Here’s a teardown of Valve’s Steam machine prototype

Beta testers started receiving Steam machine prototypes from Valve last week. Photos and unboxing videos have already made the rounds, but I think this is the first time we’ve see a full teardown of the system. Of course, the teardown is the work of the very talented folks at iFixit.

Source: iFixit.

I won’t spoil too much of the article, but in a nutshell, the Steam machine prototype is an off-the-shelf Mini-ITX PC built inside a cleverly customized enclosure. To achieve the flat, set-top-box-style form factor, Valve used a low-profile Zalman cooler and a PCI Express riser. The riser allows the graphics card—a Zotac GeForce GTX 780—to lie on its side next to the motherboard, taking no extra vertical space. Valve also used a small-form-factor SFX power supply in order to keep the system compact.

The most interesting part of the Steam machine prototype is probably what iFixit calls the inner cowling: a set of plastic frames designed to wall off heat-generating components from one another. The processor, power supply, and graphics card all seem to get their airflow from vents directly facing their respective fans, and thanks to the cowling pieces, those parts shouldn’t heat up adjacent components much at all. That’s a pretty clever way to avoid overheating and excessive noise levels in a system this cramped—and with components this fast.

Source: iFixit.

Other than that, there’s nothing terribly remarkable about the Steam machine prototype. iFixit gives it a 9/10 score for easy repairability. We still don’t know if that exact configuration and enclosure design will make it to the market, but either way, the attention to detail and modularity of components bodes well for retail Steam machines.

Comments closed
    • Arclight
    • 7 years ago

    They could improve the CPU cooling, but other than that, it looks OK.

    Has anybody done a stress test to see how the temperatures and noise are during load?

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    Inner cowling? We used to call them shrouds.

    At least they have a custom case. I didn’t hear anything about this case though. Is it going to be a requirement for all steamboxes? Will it be in production so anyone can buy one or any company?

    If this is the ‘remarkable’ bit about the steamachine, then if it’s not actually available for production models it’s like talking about a super awesome piece of technology that’ll never see the light of day and wont be representative of final models.

    Looking at the teardown photos, it just looks like a normal mini-itx case with shrouds in it and a fancy front/design to make it look console-ie.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    That’s a neatly-designed and efficient-looking case, although I wouldn’t give it two thumbs up without seeing how this thing does in the wild first. We don’t know how such a cramped case will affect long-term reliability and durability of these things.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    Can’t we have this kind of compactness in our daily, regular computers? I mean, expandability is nice but my full-size ATX tower is so bulky and has lots of empty space inside. Empty space is good for airflow, but this Steambox proves how we can cram even a hot GTX inside a small enclosure… and with plastic compartments as well.

    • renz496
    • 7 years ago

    so the power supply is only 450W?

      • internetsandman
      • 7 years ago

      Why would you need anything more? 450W could probably give you headroom for another GPU if you had the space and cables and connections for it

        • Arclight
        • 7 years ago

        Loud PSU fan during load? Can be fixed with a fanless model, but you could still be proned to coil whine.

      • ronch
      • 7 years ago

      Although Nvidia recommends a higher-wattage PSU if you wanna use a GTX 780, they’re being conservative about it to account for low-grade power supplies. A top-quality 450w PSU (assuming this Steambox is equipped with it) should be able to suffice, albeit admittedly it’s cutting it a bit close.

      • Mentawl
      • 7 years ago

      450w is plenty for a single GPU and a non-overclocked CPU. Plus it’s a gold-rated Silverstone unit. Should be minimal heat output from the PSU itself; I would suspect if you heavily loaded the system, that dinky wee CPU cooler they’ve got will be louder than the 80mm fan in the PSU.

    • moose17145
    • 7 years ago

    Everyone else seems all interested in making their computers as tiny as possible, and here I am looking into buying a Corsair Obsidian 900D…

      • ColeLT1
      • 7 years ago

      Ill sell you my 800D (So I can buy a 900D for myself)!

        • DaveJustDave
        • 7 years ago

        I have an 800d and am thinking the same exact thing. The 800d is a big ass case, but the watercooling capacity pales in the face of the behemoth that is the 900d.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 7 years ago

    Okay you got the teardown Cyril, now make a Buyer’s Guide… again.

    • jessterman21
    • 7 years ago

    Nope nothing remarkable here… Except that’s a full-speed i5 and GTX 780 in there! I’ve been jealous of our company’s Optiplex 7010s for a while now – lots of power in a little space, but no room for a full-height video card. This is the same size, if I’m not mistaken.

