To build or not to build a Steam Box; that is the question. Weather it is nobler in the wallet to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously priced boxes, or to take arms against mainstream consoles, and by opposing, end them?

This is a not-so-thinly veiled reference to you, Microsoft.

This is a not-so-thinly veiled reference to you, Microsoft.

The arms race has finally begun with the news that Valve has partnered with twelve different manufacturers to produce the first generation of Steam Boxes, set to arrive on the gaming scene by summer 2014.

For those who have had their head buried in a console box since November, the Steam Box is a new creation from Valve for home gaming entertainment. Powered by a Linux based OS aptly named “SteamOS”, the box offers to finally transport the magical world of PC gaming to the living room television.

Even the controller looks like the future.

Even the controller smells like the future.

Months ago, the first Valve produced prototypes of the Steam Box were shipped to a lucky few within the Steam community. A month ago, the free SteamOS was released for public download. Weeks ago, the twelve different manufactures who will be competing for your money-stepped foreword with their exciting new designs and takes on the box. The throw down has begun.

The move was a brilliant one for Valve. Giving the go ahead to multiple manufacturing companies took the bulk of the responsibility of out their hands. It encourages price and specification competition amongst the manufactures and allows them to sit back and watch as game sales keep rolling in. It begs for diversification and already the options are beginning to flow in.

CyberPowerPC and iBuyPower are offering entry-level models at $500. Higher end manufacture Alienware is offering a “Sky’s the limit” pricing scheme that could find you mortgaging your house for the best in gaming technology. Even established manufactures such as Gigabyte are jumping in the mix, offering different price levels and console options. It’s a giant options orgy and you’re the one bringing the lotion.

Alienware does not mind the weird stuff.

Alienware does not mind doing the weird stuff.

Yet, what exactly is a Steam Box? A personal computer running off the Linux based SteamOS and coupled with a fancy new controller; that’s it. Perhaps the designs of the pros are a touch more swanky, but the problem many have noticed is the ease of simply building your own. Why shell out hundreds of dollars over market value for what is a rather simple PC build? How much would I save with a custom build and could I build a more future proof Steam Box?

It’s a question that I must answer, and not with assumptions. The answer to this question must be based in cold price logic. I need to two comparable scales; one powered by a reasonably priced system, the other the hands of a mad man. In order to more deeply penetrate the real cost of a Steam Box, I must compare and contrast between the existing machinery that will be available, and what I could do with a somewhat reasonable budget.

Owing to this, I’ve selected CyberPowerPC’s new Steam Machine I, which will ship later this year with a price of $699. I’ve chosen this over the $500 budget model because I’m looking for a nice medium blend, not a race of budget.

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The specs of the Steam Machine I are decent and I’ve constructed a table below with price points of how much it would cost me to meet them on the battlefield with identical parts.

Part

CyberPowerPC Spec

Comparable Part

Graphics NVIDIA GTX 760 $250
Processor Intel I3 4330 $140
Hard Drive 500 GB SATA 7200 RPM $55
Ram 8GB DDR3 1600MHz $80
Motherboard Mini ITX $115
Included Accessories Steam Controller $50
Power Supply Not listed (assumed 500watts) $45
Case CyberPowerPC Custom Chasis $40
Cost Cost Of System
$699
Cost Of Parts
$775

 

As you can see, attempting to match CyberPower’s ridiculous ability to buy components in bulk and offer cheap builds, part for part, is a recipe for disaster. It simply cannot be done cheaper unless you harvest parts from systems you already own. So when it comes to the commercial power of the Steam Box, the question of can I build the exact box cheaper is answered with a resounding no.

However, as a tech savvy consumer, I am not bound to certain parts and I owe my allegiances to only one lady, sweet lady budget. So the question becomes, can I build something comparatively better on my own for $700? For this test to be fair, I must use comparable parts, which means choosing Intel over AMD owing to the quality and longevity of the parts. I’ve constructed a table below, with prices available from Newegg or Amazon.Com to test if I can beat it.

Component

Brand

Cost

Graphics NVIDIA GTX 760 $250
Processor Intel Core i3-4130 3.4 3 FCLGA 1150 Processor $120
Hard Drive WD Blue 1 TB Desktop Hard Drive: 3.5 Inch, 7200 RPM, SATA 6 Gb/s, 64 MB Cache $60
Ram Kingston HyperX Blu 8GB (1×8 GB Module) 1600MHz 240-pin DDR3 $70
Motherboard Gigabyte Intel Motherboards GA-B85M-D3H $75
Accessories Controller, Case Fans $60
Case and Power Supply Rosewill Ultra High Gloss Finished MicroATX Computer Case with 400W ATX 2.2 12V Power Supply $50
Cost $685

 

            With my personal build, I was able to keep the basic framework while getting a touch more out of the components. I kept the graphics card the same, as NVidia’s GTX 760 is an industry standard, and I made slight adjustments to the rest.

I opted for a slightly slower processor in the i3 4130, saving $20 and delivering the same high quality that is already a touch of overkill for this strictly gaming machine. I was able to find a much better deal on the hard drive, doubling the capacity for less money and I opted for a MicroATX board as opposed to the ITX form factor. This means a slightly bigger motherboard with a few more options, including USB 3.0. I also condensed my ram into a single stick for around the same price, allowing for better upgrading possibilities in the future.

While my build has roughly the same power as the CyberPowerPC model, it has double the hard drive capacity, excellent upgradable options and a better marriage between graphics card, processor and motherboard. Gigabyte, Intel and NVidia make excellent bedfellows and using all three will unlock more possibilities for increased performance.

So can I build a better Steam Box for cheaper? Yes. If I were willing to use AMD parts, I could cut the price of this by around $200 more. It should be noted that I will pay no sales tax on many of these items, so while my end price for my PC build will be around $680, a more comparable price for CyberPowerPC’s box will be about $750. Within that $70 gap, I could add a second stick of 8gb ram bringing my system up to 16gb, decsivley crushing CyberpowerPC’s offering. The biggest perk of my self-built model is it’s upgradable options, allowing for a second graphics card and more ram when the time comes for more power. I can also extend my storage easily, making it an excellent candidate for a home media system if I’m willing to install a CD/DVD drive for an additional $30.

I'm starting to forget what exactly this does again.

I’m starting to forget what exactly this does again.

All in all, those with the know how to build should. Far more options are available to those willing to brave the fires on their own, including dual tasking as a home media center. However, for those a bit too nervous to build, the differences are too marginal to justify going it alone. Will you get a better machine doing it yourself? Yes, but you’ll also have no one to blame if something goes wrong. To build or not to build is the question, but the answer depends on how brave you feel.

About The Author

GuestPost represents the work of past New Gamer Nation writers. Though they may not be with us anymore physically, we know they are with us in spirit.

  • Ken Dainty

    My only critique is about the bundled 400 watt power supply since you mentioned the ability to add an additional video card. 400 watts I believe to be the bare minimum for just one GTX 760, but I could be wrong. I think I would rather pay the extra $$ up front to not have to deal with an obsolete PS later and the labor or replacing it. Otherwise this article was exactly what I was looking for to reaffirm my intention to build my own. Thanks.