Are Steam Machines Worth It? A Detailed Look At Valve’S Gaming Pcs

Steam Machines gained a lot of attention when they were first announced as Valve’s PC-based gaming systems designed for the living room. But years after their release, a common question remains: are Steam Machines actually worth buying compared to traditional gaming PCs or consoles?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Steam Machines can be worth it for the right type of gamer who wants a compact, Linux-based system focused on Steam games. But limitations around hardware, game compatibility, and overall value hold Steam Machines back from being true competitors to PCs and mainstream consoles.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at the pros, cons, hardware, game library, pricing, and overall viability of Steam Machines in order to help you decide if purchasing one makes sense for your needs.

The Vision Behind Steam Machines

Valve’s Steam Machines were created with a specific vision in mind – to bring PC gaming into the living room and provide a console-like experience with the power and flexibility of a gaming PC. These machines were designed to bridge the gap between console gaming and PC gaming, offering a unique and customizable gaming experience for players.

Living Room-Focused Gaming PCs

Steam Machines are specifically designed to be used in the living room, allowing gamers to enjoy their favorite PC games on the big screen. These machines come in different form factors, ranging from compact and portable to larger and more powerful.

They are equipped with powerful hardware components, such as high-end CPUs and GPUs, to ensure smooth gameplay and impressive graphics.

One of the key advantages of Steam Machines is their ability to be customized and upgraded, just like traditional gaming PCs. This means that gamers can easily swap out components, such as the graphics card or storage, to keep up with the latest gaming technology.

This flexibility allows players to tailor their gaming experience to their specific needs and preferences.

SteamOS and the Steam Controller

Steam Machines run on Valve’s own operating system, SteamOS. This Linux-based operating system is optimized for gaming, providing a seamless and intuitive interface for players. SteamOS also allows gamers to access the extensive library of games available on Steam, one of the largest digital distribution platforms for PC gaming.

In addition to the operating system, Steam Machines also come with the unique Steam Controller. This controller features innovative touchpad controls and customizable settings, providing a new and immersive way to play games.

The Steam Controller is designed to work seamlessly with SteamOS and offers a level of precision and customization that traditional console controllers may lack.

It is important to note that while Steam Machines offer a unique and customizable gaming experience, they may not be for everyone. The availability of games on the platform is not as extensive as on traditional gaming PCs, and some games may not be fully optimized for SteamOS.

However, with the growing support from game developers and the continuous updates to the platform, the library of games for Steam Machines is expanding.

Steam Machine Hardware and Performance

Pre-Built System Specs

When it comes to Steam Machines, one of the key factors to consider is the hardware specifications of these pre-built gaming PCs. Valve, the company behind Steam, has partnered with various manufacturers to offer a range of different configurations to suit different budgets and gaming needs.

These machines typically come with powerful processors, ample RAM, and dedicated graphics cards, allowing for smooth gameplay and immersive gaming experiences.

Some popular manufacturers of Steam Machines include Alienware, Zotac, and CyberPowerPC. Each of these companies offers different models with varying hardware specifications. For example, the Alienware Steam Machine features an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics card.

On the other hand, the CyberPowerPC Syber Steam Machine boasts an AMD Ryzen processor, 16GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon RX graphics card. These pre-built systems provide a convenient and hassle-free option for gamers who want to dive into the world of Steam gaming without the need for extensive technical knowledge.

Graphics and Processing Power

One of the main advantages of Steam Machines is their ability to deliver high-quality graphics and processing power. These gaming PCs are designed to handle demanding games, offering smooth frame rates and stunning visuals.

With dedicated graphics cards from reputable manufacturers like NVIDIA and AMD, Steam Machines can handle the latest games at high resolutions and settings.

For example, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics cards found in many Steam Machines are known for their excellent performance and support for advanced features like ray tracing. This technology allows for more realistic lighting and shadows in games, enhancing the overall visual experience.

Additionally, the powerful processors found in Steam Machines ensure that games run smoothly and efficiently, minimizing lag and maximizing performance.

Size, Form Factors, and Cooling

One of the appealing aspects of Steam Machines is their compact size and diverse form factors. Unlike traditional gaming PCs, Steam Machines are designed to be small and portable, making them suitable for living room setups or gaming on the go.

These compact systems come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from console-like designs to mini-ITX form factors.

Despite their smaller size, Steam Machines are engineered to provide efficient cooling to prevent overheating during intensive gaming sessions. They often feature custom cooling solutions, such as liquid or air cooling, to keep the components running at optimal temperatures.

This ensures that the system remains stable and reliable, even during extended gaming sessions.

SteamOS and Game Compatibility

When considering the worthiness of Steam Machines, one of the key factors to examine is the compatibility of the games with SteamOS, the operating system developed by Valve. SteamOS is based on Linux and is specifically designed to provide a gaming-focused experience for users.

Let’s delve into the benefits and limitations of SteamOS and explore the difference between native Linux games and Proton games.

Benefits and Limitations of SteamOS

SteamOS offers several advantages for gamers. Firstly, it provides a seamless integration with the Steam platform, allowing users to access a vast library of games directly from their Steam Machines. Additionally, SteamOS is optimized for gaming performance, which can result in smoother gameplay and enhanced graphics for supported titles.

Another benefit of SteamOS is its compatibility with game controllers, making it a suitable choice for those who prefer gaming on the big screen using a controller rather than a traditional keyboard and mouse setup.

