Steam Machine Performance
In our case our machine was loaded with an i3 processor running at 2.9Ghz and 8GB of RAM. Also included is a custom GeForce video card which we're told is about equal to a 770 Desktop GPU or 860M mobile GPU, though there are some enhancements. These are the two biggest factors that play into the performance of the unit. Also including a 7200RPM hard drive helps with loading times, though an SSD would be a better choice and we would have liked to see that as an upgrade option.
Pretty much every game I threw at the machine ran solid at 1080P with Medium or High settings across the board. Sometimes I was even able to turn of FXAA to further smooth the picture. Newer titles like Shadow of Mordor and Dying Light ran great, and the older ones really let us crank up the bells and whistles.
I did have some issues with the built in wireless card, with download speeds fluctuating quite a bit and streaming mostly unusable. But overall I was impressed with what this little box was capable of.
The Steam Controller
Valve had an interesting problem to solve when it came to a Steam Machine, how do we support games that don’t typically utilize a gamepad, but also still support gaming at ten feet. Let’s face it, PC games have a strong pedigree in the likes of strategy and RPG games that utilize a mouse and keyboard interface.
The Steam controller is the result of this goal, and for the most part it works - though there’s definitely a high learning curve and certain games just work better than others. For me, I can play Civilization V on the couch with ease now. The right touch pad of the controller feel like a trackpad on a laptop so it emulates a cursor just fine. That said, the same emulation just never feels quite right for a first person shooter.
To allow games to work with the Steam Controller Valve has put together a profile system. These controller profiles can be accessed before or during a game and allow you map controls and settings to get the feel just right. These can then be published and shared with the community with the most popular ones being voted up. The good news is even before launch almost every game I tried had a couple of profiles to try. The bad news is I still can’t comfortably play an FPS with the Steam Controller.
The controller also has haptic feedback, which when combined with the slick on screen keyboard, makes textual input a breeze. This is clearly one of the better and well thought out features of the device.
Finally if you don’t want to use the Steam controller, you can simply plug in an Xbox 360 compatible controller and game away. It’s a quick and easy way to expand on couch co-op gaming in the living room and it works well for games that support a gamepad.
It’s hard to know exactly what the market is for a Steam Machine. The price point puts it just outside of direct competition with consoles and the performance and customization options puts it just under a traditional PC gamer. What makes this device enticing? I think the library of games available and that will become available alongside the cost involved with growing your library is a huge advantage. While the initial cost might be higher than a console, in the long run you’ll likely spend less thanks to cheaper and more open games.
In the case of the Alienware Steam Machine, we have the option to upgrade later, so there’s some extra longevity to the device. This is something consoles typically haven’t had. Valve has also been continuously tweaking and improving the OS. I expect the next six months to be extremely important for devices like the Steam Link and Steam Machine. Valve will have to carefully monitor and adapt it’s OS and Big Picture mode to match the tendencies of couch gaming.
Is the Steam Machine going to replace your desktop PC or gaming console? Absolutely not. I view it more like a tablet is to a PC. It’s a complementary device. It extends the experience in places it traditionally isn’t. In this case, your butt will be thankful it’s extended to the comfy couch in front of the nice big HDTV you have in the living room.
The device in this article was provided by Alienware for evaluation purposes. You can purchase it at: