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Valve will be sending out 300 prototype Steam Machines to select Steam users later this year. Today they revealed the specifications that these early units will have.
"The prototype machine is a high-end, high-performance box, built out of off-the-shelf PC parts," Valve said to the Steam Universe community group. "It is also fully upgradable, allowing any user to swap out the GPU, hard drive, CPU, even the motherboard if you really want to. Apart from the custom enclosure, anyone can go and build exactly the same machine by shopping for components and assembling it themselves. And we expect that at least a few people will do just that."
Steam Machines are consoles that will run SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system. Hundreds of games in the Steam library already support this OS. While SteamOS is being developed by Valve, the consoles themselves will be made by several companies. These Steam Machines have to meet certain minimum requirements but beyond that, there should be a lot of variety. We'll see budget models as well as top-of-the-line rigs for the hardcore crowd.
The prototypes from Valve will have some variations as well. If you're one of the lucky 300, here's what you can expect to find inside your mode:
GPU: some units with NVidia Titan, some GTX780, some GTX760, and some GTX660
"This design is not meant to serve the needs of all of the tens of millions of Steam users," Valve says. "It may, however, be the kind of machine that a significant percentage of Steam users would actually want to purchase - those who want plenty of performance in a high-end living room package. Many others would opt for machines that have been more carefully designed to cost less, or to be tiny, or super quiet, and there will be Steam Machines that fit those descriptions."
Valve didn't share a picture of the prototype, as they're still designing its look. They'll provide pictures once the units are shipped out to testers, though.
If you're interested in getting one of these prototype units, you can read the instructions for signing up here. You'll need to do simple tasks like join the Steam Universe community group and make ten friends on Steam. You'll have to do all this by October 25th, though, because the list of eligible testers will be locked on that date.
The Steam Machines are being developed alongside a new gamepad with haptic feedback and a touchscreen. The Steam Controller will presumably be included with each prototype unit.