    Me wants.

      • dmjifn
      • 7 years ago

      Man, I’ll +1 you there. I’ve been on a quest for a “small enough matx” that can do everything and the benchmark has been our Optiplexes. Not a fair benchmark but it’s colored my expectation.

    • windwalker
    • 7 years ago

    [quote=”Cyril Kowaliski”<]Other than that, there's nothing terribly remarkable about the Steam machine prototype.[/quote<] Tough crowd. Nothing remarkable other than designing and building a computer which manages to deliver high graphics performance in a compact form factor with very well thought out and efficient cooling. And all this while maintaining modularity and upgrade potential by using only standard components. Are there any of the builds in your system guide anywhere close?

      • nizer
      • 7 years ago

      I totally agree, very compact and efficient system, why hasn’t some case manufacturer thought of this before? Take my money!

      The only system that comes close is the Raven RVZ01, which is still pre production, see eg:

      [url<]http://www.techpowerup.com/195559/silverstone-raven-rvz01-pictured-some-more.html[/url<] [wrong info, it is a SFX PSU] Newest pictures of RVZ01 : [url<]http://www.pcinpact.com/news/84841-rvz01-boitier-mini-itx-pour-joueurs-silverstone-se-devoile.htm[/url<]

        • Airmantharp
        • 7 years ago

        Soon as Silverstone makes a Raven case that isn’t butt-ugly…

          • internetsandman
          • 7 years ago

          Just wait for the design to come to the Fortress series like they did with the RV02-FT02

          That looks like a sweet case otherwise, though it’s certainly bulkier looking than the Steam Machine Prototype

      • Chrispy_
      • 7 years ago

      People have been handcrafting their [i<]own[/i<] cases that are superior to mITX or uATX for years. The problem is that the standards are inefficient because they aim for compatibility not absolute minimum size; The case market is also saturated at the low-end by dirt-cheap products that keeps the small innovators from competing. $20 mITX pig-iron shell at one end, and $300 mITX Streacom Mac Mini clones at the other end.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 7 years ago

      I totally agree. I thought state-of-the-art.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      Of course there aren’t any builds close (although there are mITX enclosures that could come close if one really wanted to)…it’s a custom enclosure with custom shrouds to enable the form factor. It’s not an incredible feat of engineering, just a compartmentalized PC.

        • windwalker
        • 7 years ago

        I’m not qualified to say how difficult this was to engineer, but as just a simple consumer I can tell that the product is significantly more compelling and better designed than what is usually available.
        That must make it a feat of engineering, design, market research or – most likely – all of the above.

      • Musafir_86
      • 7 years ago

      -Don’t you all smell some strong jelly around here? 😀

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      Good hardware, but needs Windows on it

        • End User
        • 7 years ago

        No.

          • sweatshopking
          • 7 years ago

          you’re right. an os with 20 games is better than one with all the games. thanks for your point.

            • Diplomacy42
            • 7 years ago

            what OS only has 20 games? you talking about mac, bro?

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            Slight hyperbole about steam os

    • sweatshopking
    • 7 years ago

    In a short time that plastic will degrade from heat and wear out. These guys aren’t the first engineers to ever think about compartmentalizing a pc case, so idk why it’s a big deal.

      • albundy
      • 7 years ago

      it’s a big deal for me, because i have no other entertainment, and i like comedies. they things deserve an oscar when they start bricking.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        Lolirl +1

      • cegras
      • 7 years ago

      ?

      I don’t think you know what kind of plastic they use. I also don’t think the plastic is bearing any load.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        It’ll crack, split and degrade overtime. Its plastic. It happens. When it does, heat will transfer easier, and your box will overheat.

          • dpaus
          • 7 years ago

          [quote<]It'll crack, split and degrade overtime[/quote<] Are we talking about the frame or your reputation as the king of downvotes? Thank you, thank you... I'm here all week!

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            NOBODY GETS DOWNVOTES LIKE ME. NOBODY. MY LEGACY IS SECURE.

            • entropy13
            • 7 years ago

            Uh, Neely?

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            My protégé is part of my legacy.

            • entropy13
            • 7 years ago

            Can anybody else uh, jog my memory? There’s that other guy with an _ in his username that also periodically get double digit thumbed down comments.

            • dpaus
            • 7 years ago

            dumb_ass?

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            SERIOUSLY, BRO? YOU CAN’T REMEMBER HIS NAME?

