Our favorite content delivery system just got a major upgrade. Valve has released a client update that, coupled with tweaked server software on its end, promises to dramatically speed downloads. The new system has more aggregate bandwidth than the old one, and everything is now sent out via HTTP, allowing popular downloads to be stored by the web-caching proxies used by some ISPs.
Perhaps the most interesting improvement pertains to game updates, which should be much smaller with the new system in place. Previously, game updates had to contain a full copy of any file that was being changed. Steam now allows updates to store only the difference between the old file and the new one.
To further smooth downloads, future Steam clients will incorporate scheduling, bandwidth throttling, and prioritization. You'll be able to download updates for a game while you're playing it, too, but you'll have to exit the game to actually apply any patches.
With EA looking to establish Origin as a premiere game delivery system and other players in the industry intent on nibbling away at Steam's slice of the market, it's nice to see that Valve is still working to improve Steam. Now if only it could finish up that 10-foot GUI mentioned at GDC earlier this year. Thanks to Rock, Paper, Shotgun for the tip.