A First Look At the Smach Zero SteamOS Portable Console


Following the announcement at E3, we have learnt that the previous project known as the SteamBoy has now been renamed as Smach Zero. And it’s still planned to be the first SteamOS portable device to be marketed in 2016. Anyone interested in Civilization 5 on the go ? :)

This time I bring you a few more details about the device, including pictures so that you can have a look at what it is supposed to be like. Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering why it’s called SMACH, well it’s a shorter version of “Steam MACHine”.

First, specs wise (source):

  • AMD embedded G-Series SoC “Steppe Eagle” with Jaguar-based CPU and GCN-based Radeon graphics
  • 4 GB RAM memory
  • 32GB internal memory and SD Card Slot
  • 5-inch Touch screen with 720p resolution
  • Configurable tactile gamepads
  • HDMI video output connection
  • Wi-Fi conectivity
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • 4G mobile network connectivity (PRO model only)

A couple of comments on these specs:

  • AMD: this may sound disappointing at first, but let’s not forget that AMD is the only one in the mobile space who can currently provide a x86 SoC with intergrated GPU (on top of Intel, of course). If you were thinking about nVidia, you should know that nVidia has a different strategy and focuses on ARM+Tegra for their mobile SOCs - and most Steam Games only run on x86 architecture. After checking a little more info about the Steppe Eagle, it looks like the CPU is either a dual or quad core (from AMD, so single-thread performance should not be stellar…). As for the GPU performance, I’m not sure if any benchmark is available for this kind of SoC - but it has been used in some Mini-ITX PC configurations.
  • 4Gb RAM: good choice, most games should be able to run, even some of the more demanding ones.
  • 32Gb internal memory: That’s a little limited - not sure whether the OS is also supposed to be on it, but some games on Steam can be pretty big and take easily dozens of gigabytes. Having a SD port is nice but that should be much slower than SSD-like tech.
  • USB OTG: always nice to have.
  • HDMI output: nice, you could us this together with a large screen and display much high resolutions.
  • Wi-Fi, Blutooth: expected.
  • 4G: nice to have, but certainly not for downloading the largest games - you’ll want to do that at home instead.
  • 5-inch touchscreen at 720p: a good choice, it should remain readable. But some games have small text and may not be adapted to 5’’ screen however.
  • Tactile gamepads: they are replicating the Steam Controller design which is a safe bet for compatibility. However, will they be just as good as the Valve ones?

Now let’s look at the machine itself. From the front it looks like this. Yeah, it’s certainly a little bulky, and makes me think of the old Lynx console from Atari, where the controls where pretty big compared to the screen itself. Right now I’m not sure if this will really be POCKETABLE, for example :)


From the back, we should assume a large battery positioned there, and you can see that the two triggers seem so make things easier for FPS like Half Life 2.


They have a glowing logo on the back as well.


From the side you can see that the machine is going to be pretty large. So I guess you can forget about putting it in your pockets :)


The front shows the haptic controls as well as the… D-pad, as separate buttons ? This is a major disappointment, as having an actual D-pad or analog stick would have been way more practical on this kind of device.


The front action buttons seem nice enough, at least on their rendered model :


Overall I am quite excited about the fact that the SteamBoy project is moving forward. Not because I think this is the best designed mobile device ever (it’s probably not) - rather because it should show people the potential of SteamOS on mobile devices as well. Mobile x86 SOC are now decent enough to be considered for gaming, and the number of games available on SteamOS is pretty large already to make this a viable proposition. You may want to play AAA games in your living room, but on the go, a bunch of cool indie games would be pretty cool as well. And let’s not forget this can be seen as a portable Minecraft machine, which may be very appealing to a certain crowd.

They will be at the Gamescom 2015 in August, so if you are going there I’d recommend you pay them a visit. If not, you can always come back on Boiling Steam and we will certainly have more news and reports for you on this.

PS: for now there is close to no information I could find about who is behind Smach Zero (their website is apparently registered in Spain) and who is backing them. You can’t really make hardware without significant investment these days - so are they going to go Kickstarter or is a larger company helping them out ?