Moreover, SteamOS supports streaming games from a powerful gaming PC to a less powerful Steam Machine, enabling users to enjoy high-end gaming experiences on lower-end hardware.

However, it is important to consider the limitations of SteamOS. One of the main drawbacks is the limited game library compared to other gaming platforms such as Windows. While the number of games available for SteamOS has been steadily increasing, some popular titles may not be officially supported.

This can be a significant factor to consider for gamers who have specific games they want to play.

Additionally, some software or peripherals that are commonly used in the gaming community may not be compatible with SteamOS. This can include certain game development tools, streaming services, or gaming accessories.

It is crucial to research and ensure that all the required software and hardware are compatible with SteamOS before making a purchase decision.

Native Linux vs Proton Games

When it comes to game compatibility on SteamOS, there are two main categories to consider: native Linux games and Proton games. Native Linux games are titles that have been specifically developed and optimized for the Linux operating system, including SteamOS.

These games tend to have better performance and stability on SteamOS since they are designed to run natively.

On the other hand, Proton is a compatibility layer developed by Valve that allows users to play Windows games on SteamOS. Proton utilizes Wine, an open-source compatibility layer, to run Windows games seamlessly on Linux-based systems.

While Proton has made significant strides in improving game compatibility, it is important to note that not all Windows games are supported, and some may still have performance or stability issues.

Valve maintains a regularly updated list of games that are officially supported by Proton, known as the “Whitelist.” This list includes popular titles like Grand Theft Auto V, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and DOOM Eternal.

However, it is worth mentioning that there are also many games that are not officially supported but still work well with Proton, thanks to the active community and the ongoing development efforts.

Pricing and Hardware Value

Cost of Entry-Level Machines

When considering whether Steam Machines are worth it, one of the first things to evaluate is the cost of entry-level machines. These gaming PCs, designed by Valve, come in a range of prices to suit different budgets.

The starting price for a Steam Machine can vary depending on the specifications and features offered by different manufacturers. Generally, entry-level machines can be found in the $500 to $800 price range, making them relatively affordable compared to other gaming PCs on the market.

It’s important to note that while entry-level Steam Machines may not have the highest-end hardware, they still provide a solid gaming experience. These machines are capable of running a wide range of games smoothly, including popular titles available on the Steam platform.

For casual gamers or those who are just getting started in PC gaming, these lower-priced options can be a great choice.

Comparison to DIY Builds

Another factor to consider when assessing the value of Steam Machines is how they compare to DIY builds. DIY builds involve purchasing individual components and assembling them to create a custom gaming PC.

While DIY builds offer the advantage of customization and potentially better hardware performance, they also require more technical knowledge and time investment.

When comparing the cost of a Steam Machine to a DIY build with similar specifications, it’s important to consider the additional costs involved in building a PC from scratch. These costs can include purchasing an operating system, peripherals, and potentially dealing with compatibility issues.

Steam Machines, on the other hand, come pre-built with an operating system and are designed to be plug-and-play, making them more accessible to those who may not have the expertise or time to build their own PC.

Furthermore, Steam Machines often come with additional features and optimizations specifically designed for gaming, such as SteamOS and the Steam Controller. These features enhance the gaming experience and provide added value for those who prioritize ease of use and convenience.

It’s worth noting that while DIY builds can provide more flexibility and potentially better performance, Steam Machines offer a convenient and hassle-free option for gamers who want a reliable gaming PC without the complexities of building one from scratch.

Alternatives to Consider

Desktop Gaming PCs

If you’re not sold on the idea of investing in a Steam Machine, there are several alternatives to consider. One popular option is a desktop gaming PC. These powerful machines offer a high level of customization and can be tailored to meet your specific gaming needs.

With a desktop gaming PC, you have the freedom to choose your own components, such as the processor, graphics card, and RAM, allowing you to create a system that can handle even the most demanding games.

Additionally, desktop gaming PCs often have better cooling systems than their console counterparts, which can help prevent overheating and ensure optimal performance during long gaming sessions. They also tend to offer more storage options, so you can install a large library of games without worrying about running out of space.

While desktop gaming PCs may require a larger upfront investment and can be more complex to set up, they offer a level of performance and flexibility that is hard to match.

Living Room Consoles

If you prefer gaming in the comfort of your living room, a living room console might be the perfect alternative to a Steam Machine. Consoles like the PlayStation and Xbox have long been a staple in many households, offering a wide range of games and a user-friendly interface.

Living room consoles are easy to set up and typically come with a dedicated controller, making them ideal for casual gaming or multiplayer experiences with friends and family. They also often have exclusive titles that are not available on other platforms, giving you access to a unique gaming experience.

One advantage of living room consoles is their affordability compared to high-end gaming PCs. While they may not offer the same level of customization or performance as a desktop gaming PC, they can still provide an enjoyable gaming experience at a fraction of the cost.

Ultimately, the choice between a desktop gaming PC and a living room console depends on your personal preferences, budget, and gaming needs.


While Steam Machines offer some unique benefits, limitations around the Linux-based SteamOS, graphics power, game compatibility, and pricing hold them back from being serious competitors to full gaming PCs and mainstream consoles.

For the right type of gamer who prioritizes Steam access and a compact form factor above all else, a Steam Machine can certainly be a worthwhile purchase. But for most people, a traditional DIY PC or living room console likely represents a better value.

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