More 'Steamboy' Info Revealed; Shipping Will Start In 2016

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅12.08.2015 14:32:36

Valve's Steam Machine initiative will come to fruition later this year with the launch of a wide range of desktop systems, featuring at their heart an x86 processor and Valves own SteamOS. Chiefly designed for living-room gaming, few innovate beyond low-noise components and high-quality wireless peripherals. Enthusiasts who wanted Steam Machines to revolutionise PC gaming may be out of luck... but there is one device which may have the potential to shake things up.

The Steamboy project by Smach was first announced back in June and is probably the answer to a question few would ask: what if Alienware wanted to make a Game Boy Advance? An external design which superficially resembles Nintendo's 2001 best-selling handheld videogame console (if the GBA had access to haptic controls) belies internal components which are more similar to a modern-day PC or x86 tablet. Integral to it is an AMD G-Series SoC featuring Jaguar APU with GCN graphics, but listed specifications also include 4GB RAM, 32GB internal flash storage and HDMI output. In fact, were it not for the integrated 720p touchscreen, you'd be forgiven for reading the specs writing it off as just another low-power Steam Machine; and that, ironically, is its strength.

Last week Smach were an exhibitor at Gamescom2015, where they revealed the Steamboy project's new name: Smach Zero. Priced tentatively at $299 (299), pre-orders will begin on November 10th 2015 (the same day that other Steam Machines go on sale) to be shipped at some point in 2016.


By creating a system that is grounded in Steam Machine fundamentals (i.e. native SteamOS support) the Smach Zero can capitalise on games and applications which are either natively tailored to the OS or supported via wireless streaming. Even the control mechanism is based on the Steam Controller, including both haptic touch-pads, bringing them in line with Valve's own vision for Steam Machine capabilities. Facilitating on the go gameplay is built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and optional 4G mobile network hardware. The elephant in the room however is a lack of information on battery life, the bane of many a handheld gaming device.

There's nothing on the market quite like the Smach Zero, but NVIDIA's SHIELD Portable does come close. Native games and game streaming are both supported by these handhelds; as a consequence both support PC gaming specifically rather than cater only to their own exclusive ecosystem. The chief difference is the availability of native apps - NVIDIA relies on the Android ecosystem and their own porting efforts for older titles such as Half Life 2, whereas the Smach Zero would in theory be able to incorporate a huge number of old titles from Steam's catalogue.

Smach claim support for over 1,000 titles in the Steam library, an impressive number. In practice however the Smach Zero's own native ecosystem will be narrowed considerably by hardware limitations and control mechanisms which won't suit many games, whilst game streaming to handheld devices has far from proven demand. It should be a concern that the SHIELD Portable, backed by a company with deep pockets and technical knowhow, failed to set the world on fire at the same $299 launch price. Indeed the limited uptake of the first generation SHIELD meant that NVIDIA focused on both tablet and set-top 'console' releases for subsequent models.

Known Smach Zero Features

- AMD G-Series 'Steppe Eagle' SoC, with on-board Jaguar APU.
- 4GB RAM and 32GB internal memory
- Low-Latency wireless controller support via USB On The Go
- 720p, 5-inch touchscreen
- Configurable tactile gamepads similar to the Steam Controller. No stick on current mock-up.
- HDMI video output connection
- Wi-Fi & Bluetooth connectivity
- 4G mobile network connectivity for Smach Zero Pro model