Valve Software is not just supporting Linux in terms of games distribution (with Steam as a service), but has two other projects that were revealed in late 2013:
- SteamOS, a Linux-based (Debian) OS booting directly into Steam Big Picture Mode
- Steam Controller, an hybrid controller/gamepad aimed at making mouse games possible even from one’s sofa.
While the Steam Controller can work on Windows as well, having SteamOS and a dedicated controller from Valve makes a Steam dedicated gaming machine possible. The aim of the Steam Machines project is to enable third parties to produce home gaming devices based on PC-hardware, compatible between each other, running the SteamOS operating system and controlled by a Steam Controller.
Several manufacturers have already voiced out their support for this initiative. Alienware, Syber and Zotac are among the most prominent ones to plan support, but many other/smaller manufacturers also plan to release such machines. The first Steam Machines have been made available since November 10th, 2015. While you can technically install SteamOS on your own DIY PC, Steam Machines can be interesting for gamers who are not familiar with PC building, or who simply want something in a very small form factor to sit next to their TV.
Alienware’s Steam Machine is pretty small and comes with 3 different configurations (depending on the CPU you want) with the same GPU (akin to GTX860M). It is the flagship Steam Machine and was developed in close collaboration with Valve.
Zotac has a lesser known Steam Machine, the Nen, which is actually more powerful (and more expensive) featuring a GTX970M GPU.
Syber’s Steam Machine has a larger form factor, while still relatively compact, but their greatest advantage is that everything in it can be upgraded, including the GPU, as it uses standard PC parts.
The Steam Controller was released along the Steam Machines on the 10th of November 2015. Valve is apparently in charge of manufacturing (probably with a partner) the Steam Controller. If you are interested you should probably check out their automated manufacturing process. All Steam Machines are delivered with a Steam controller from Valve. While the Steam Controller went through many design iterations, the final version is as pictured below (as revealed at the GDC 2015 in March 2015).
Below is a video introduction from Valve about how one can use the Steam Controller in games and how it differs from existing controllers.
You can check for more details regarding its overall design in a related article on Boilingsteam. You can also check my hands-on impressions on the original Steam Controller design, and an updated hands-on review of the controller by psppwner300 in November 2015.