The Xi3 Piston got a lot of attention when it was included in the Valve “Steambox” (now Steam Machine) reveal. Since then, however, the company cut ties with Valve, and is now getting ready to release their first modular console on their own. Note that they are not calling it a “Steambox” or “Steam Machine” and in fact, go out of their way to mention it on their site.
Xi3 has never described its Piston Console (PC) as the Steam box or a Steam Box, especially since it appears that Steam Box is a term created by journalists and not by Valve,” the FAQ reads [emphasis in original]. “To be clear, however, Piston console owners will be able to access and play games on/through Steam since it is a Web-based platform open to anyone with an Internet connection and a Steam account, either on a Windows- or a Linux-based system. So in this regard, Piston could be considered the first commercially available Steam Box.
So basically, it’s a small all-in-one PC, along the lines of an Intel Nuc. They call it “modular” but the only “modules” that are available are the RAM and mSATA SSD. According to the site, “… you can upgrade your PISTON with new I/O Boards as technology advances.” Since they use a proprietary format, you will have to buy directly from them.
Our Advice: Build an Xi3 Piston Yourself
The Xi3 Piston will be available on November 29 for $999. What does that get you hardware-wise? Not much.
According to the site, you get a “3.2 GHz AMD Trinity Processor, Radeon 7000-Series GPU and 8GB DDR3 Gaming RAM” and a 128GB SSD.
In other words, the Xi3 Piston is an AMD R464 embedded CPU with an integrated Radeon 7660G. When we reviewed the Trinity APU, we thought it made for an excellent all-in-one 720p gaming system that would kill current gen consoles for roughly the same price. However $999 is not anywhere close to that. In fact, you could build yourself a small mini-ITX system with an A8-5500 for about $400 easily.
So don’t be discouraged by the Xi3 Piston as your first glimpse of a Steam Machine. That is not what this is. Think of this as a really expensive small PC that is capable of playing games at 720p with better-than-current-gen settings.