Valve will ship 300 prototype Steam Machines to beta testers this year, and there's nothing particularly special about their specs. That’s kind of the point, though: the first Steam Machine is a computer that can fit bog standard parts just like a full-size gaming rig, and yet fit into your entertainment center. Valve's steel and aluminum chassis measures just over 12 inches on a side and is 2.9 inches tall, making it a little bigger than an Xbox 360 and smaller than any gaming PC of its ilk. And yet the box manages to fit a giant Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan graphics card and a full desktop CPU — and keep those parts quiet and cool — without cramming them in like a jigsaw puzzle.
The secret is actually quite simple, it turns out: Valve designed the case so the parts can breathe individually. The CPU blows air out the top, the power supply out the side, and the graphics card exhaust out back, and none share any airspace within the case.
That might sound like common sense, but it’s remarkably hard to find a case that does so while still making it easy to drop components in. Here, the key component responsible for dividing those three zones is a simple plastic shroud which unscrews in a jiffy. The box we touched was already surprisingly cool and quiet, but Valve's still tweaking the design: we saw Valve printing a couple of the shrouds as we walked through its rapid prototyping lab.