            • entropy13
            • 7 years ago

            Yeah, I thought wrong. It’s a -. And he replaced most of the letters with numbers…

            • Srsly_Bro
            • 7 years ago

            They love me! Yes! Now I can have a good Christmas with my 10 cats!

            • lilbuddhaman
            • 7 years ago

            you forgot to caps.

            • entropy13
            • 7 years ago

            Well, his username is relevant but he doesn’t have to go SSK mode to reply to SSK…

          • End User
          • 7 years ago

          [quote<]It'll crack, split and degrade overtime.[/quote<] Are you talking about your brain?

            • dpaus
            • 7 years ago

            Wow, great minds really do think alike – and simultaneously.

            Either that, or it was another obvious fish in a barrel.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            Yes?

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          “overtime”

          What time frame are we talking about here. Months? Years? Decades? If the plastic lasts 5 years, I think they’ll be fine. If it lasts 10 years, it will probably last longer than anyone uses the thing.

          • Deanjo
          • 7 years ago

          Haven’t looked at too many innards of laptops or OEM desktops lately have you (like in the last decade). I see plenty of Dells that have a ton of plastic cowls going over the likes of xeons and P4 heaters are just as solid and flexible as they were when new. I mean dear almighty, there must be a ton of video card cooler cowls just crumbling to dust as we speak.

      • End User
      • 7 years ago

      Wow. You really have no enthusiasm for PC tech unless it has something to do with Microsoft. Sad.

        • ALiLPinkMonster
        • 7 years ago

        If Microsoft made this he’d be praising it for its “innovative design.”

          • sweatshopking
          • 7 years ago

          No I wouldn’t. I’d say it was an xbone, which you all hate.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        I don’t find there to be anything to be enthusiastic about. Faster CPUs, gpus, ram, etc. I can get behind. Reducing overhead, like mantle (which I look forward to, and hope it lives up to its replacing dx expectations), new graphics, etc. All those are exciting. A new PC case heralded as the second coming with what appears to be a mediocre controller? It just doesn’t do it for me.

          • Diplomacy42
          • 7 years ago

          not just “A” PC case, there will be like 12 different cases!

          I’m with you on the “wait for them to actually DO something praise worthy” attitude though.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            +1

      • ronch
      • 7 years ago

      There are plastics that can withstand high amounts of heat, you know.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 7 years ago

        Obviously, he [b<]doesn't[/b<] know.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        We shall see how well it performs.

      • Srsly_Bro
      • 7 years ago

      -25? Impressive. SSK, you are back in business.

    • chuckula
    • 7 years ago

    I’m pretty Krogothed by the overall external appearance, although at least it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t have a bizarre shape.

    I’m rather un-Krogothed at their ability to cram a GTX-780 into an enclosure like that though.

      • internetsandman
      • 7 years ago

      I really hope they have the sense to sell that chassis separate, or at least in a barebones configuration similar to SFF Shuttle PC’s

      • WillBach
      • 7 years ago

      I really hope that new expression catches on 🙂

        • lilbuddhaman
        • 7 years ago

        I remember when the “mainstream” tech sites starting using terms that were coined on theinquirer, it could happen here too.

    • DaveJustDave
    • 7 years ago

    I love this line from step 7 in the teardown: “On the reverse of the the main board, we find three switches. Half Life 3 confirmed.”

    I’m fascinated with this enclosure. There is a dearth of high quality ITX cases on the market. I’m bummed I missed out on the NCase M1 kickstarter.. the only options right now are the Silverstone FT03 and EVGA Hadron Air…

    Even then, I still have the funny feeling that GTX780 is going to cook itself to death in there.

      • internetsandman
      • 7 years ago

      What about the SG07? That’s not quite as small as the steam box or the FT03 but it can comfortably fit graphics cards longer than 10″ without modding (the FT03 actually can’t hold a Titan without modding it) and it has a special vent for blower style cards with a dust filter and a windowed version. Depending on your motherboard you can fit a relatively large NH-C14 (IIRC that’s the model number) and have a pint-sized powerhouse all the same

        • DaveJustDave
        • 7 years ago

        nothing wrong with it per se. just personal bias I guess. It just looks like.. *shudder* .. a lunch box for a really large person.

        I am really hoping the [url<]http://ncases.com[/url<] goes into production for mass consumption next year.

      • superjawes
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]I still have the funny feeling that GTX780 is going to cook itself to death in there.[/quote<] But Nvidia can make a proper cooler... /ikeedikeed For a more serious answer, I can't see a proper view from that side of the chassis, but if it is sealed there instead of vented, it could get very hot for the GPU. As long as you can get air in, the cooler can do its work getting air out.

