Valve’s Steam Machines initiative will soon be launching for real this month, after a year of delays while the Half-Life developer worked on their Linux distribution, SteamOS, and making it ready for commercial use on machines sold in retail stores. One of Valve’s principal partners, and their earliest out of the gate, was Zotac. Today, Zotac has announced the NEN SN970, a Linux-infused version of their MAGNUS EN970, which shipped with Windows 8.1 earlier this year. Hit the jump for more.
The NEN SN970 is Zotac’s first official Steam Machine, after they showed off a prototype version at GDC 2015, along with 11 other Steam Machines from other manufacturers. Valve’s original plan was to have Steam Machines be a set of recommended specifications for their partners that wanted to build a device that just worked with SteamOS, but over time this has evolved to support graphics chips from AMD and Intel, and exotic configurations like SLI systems inside tiny chassis.
SteamOS is also free to install and use for anyone, so it likewise has to be supported on systems assembled by hardware enthusiasts who want to use it for their gaming in the living room, in place of Windows or any of the competing home consoles from Sony and Microsoft. (Sorry, Nintendo, no-one really considers the Wii U a threat anymore)
The NEN SN970 is a mini PC inside a chassis branded by Zotacm, which ships with all of the things you’d normally expect to be boxed in with a home console – the controller, the power chargers, a Wi-Fi antennae, and recovery software for the system (okay, maybe not those last two things), along with user manuals. It ships with SteamOS 2.0, Valve’s most recent build that ticks up the version number.
Inside is a Intel Skylake Core i5-6400T quad-core processor with a base clock speed of 2.2GHz, boosting up to 2.8GHz for light workloads. It has a NVIDIA Geforce GTX 960 inside, but this is an OEM version instead of the one you can buy for desktop systems today, carrying 3GB of GDDR5 memory on a 192-bit memory bus. Clock speeds for that part aren’t listed, but since it is essentially a GTX 970M with half the available memory, the speeds shouldn’t differ much from the specs listed on TechpowerUp’s database.
Along with that hardware setup is 8GB of DDR4-2133MHz memory, a 1TB 2.5-inch hard drive, four HDMI 2.0 ports for hooking up multiple monitors, a SD card reader, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, front-panel audio jacks, three USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.0 Type-C port, and two more USB 2.0 ports on the rear I/O panel. There’s a single M.2 slot inside for SSDs, which might support NVME drives if Zotac allowed for that support in the BIOS.
If that all sounds good to you, there’s still the hurdle of availability and pricing, neither of which Zotac has detailed yet. The machine that Zotac currently advertises, the SN970 Steam Machine, starts off at $999, but doesn’t include the USB Type-C connector, which tells me that Zotac will replace the SN970 with the updated NEN version pretty soon. Out of all the options currently advertised, only Alienware’s Steam Machine is practically priced and reasonably powerful. You probably don’t want to source it locally though, as pricing is still largely prohibitive compared to the performance you get out of it.