Controversial title I know, but let’s face it if people haven’t seen passed the façade of the Xi3 Piston yet then people clearly aren’t looking closely enough – it is nothing more than overpriced hardware. There are strong opinions in this article so if you do not like those then you may not want to read on. The Piston from Xi3 was officially unveiled yesterday and the new “Steam OS ready” gaming PC (not endorsed by Valve/Steam in any way, and rightly so) will come to market at $999 in a rather nifty looking form factor, pictured above. However, when we start to look at the internals of the Piston this is where things get a bit messy. Xi3 have been very “mysterious” with their specifications (read: withholding information) claiming the following specifications for the “entry” model that costs $999:
- Quad core x86 processor running at up to 3.2GHz
- 384 discrete class graphics cores
- 8GB of DDR3 RAM
- 128GB SSD
So that all looks well and good but then you start to consider, hang on a minute, I am paying $999 for this so is THAT really worth my money? Well actually – it isn’t. While the vast majority of media outlets have already been butt-kissing Xi3’s Piston for its innovative design, Forbes decided to dig a little deeper. After speaking with AMD they confirmed that the heart of the Xi3 Piston is the AMD R464L APU which has four cores running at 2.3GHz (with a 3.2GHz turbo mode) and AMD Radeon HD 7660G graphics (which has 384 cores based on the VLIW4 architecture of the HD 6000 series clocked at 496~685MHz putting this GPU somewhere between a HD 6450 and HD 6570 in terms of performance). Of course the APU itself is a great part, but it only retails for around $150 and is an AMD embedded APU meant for industrial uses – its closest consumer equivalent is the A10-4600M APU.
If we take the cost of the main components listed in the specifications it is something like $150 for the R464L APU, $80 for 8GB of DDR3 and $130 for a 128GB SSD. I make that $360 for the core components based on RETAIL pricing, if we consider Xi3 will get TRADE prices then it’s probably more like $280~300 for them. Of course there is more to the system than that – you’ve got the chassis, power supply and the motherboard but they aren’t exactly going to be expensive parts either – you’re talking no more than a 200W PSU is needed, the motherboard will be very minimalistic and the case is pretty small too. All in all it seems likely the Xi3 Piston comes in at under $400~500 to build. Of course you’d expect a profit margin to be included but not this much, this is ludicrous.
Xi3 have made some pretty bold claims about the Piston’s performance, all of which are pretty much unfounded. Below is an example of the performance of the HD 7660G graphics in modern games from Notebook Check. As you can see – it is unplayable in them all. Sure within the SteamOS the graphics will be more efficient, but even if the performance doubled (which it won’t) then every game is still unplayable except at the lowest settings where you will be able to scrape 30 FPS.
Of course we will have to wait for the first benchmarks and reviews to see what the performance is actually like – it is possible Xi3 can pull something out of the bag with the Piston if they’ve got the SteamOS optimisations absolutely spot on. Even if they manage that, this is still just a small case filled with entry level notebook hardware and an SSD. If you were looking for a game-changing “SteamBox” then sorry guys, you won’t find that with Xi3’s newest creation – the Piston. You could build a better system yourself for $400.
(Oh and after all that if you still want to buy the Xi3 Piston then you can do so right here.)
Image #1 courtesy of Xi3, Image #2 courtesy of Notebook Check