        • DaveJustDave
        • 7 years ago

        my mistake.. I own a GTX690 and it vents air INTO the case.. i guess the newer 780 coolers flow the opposite direction?

          • superjawes
          • 7 years ago

          Yeah, the design on that 780 is to push air out of the face with the video ports. You still have to get air to the fan so it can get pushed out, though. If the pressure inside that space is too negative, you aren’t actually going to get much cooling.

    • superjawes
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]We still don't know if that exact configuration and enclosure design will make it to the market...[/quote<] Isn't this the only Steam Machine release from Valve? I thought they were going to leave it to third parties to release Steam Machines, and the beta machines are only going out for testing. On top of that, I think they're going to release the CAD files for the enclosure so that anyone can make one if they desire.

      • ALiLPinkMonster
      • 7 years ago

      If they’re really smart, they’ll sell a barebones kit sans processor, graphics card, memory and storage. I can see that enclosure selling like hotcakes. I’d buy one in a heartbeat.

        • puppetworx
        • 7 years ago

        Absolutely, though I can see them being scared of the “Steambox” having it’s reputation ruined by people building shoddy under-performing knockoffs and selling them for profit on ebay etc. If they can’t prevent that happening legally I don’t think they’ll sell the case alone.

        • superjawes
        • 7 years ago

        I doubt that they want to set up production, distribution, warranty, etc. for it, though. It actually takes a lot of behind the scenes work, and utilizing other people for the parts just to sell out of a Valve storefront is going to drive prices up needlessly.

        They could strike partnerships, but I think it more likely that they will just issue a BOM/list of recommended parts. The good news is that if they do, in fact, release the CAD files, someone like Corsair can modify the design and sell it as “Designed for a Steam Machine!” Or they can just manufacture and sell the enclosure as Valve designed it.

        What I’m really looking for is the introducion of parts that mimic the layout. Getting the GPU on its side and maximizing volume utilization would be great for Steam Machines and system building in general.

        • Farting Bob
        • 7 years ago

        So a case with a motherboard and power supply? The only people who would be confident enough to install everything else will be people who just build their own PC’s anyway. They want it to be more like a console, not just a build it yourself gaming PC in a HTPC case.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          People might like the custom case enough to buy it.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 7 years ago

            This could be a good case to consolize the pc experience. My only issue is the lack of additional expansion slots. What if you want a dedicated soundcard, or something else? I suppose if you went R290, that could work, but then linux drivers. Without additional expansion, the steam box will be too generic to compete with consoles, then again you also need linux support for those extra cards. Perhaps if the steambox enforced ports to use openal soft, that might be enough to justify it. Also, what about blu-ray playback? Blu-ray on PC is a joke, considering your expensive software quits being updated after a year, then no longer works with new drm’d disks. Very annoying. Dunno. Big cases don’t bother me though. If I was going to build one, it would probably just be a regular pc, or something in-between that offers similar expansion capability, at least big enough for a soundcard, raid1, a ssd, and a blu-ray player.

            Edit: I see what they did here. No disk drive, so use a hardware player. Still, I’d want at least a dvd player to read disks, and raid1 in case of a hdd failure.

            • superjawes
            • 7 years ago

            I don’t think they [i<]need[/i<] a disk drive so long as it is marketed as a digital platform. Heck, I thought MS should have released/announced a digital-only Xbox 360 at a cheap price just to test the waters of diskless consoles. However, I have to imagine that other designs are going to include a space for a DVD drive. On the audio, I think HDMI will probably be "good enough" for most TVs, and anyone wanting better peformance will probably have external devices anyway. Sound cards are a little tricky since you either have to go standard mATX, and force a wider/taller case, or you have to lay out the risers so that the sound card doesn't interfere with GPU cooling (any more than it is already obstructed). But, of course, as long as they're "consolizing" the PC experience, this case is probably just fine. As long as it plays games and works well on the big screen, users will be happy.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 7 years ago

            Right. I get it, but it’s competing with the XB/PS which are marketed as a full entertainment/social platform, and from what I understand, the PS even has dedicated sound processing, dunno about xbox.

            You could always add an external drive, but if the steambox doesn’t offer similar capabilities to consoles, I think it would limit buyers to hardcore fans who want to play pc games from a couch, and not interest people looking to replace consoles with a steambox. I know I’d want a competitive feature-set.

        • d0g_p00p
        • 7 years ago

        After playing with a physical one I totally agree. The enclosure and the venting system is amazing.

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