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Full Steam Ahead: Valve unwraps plans for gaming hardware

Seeding 300 beta machines to members with enough friends

Steam coming from a boiling kettle

We are halfway through a promised week of announcements from games publisher Valve, and so far it's looking interesting. On Monday the company announced its own flavor of Linux and on Wednesday it confirmed rumors that it is getting into the console industry with its own hardware.

"We have designed a high-performance prototype that’s optimized for gaming, for the living room, and for Steam. Of course, it’s also completely upgradable and open," said Valve in a statement. "This year we’re shipping just 300 of these boxes to Steam users, free of charge, for testing."

To get one of the "Steam Machines," Valve users need to have a valid profile, have at least ten friends online in the Steam community, have played a game using the Big Picture system launched last year, and apply before October 25 at the latest.

The rest of us can expect a commercially-available Steam Machine sometime next year, Valve says, and it won’t be alone in the market, promising "there will be multiple SteamOS machines to choose from, made by different manufacturers." No names have been released as yet, but the company is expected to announce at least two third-party systems using SteamOS in the coming months.

Beta testers can do what they like with the Steam Machine beta units, Valve said, even down to deleting the operating system entirely and using their own software on it. Similarly, SteamOS is designed to be run on whatever hardware system hobbyists can cobble together themselves and isn’t dependent on Valve's permission.

Valve said there would be a variety of games consoles out there running SteamOS and the company has "hundreds" of games ready to go on the Linux system, compared to around 3,000 available for Windows and Mac users.

The company has promised another announcement on Friday and the smart money is betting on a new version of Half Life, the immensely popular first-person shooter, probably ported to Linux. If so, dust off your Counter-Strike characters and get some practice in, because there could be a whole lot of fragging going on. ®

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