Valve backs PC maker Xi3, announces Steam Box mini-PC

Specifics on tiny PC are kept quiet, but Valve invests an undisclosed amount into PC manufacturer.

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PC manufacturer Xi3 has announced a modular, grapefruit-sized computer designed around Steam's TV-focused Big Picture mode, and Valve itself has announced an undisclosed amount of investment in the company.

While the oft-rumoured Steam Box was not shown directly, the Utah-based Xi3 showed off a prototype model of its tiny modular chassis, dubbed Piston, at CES Las Vegas. However, the company remained tight-lipped when it came to specs, price, and dates.

Speaking to Polygon, Xi3 chief marketing officer David Politis mentioned that the diminutive device would be modular, with the option to upgrade components like the CPU and RAM. The device also allows for up to a terabyte of storage.

While the exact differences between the Steam device and Xi3's current X7A and X5A prototypes have yet to be detailed, the demonstration unit of the Piston showed four USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and eSATA ports, an ethernet port, 3.5mm audio and S/PDIF, two Mini DisplayPorts, and an HDMI/DisplayPort.

Xi3 also confirmed that the upcoming box is based on its bigger and more powerful prototype, the X7A, which will retail for $999. The entry-level device, the X5A, retails for $499 and runs on Linux--the open-source OS Valve engineer Ben Krasnow recently said the Steam box would utilise.

“This new development stage product will allow users to take full-advantage of their large high-definition TV displays for an amazing computer game experience," said Xi3 CEO Jason A. Sullivan. "As a result, this new system could provide access to thousands of gaming titles through an integrated system that exceeds the capabilities of leading game consoles, but can fit in the palm of your hand.”

Valve's Jeri Ellsworth has previously said she would like to launch an external beta test of proprietary Valve hardware sometime in 2013.

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