets are for.

    And blatantly ripping off the xbox controller is just sad.

      Especially as they bag Valve for trying to 'lock' everyone in "...coupled with the ability to not just get to one platform/store for games, but to get access to all game stores/platforms..." all the while selling a completely closed, proprietary system that is more expensive than everyone else...

      It amazes me that these days, with the internet and all, companies can still seem to get it so wrong.

    “Contrary to Valve’s vision, Xi3 believes that the way to take this to market today is to do so with a Windows OS at the core, coupled with the ability to not just get to one platform/store for games, but to get access to all game stores/platforms,
    While I must commend them for taking that stance against Valve, the Piston is an overpriced, underpowered PC and it feels a bit dodgy how they're trying to ride the hype from the real Steam Machines.
    I was never going to buy one in the first place though, I'd just build my own PC.

    Just bought a Titan for a grand, I think I will stick to that. The specs for the price are ridiculous. Build your own PC or get a pre-made PC, better specs, for similar pricing. Wait to see the valve systems before passing judgment on seam machines however..

    More like Vapor box amirite?

    I thought one of the points of a console style PC was the homogenize the spec requirements to allow games to run at a more consistent quality.

    “In closing, what Valve does or doesn’t do with its Steam Box will be up to them. So Gabe, it’s up to you. The ball is in your court.”

    Is this guy trying to drum up a rivalry or something with Steam? So what does Gabe do? Show you aren't important enough to respond to.

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