They have started with a mysteriously quiet launch, but Xi3 has already won a lot of attention for its tiny hand-held desktop, the Piston. Xi3’s new Piston is the first of what promises to be several new gaming boxes with support from Valve, the leaders in digital PC game distribution. Valve has worked in recent months to expand the versatility and capabilities of its Steam platform; last year, the company announced support for sales of non-video game software titles as well as a port of the platform itself from Windows to Linux (following a move the year before that from Windows to OS X).
It’s clear that Valve is pushing to be as far-reaching as possible with Steam, and that includes taking the fight from the PC to the consoles. A recent addition to the Steam client, Big Picture Mode, changes the UI from something suitable for use on a desktop or notebook PC to one that is acceptable for use on your big-screened HDTV, when you sit back a dozen feet on the couch.
Along with Big Picture Mode, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell announced that Valve would be exploring the possibility of creating its own hardware for use with Steam and the Big Picture mode, and Xi3’s new Piston (get it? Valve? Steam? Piston?) is the first fruit borne of these efforts. The Piston builds upon Xi3’s modular computing system, and to quote Xi3, is “optimized” for use with Steam and Big Picture Mode when connected to your HDTV.
The Xi3 Piston is covered with ports galore on the reverse, including USB 2.0, USB 3.0, DisplayPort, Ethernet, HDMI – the works. Inside, however, is a bit of a mystery. Xi3 is remaining tight-lipped about the content, though they were happy to point out that it’s based on their recent Kickstarter project. That means that inside the first Steam Box is likely an AMD Quad-Core APU, 6-8GB of RAM, and an undisclosed amount of flash storage.
Pricing and release dates were likewise mysterious, but David Politis, Xi3’s CTO, seemed eager to say that as soon as they get the go-ahead from Valve, it’s full steam ahead with details and release timelines. Speaking of Valve, the west coast gaming publisher is bullish on Xi3’s prospects, and to show support, made an undisclosed investment into the struggling PC maker.