It’s a gaming-class PC the size of a grapefruit, and it’s on sale right now for $899 (compared to $999 normally) if you preorder it. But is Xi3’s Piston worth getting?
The Piston’s shortcomings
First off, the Piston’s not really a gaming PC so much as a console that’s powered by Steam — Valve’s ultra-popular digital game store and social network. There’s no mention of it running Windows, either, so take a look at the Linux games on Steam; that may be your library if you get a Piston. (Although it’s a given that more Valve first-party titles, at least, will be ported between now and its release in “the 2013 Holiday Season.”)
Second, for the price you don’t get a whole lot of storage space. Imagine an ultrabook or a MacBook Pro with gaming graphics, and the 128 GB solid-state drive won’t seem so surprising. You can upgrade all the way to 512 GB, but be prepared to pay through the nose for it; the option nearly doubles the price.
The Piston’s competitors
We don’t know what other Steam Boxes will be like, especially Valve’s official one(s). Right now, the Piston’s the only one that’s making waves.
Compared to a pre-built gaming PC, the Piston has inferior performance and storage space. It’s possible, but not for sure yet, that it won’t be able to play any games besides ones on Steam, or even Linux games on Steam. It uses about as much power as an incandescent light bulb, however, and can fit on almost any shelf.
Homemade rigs compare similarly, since even a Mini-ITX case will be a lot bigger (and more customizable) than the Piston.
The console competitors
Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox is still an unknown right now. But it’s likely to be similar, hardware-wise, to a PC with built-in Kinect.
Sony hasn’t shown any pictures of the PlayStation 4 yet, but has announced some of its features and specs. It’s going to be comparable to a low-to-mid-range gaming PC, with components similar to off-the-shelf ones, and will have enhanced social and online features like letting you stream gameplay live — much of it the kind of stuff PC gamers are used to already. On the downside, it probably won’t be able to play earlier-gen PlayStation games, since the PS2 and PS3 used some really weird and unique hardware.
The real underdog?
Ouya’s been getting a surprising amount of buzz for a tiny $99 console with the innards of a Nexus 7 tablet. It’ll be about the size of a Piston, but will play Android games using a wireless controller. These games will be custom-designed to work with controllers, however, and many will be system exclusives. Plus, all Ouya games will have some free-to-play option, even if it’s just a demo.
Still worth it?
Which is to say, is the $100 discount worth waiting until the end of the year to possibly not even be able to play all your Steam games on a console? If the answer for you is “yes,” you’re probably still way too hyped up on it from attending SXSW.