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Electronics & Test

Teardown: Deconstructing Valve's Steam Machine

iFixit.com
12/27/2013  
16 comments
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notarboca
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Gold
USB OS Recovery
notarboca   12/28/2013 6:16:43 PM
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Very thoughtful, as the slideshow said, and great for people who really like digging into OS.  If something goes wrong, simply boot the USB and you are back to out of box condition.

Greg M. Jung
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Platinum
Cooling System
Greg M. Jung   12/29/2013 4:40:28 PM
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Really liked the heatsink design for the cooling system.  Looks like a significant amount of engineering went into this design.

j-allen
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Gold
Steam Machine?
j-allen   12/30/2013 9:06:09 AM
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Gotta admit you sure suckered me.  I thought I was going to see a literal steam machine--a Rankine Cycle engine, perhaps designed to run on biofuel or concentrated solar.  Iam sure the world really needs one more brand of game box to keep our little minds occupied so they don't wander off into solving the serious problems. 


Still, Happy New Year to you all. 

William K.
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Platinum
Re: Steam Machine?
William K.   12/30/2013 8:39:01 PM
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Likewise, I also was visualizing some new and interesting item using actual steam. A bit of a letdown there, but after all, this is about :neat computer stuff", not some of those other engineering areas. And it probably could do a good job as an all around engineering workstation, even though the intention is for it to be a powerful toy that is all play and no real benefit to anybody, except for playing games. BUT somebody is making a profit and employing engineers and techs to put these things togather. So the rest of us benefit a bit.

But I can't imagine doing a design of any size with a controller like that.

brhans
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Silver
Intelligent Power ...
brhans   12/30/2013 9:08:51 AM
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I do wonder a bit why the power button needs an ARM Cortex-M0 ... Seems like taking the "intelligent power" idea a bit far :P

 

WB
User Rank
Silver
Re: Intelligent Power ...
WB   12/30/2013 11:34:14 AM
That board has 3 switches and 12 LEDs - I think a small micro is a reasonable approach to handling that...

 

I also noticed that whoever called out the colors on the connectors must be colorblind - every one of them was wrong...

warren@fourward.com
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Platinum
Re: Intelligent Power ...
warren@fourward.com   1/28/2014 11:46:36 AM
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It's not nice to pick on a color blind engineer...

Cabe Atwell
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Blogger
Re: Intelligent Power ...
Cabe Atwell   5/4/2014 11:17:24 PM
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The plywood case is a nice touch, especially for those rustic homes like log cabins. The box has already undergone multiple revisions since the beginning of the year, however it should be noted that multiple manufacturers are set at building their own besides Valve. I guess the idea behind the platform is that it will be an 'upgradable' gamin console. That being said, it would seem that it's just a small form-factor Linux-based PC.

etmax
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Re: Intelligent Power ...
etmax   12/30/2013 9:22:32 PM
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based on price of silicon it's probably cheaper than an Atmel AVR

D. Sherman
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Sorry if I don't appreciate new journalism
D. Sherman   12/30/2013 1:11:31 PM
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I clicked through half the slide show and gave up. Why can't we have a text summary that provides an overview of what this "steam machine" does? Presumably it's a small computer optimized for games and apparently it runs linux nicely. What are its technical specs (RAM, flash, hard drive, clock(s), core count, etc)? What's it particularly good at? How does it connect/expand? Would it make a good web server? Encryption engine? CAD system? Presumably a mere toy wouldn't be worth an article like this.

The slide show format is an intensely tedious way to "read" an article. I've taken apart (and designed and built) enough electronics that don't get any visceral thrill from removing a screw to see what's inside something. Photographs should be included to illustrate an article. We shouldn't have to deduce the article from looking at photos. This is just lazy "journalism".

Design magazines should be about how to design things, not about how to take apart what someobody else designed. Are so few readers actual creative design engineers these days? Sure, it's fun to see how things work, but these "teardown" articles seem to be all about the mechanical construction, which is of very secondary importance with a sophisticated electronic device.  The fact that the packaging looks cool may be worth a brief passing mention, but not 30% of the article.

Perhaps if I'd clicked all the way to the 40th screen I would have been able to read something about what this computer actually does. But I have work to do.

rathomas
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Iron
Re: Sorry if I don't appreciate new journalism
rathomas   12/30/2013 2:06:26 PM
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I agree on the slideshow format - over about 7 pages and I don'na wanna bother.  However, these iFixit teardown slideshows all have a corresponding (almost) proper article at iFixit.com itself.  Go to ifixit.com, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the main page and select "Teardowns" in the lower left corner.


