Valve’s SteamOS Announcement Screams New Hardware

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News Posted: Mon, Sep 23 2013 2:10 PM
Valve is doing that thing it does where it trickles out a series of big announcements over the course of a week, and these announcements promise to be very big indeed. The first of a trio from Valve is that the company is producing SteamOS, a free, Linux-based, standalone operating system that will run on “living room machines”.

The OS is built around Steam itself, so it’s geared toward gaming, and in particular, gaming on the big screen in your living room. Valve calls it a “many-to-many entertainment platform” where content makers can directly connect with customers and users have the freedom to alter the software and hardware as they see fit.

There are four key features of SteamOS: in-home streaming, so you can play PC and Mac games on your SteamOS machine; allowing users to use the SteamOS machine as a set-top box of sorts for streaming music, movies, and TV from a variety of sources; Family Sharing, so you can swap games with family members (while saving your own game progress to the cloud); and Family Options to give users more control over which titles various users can see.

Valve's SteamOS screams

The new features, coupled with some key phrases on the SteamOS site, scream “new hardware”. Clearly, there’s going to be a box of some kind, and it will offer media streaming as well as gaming. It appears that it will be designed to sit alongside your PC, as the page says “turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have”.

Further, it seems that Valve is leaning on hardware partners to develop the actual boxes but believes that it offers the platform that will facilitate faster and better innovation in the living room. And of course, the fact that SteamOS will be free for individual users and is “freely licensable” for manufacturers indicates that instead of partnering with just one hardware maker, it’s letting everyone have a crack at it.

It’s not clear if SteamOS will run on standard PCs as well as “SteamOS machines”, but it’s reasonable to believe that it will; we also wouldn’t be surprised if Valve released its own Steam box running SteamOS alongside offerings from a variety of hardware makers.

We’ll know more in a couple of days when Valve makes its second announcement; and we’ll know still more after that when the third one lands later this week.
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RWilliams replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 2:23 PM

This is major.

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I was more excited for this announcement than all of E3 or any other major gaming event this year. Anticipation is killing me in regards to what the other two announcements are. I know what they are more in likely, but the details is what matters.

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truk007 replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 3:18 PM

Hopefully, I will be able to find renewed use for older computer parts that are just sitting around.

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3vi1 replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 3:55 PM

>> It’s not clear if SteamOS will run on standard PCs as well as “SteamOS machines”

It will. It's just a Linux distro that boots directly into Big Picture mode as a desktop.  It will be available for download soon.

I can hardly wait for the SteamBox and SteamNet announcements.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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RWilliams replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 6:26 PM

My mind hasn't shut up since this announcement. I am wondering if Valve is going to release a "recommended" list of what your PC should contain, hardware-wise, because honestly, not all hardware is supported by Linux quite as well as others. Take AMD vs. NVIDIA for example. I've had fantastic luck with NVIDIA cards, horrible with AMD. It'd be nice to see hardware driver support in general get a major boost from SteamOS' existence.

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I have my computer set for streaming, my back-up set for holding parts and cooling, and my living room set for whatever delicacy Steam plans on setting before me. This will be a good holiday season for gaming, no matter what Sony and Microsoft try to do.

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ECouts replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 9:20 PM

The question is: Will I be able to compile and optimize it myself? There are dozens upon dozens of optimizations which are overlooked time and time again by people who create these sort of OSes. For example, since it's a gaming system, it will benefit from being able to cache things into memory. Utilizing NVRam to do so would be strenuous, and using a physical drive would be slow. In this case, utilizing a compressed SWAP in memory would be beneficial.

On top of that, utilizing optimizations that are CPU specific would speed things along nicely. If this OS is to be used on multiple platforms (Playforms to coin a phrase), then they will be generic CPU instructions which will result in greater overhead and won't allow for all-out beautiful gameplay that could be achieved by utilizing a CPUs full capabilities.

And some of us, though rare, enjoy replacing the -O2 optimization with -O3 to get a fully optimized code and realize the full potential of the code we're compiling.

So, will it be closed-source, or can we compile it ourselves? I don't want some generic Pentium II crap running on an i7.

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RWilliams replied on Mon, Sep 23 2013 11:16 PM

From the announcement page: "Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want."

This leads me to believe that the entire OS will be open-source, but it's not as though the entire thing could just be recompiled on a whim. Given Valve's experience with Ubuntu, I'm sure SteamOS is going to be based on either that or Debian, and both of those use repos that store binary software, not raw code. As much as I side with you on wanting to optimize, Valve isn't going to get every Steambox user to wait for software to compile.

That said, the kernel and software you install yourself could no doubt be optimized to your liking. The kernel might be a tad challenging given Valve is probably (alright, this is speculation on my part) going to patch it to optimize for SteamOS, so it's unlikely that you'll want to go grab a bleeding-edge kernel and then forego Valve's patches. You might be doing yourself a disservice at that point.

"So, will it be closed-source, or can we compile it ourselves? I don't want some generic Pentium II crap running on an i7."

How on earth do you compile for a Pentium II? ;-) The generic x86_64 arch option in the kernel should be suitable enough.

TIL: -O3 is a thing.

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