Steam Machine Build 2015 Part I


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As the cold weather decends upon us and ‘gaming’ season begins and before I write my next article on converting my Home Lab from VMware vSphere to Nutanix Community Edition running on our Acropolis Hypervisor, I decided to write a fun article on my latest project, the Steam Machine Build.  For those that have been living in a closet the past year, Valve has been very busy on Steam OS, an open source Linux Distro built for Linux compatible Steam games. At the heart of the program, Valve’s goal to to ensure that “PC Gaming” stays at the forefront of gaming “platforms” where Consoles are dominating. Valve, believes, as I do, that the consumer gains much more from PC gaming than consoles for many different reasons.  The problem is, the PC as a gaming platform has hindered it’s popularity due to expense, constant maintenance (driver updates, firmware), compatibility issues, and the list goes on.

While I don’t plan on debating Console VS PC, there are certainly pluses and minuses for both so i’ll just break it down to where I see the benefits.  Personally, I am fortunate to have both a Workstation/Gaming PC and an Xbox One.

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My decisions were based solely on my game choices and why?  Well, some games are better on console than PC, IMHO.   Take for example platform games and sports games.  The Xbox one with the built in community, great controller trumps the PC handily in those games.  What about FPS, which is my favorite genre, actually Modern War FPS, Battlefield, Arma etc. These games, some only offered on PC like Arma III, are built for PC.  They offer rich graphics, and are truly made for the keyboard/mouse control combo.  Recently, EA debuted Star Wars Battlefront with a limited Beta release.  This was one of those games I assumed would be a PC title, so I eagerly staged the install waiting on the release date.  The game played awesome, and look amazing on my hardware and I was sold that I would be buying this on PC.  Then I decided i’d download the Xbox One version, thinking that it wouldn’t look good (like Battlefield Hardline) compared to the PC and the controls would be wonky but I was dead wrong!

Star Wars Battlefront Xbox One VS PC – Image Quality

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Clearly the PC looks better, however, the Xbox One version looks great as well.  Let’s talk about game play a bit.  I put this at a tie because DICE has done a PHENOMENAL job with the game interface.  It reminds me of a console experience, but on a PC.  That’s not to say that we didn’t have to worry about driver updates and maintenance and the hefty specs recommended for PC:

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That’s a beefy PC spec requirement and lets face it.  Most “real” games try to get as close as possible to Recommended specs and not the Minimum system requirement for a buttery smooth, graphic-rich gaming experience.  The problem right here is cost.  They are listing the latest Skylake platform which was just released!

Launching the game was quick to get in game was also fast, again, this is not common with typical PC Multiplayer games. Of course, SSD tech has helped tremendously with load times so on my rig its fairly close to the console counterpart when launching the game itself, BUT, I had to update the latest Nvidia Driver that was released for Battlefront prior to me playing the game, not typically something you would do on a console unless a new Dashboard update has come out which is usually twice per year.

I had also assumed that the Xbox One controller was going to hinder my game play experience, to the contrary, once again Dice has provided such a great controller mapping by default I found myself thoroughly enjoying the game play with the Xbox One controller.

All in all, I ended up playing more on the Xbox One, after one day of playing on the PC I was hooked on Xbox One and never went back to the PC for this game but one thing was really missing and that was the true beauty that PC graphics provides and the question come up, how do I get a console experience with PC graphics?  This led me to the “Steam Machine” project.

My HD projector for my Xbox One supports 1080p and I wanted all the graphical beauty that Star Wars battlefront can potentially provide with the Xbox One controls and on a platform that was easy and simple to manage…but here comes the other challenge.  I can’t really build a Steam Machine because Star Wars Battlefront is an EA game which more than likely, will only be released through Origin which now limits me and may not allow me to go with Steam OS…bummer.

My options are now limited.  I have to go Windows but I need a wrapper, something that can boot to an easier interface that would offer a way to easily launch my games and media.  This would lead me to a minimal Windows 10 install with Kodi. Kodi, formerly XBMC (Xbox Media Center) has been around for a while and is a free open source software media center. This would be the interface that would provide a console like experience.

In the next segment I will talk about the hardware, the choices I made, new vs used, and the enclosure that would house this beast.

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