To attempt to answer your questions, it's a pretty nice Linux, ahem, I mean SteamOS PC.  It has an NVidia GTX-780 GPU (nice), 16 GB RAM, Intel Core i5-4570 CPU at 3.2 GHz, 1 TB Seagate SSHD, 2 x USB 2.0 and 4 x USB 3.0.  Wi-Fi with external antenna connection. Other stuff too, but that's a simple summary.  Probably about the equivalent of a $1000-$1200 PC in a compact unit.

"How does it connect/expand?"  The Ethernet, Wi-Fi and USB ports seem to be about it, though the GPU, SSHD and even the mini-ATX motherboard could be upgraded.

"Would it make a good web server?"  It would make a decent personal web or media server.

"Encryption engine?"  Capabilities that you can conjecture from the CPU, GPU and Linux.

"CAD system?" Actually, yes.  I think it would, but not for Windows only CAD applications unless you installed Windows on it (which one should be able to do easily).

 

Also keep in mind that this is a Beta, prototype.

D. Sherman
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Gold
Re: Sorry if I don't appreciate new journalism
D. Sherman   12/30/2013 2:20:28 PM
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Thank you for all that good information. If there's a well-written article on ifixit, it would have been good to include a prominent link at the start.

I agree about the dearth of serious CAD software for linux. I'm no expert on computer architecture, but it seems like everything that's good for gaming should be good for solid-modeling, computational fluid dynamics, or even SPICE. I'm not seeing anything about pricing, but if it's in the game console range (~$300), it would sure be nice to put it to real engineering use somehow.

And yeah, the wood box is pretty cool. Now if they put it in a nailed-together crate with rope handles on the ends and UN 1.4 stickers on the sides, that would really get some attention.

William K.
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Platinum
Re: Sorry if I don't appreciate new journalism
William K.   12/30/2013 8:46:56 PM
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The slideshow is one way to reach those with the "millisecond attention span", as well as those who don't read much, so it does have a bit of value. Some more detailed shots of exactly how others solved some design challenges would raise the value a bit, but that might be construed as giving away trade secrets. The fact is that many good engineers benefit from seeing the work of other good engineers. Genius bosts genius, it seems, both in some design teams and in seeing the solutions created by others. That is the lure of "ideas for design" and some of the other very popular sections of some of the electronic-oriented engineering publications. And, seeing what others have done is one big reason to read "Design News", isn't it?

D. Sherman
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Gold
Re: Sorry if I don't appreciate new journalism
D. Sherman   12/30/2013 9:04:26 PM
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I don't disagree that engineers are curous to see how other engineers have designed things. When Fluke bought an early production model of HP's latest systems voltmeter years ago, the Fluke engineers opened it up and found a signed drawing of the HP engineering team inside of it. Somehow HP sales and engineering figured out which one was going to Fluke and they knew what the Fluke guys were going to do with it.

That said, real engineers are not fascinated with 20+ pictures of how the case comes apart. We don't want some kind of industrial design strip-tease. If there's something particularly clever about the packaging, which there isn't in this case, it's worth noting. But what we have here is basically a computer. Like most computers, it's in a box. What differentiates it from other computers and makes it interesting is its functionality and cost, with packaging in third place.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Blogger
Re: Sorry if I don't appreciate new journalism
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   12/31/2013 1:06:25 AM
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Your post made me force myself to click thru the full 41 slides.  Your question was answered partially on slide 26:  <pasted here >

  • 2304 Stream Processors running at 863 MHz Base / 900 MHz Boost

  • 3 GB GDDR5 RAM running at 6,008 MHz

  • PCI Express 3.0, SLI-compatible

Then, additionally on slide 31 :

  • two sticks of Crucial Ballistix Sport 8 GB DDR3 (PC3 12800) RAM. At 16 GB

Finally, to the core: (on page 35) :

  • Intel Core i5-4570

And then, onto  the second board, (on page 37)

  • an NXP LCP11U24F 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0

Whew! That's a lot of processing power-!! At last count, that's (4) CPUs !!  To me, this doesn't seem like very elegant architecture; on the contrary, it sounds more like throwing components at a system to increase power.  But what do I know-?

D. Sherman
User Rank
Gold
Re: Sorry if I don't appreciate new journalism
D. Sherman   12/31/2013 1:20:05 AM
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Thanks for your perseverence. You'd think they could have just listed that stuff back at the beginning. Real engineers enjoy reading specs even more than we enjoy unscrewing things.

It certainly does sound like a lot of processing power. I don't think we're told what the retail price will be. Like you, I have to wonder what it would take to write efficient code for something like that. Plus, once you managed to port some major computationally-intensive app to that platform, you'd want to be sure there was going to be an upgrade path for the next decade or so to give you a return on your investment.

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