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Xi3 takes orders for Piston Steam box at sub-$1000 prices

Xi3 is offering a $100 discount on advance orders of its compact Piston modular gaming PC, which will run the Steam gaming service.

If Xi3's Piston is any indication, PC-based game consoles that run Steam and other services won't come cheap.

The Piston, a modular gaming PC that's small enough to hold in your hand, will cost $1000 and up when it ships near the end of this year. Xi3 is now taking pre-orders on its Website, with a $100 discount on all configurations for anyone who orders by March 17.

The base configuration includes a 3.2 GHz quad-core processor (Engadget says it's an AMD A10), 8GB of RAM, and a 128 GB solid state drive. A 256 GB solid state drive costs another $340, and a 512 GB drive costs $750 extra. The Piston prototype we saw in January included 12 USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 2 mini-DisplayPort connectors, and an HDMI/DisplayPort combination jack.

Xi3 revealed the Piston during CES in January, but didn't provide many specifics. The device has been referred to as a "Steam box," because Valve, maker of the Steam PC gaming service, has invested in Xi3 to help bring the Piston to market.

Strangely, though, Xi3's press release doesn't mention Steam at all. And in a demo at SXSW Interactive, Xi3 showed off its own customizable user interface for playing games, watching video and accessing the computer. As a video on Polygon shows, Steam is just one of several services that users can choose from, including Gaikai and EA's Origin. Although Steam will likely be popular with anyone who purchases a Piston, it doesn't seem to be the device's main focus.

The main advantage of the Piston over a typical PC in the living room will be its small size, while the capability to upgrade the hardware over time could it more attractive than a traditional game console.

Keep in mind, though, that between now and the holidays, Valve may ship its own Steam Box, based on Linux, and other PC makers could try to get in on the trend as well. And of course, if you're getting impatient, you can always build your own Steam box just the way you like it.

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