Steam: OS, Machine and Controller

Steam: OS, Machine and Controller

Ihor Babarykin

Faculty of Informatics and Computer Technique, NTUU “KPI”


Nowadays, when every day there are new discoveries and inventions in the field of IT Steam decides that it is time to go to the next level and announced the development of SteamOS, Steam Machine and Steam Controller.

Steam OS

SteamOS is an operating system based on the Linux kernel in development by Valve Corporation. It will be the primary operating system for the Steam Machine games consoles, and freely available to install on PCs.

SteamOS is designed primarily for playing video games. Users will be able to stream games from their Windows or Mac computers to one running SteamOS, and it will incorporate the same family sharing and restrictions as Steam on the desktop. Valve claims that it has «achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing» through SteamOS. The operating system will be open source allowing anyone to build on or adapt the source code, and will run on Steam Machines.

Following the initial announcement many video game developers have shared their thoughts on SteamOS. Minecraft creator Markus Persson described the operating system as «amazing news», and Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell called it «encouraging» for indie games. Other developers such as DICE, creators of the Battlefield series, and The Creative Assembly, developers of the Total War series, have stated that they plan to support their games on Linux and SteamOSGearbox Software head Randy Pitchford commented that he believed the operating system needed a unique application to attract developers, saying «without that must-buy product driving us all towards this stuff, I expect that the industry at large will watch curiously, but remain largely unaffected.»

Steam Machine

The Steam Machine is a video game console that will be manufactured and distributed beginning in 2014 by a number of vendors using a range of different design specifications outlined by Valve Corporation. Steam Machines will run SteamOS. The devices can be freely modified by users, therefore being upgradeable similar to current PCs. The line of pre-built Steam Machines will have a range of different hardware optimized for power, size, price, and other factors.

Unlike other gaming consoles, the Steam Machine does not have a specific configuration of hardware, but a minimum specification of computer hardware components that would be needed to support the SteamOS and games developed for it. Valve plans to have several different retail versions of the Steam Machine through various hardware manufacturers, but will also allow users to create their own units from components and or modify retail products with off-the-shelf parts as desired. The units are expected to arrive in 2014, with Valve expecting to announce its partners for this first line at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in early January.

Valve will run a beta-testing program in late 2013, selecting 300 Steam users to test their optimized prototype hardware units and initial versions of the Steam Controllers. The initial prototypes to be sent to testers will have various configurations, and may not be representative of the final Steam Machine specifications. The configurations include:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-4770, i5-4570, and i3
  • Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan, GTX 780, GTX 760, and GTX 660
  • Graphics card RAM: 3 GB GDDR5
  • Main RAM: 16 GB DDR3-1600
  • Hard drive: 1 TB storage/8 GB SSD cache hybrid drive
  • Power: 450 W power supply
  • Measurement: 12″ × 12.4″ × 2.9″ high (30.5 cm × 31.5 cm × 7.4 cm)

A core part of the machine configurations was the method of providing ventilation and cooling of the CPU, GPU, and power supply; Valve engineered custom compartments within these beta units so that each of these three units has separate circulation and ventilation routes.

Valve is also working with AMD to develop and certify hardware for future Steam Machines.

Steam Controller

Along with the hardware specifications for the Steam Machine, Valve has developed a new game controller named the Steam Controller. The controller is designed not only for games developed for controller users, but also for games traditionally played with keyboard and mouse controls so that they can be played through the controller. It features two high-resolution clickable trackpads (replacing the typical thumbsticks on modern control controllers), sixteen buttons, including face, shoulder, and undergrip buttons, and a high-resolution touchscreen in the center. The trackpads include haptic feedback, which can send tactile feedback to the player in reaction to events within the game; Chris Kohler of Wired described using the controller while playing Civilization V at a press event at Valve, and noted that as he used the trackpad to move the mouse cursor, electromagnets within the controller created audio and tactile feedback as if he were using a trackball. The touchscreen acts like a mousepad and allows players to perform actions that typically aren’t capable on controllers; it operates directly with Steam or SteamOS and overlays touchscreen display onto the players’ screens to allow manipulation of the game without diverting attention from the screen. Although the controller is designed for the Steam Machine platform, it can also be used with Steam on existing PCs.

Valve went through several iterations for a controller that would be able to mimic keyboard and mouse controls, using prototypes made with 3D printing to test ergonomics. Early versions of the controller design included a trackball embedded in the controller to simulate mouse functionality, but opted eventually for trackpads to give more customization functionality to developers, such as the ability to simulate the motion of trackball by tracking a finger’s motion on the trackpad. The trackpads and controller design were made to minimize the amount of contact that a player’s thumbs would have on the trackpad when holding the unit. Unlike their current plans to have third-party hardware vendors manufacture Steam Machines, Valve plans to remain the sole manufacture of the Steam Controller at the launch of Steam Machines. Valve’s Greg Coomer stated that this was decisions based on achieving the best implementation of the Controller and Valve’s vision for the device, noting that «we didn’t think that it was really going to be possible to outsource the design for manufacturing and the finishing of the controller in a way that would allow third parties to take from us an idea or a reference design and bring it to market soon enough».

So, as we see SteamOS, Steam Machine and Steam Controller may be a breakthrough in the gaming industry.  They will allow us many features that we could not even dream. It can make the Steam the most popular  communications platform in the world in future.


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