If you’re a PC gamer, you might have noticed that the most exciting PC gaming news from the past few months has been all about Valve’s efforts to play a larger part in the PC gaming landscape. Not only does the company run the ultra-successful Steam digital storefront, but it is now making its own operating system dedicated to gaming (SteamOS) and rubber-stamping its own line of PCs (Steam Machines) dedicated to running PC games purchased through Steam. You would almost think Valve is making a play to become the third major player in the gaming industry, with its own “console”, store and user base.

Whether it is or not is irrelevant; what matters is that Valve has now made it possible for you to own a PC, and shop for, download and play PC games through SteamOS, a standalone operating system that completely negates the need to buy Windows. More importantly, you can even hook your PC up to your TV in the lounge without needing a keyboard and mouse anymore thanks to Steam’s new Big Picture mode that changes the program’s interface into one that can be easily navigated with a controller, not coincidentally just like the dashboards of the Xbox and PlayStation.

And with the Steam Machines being built by Valve and a large number of third-party PC-makers coming out with their own sexy, streamlined designs, the PC is no longer the red-headed stepchild of the home entertainment world. It can look right at home next to your console/Blu-ray player/DSTV decoder without standing out like a sore thumb.

But of course, that’s for people living overseas; here in South Africa, our options are limited when it comes to such things. We can import Steam Machines from the US ourselves and pay a huge price premium for the privilege, but then we have no warranty. We can wait for local representatives of Valve’s manufacturing partners (Dell, for instance) to start selling Steam Machines locally, but who knows when, exactly, they will get around to it and how much of a ridiculous markup they’ll slap on the things over and above the ludicrous import duties such goods will inevitably attract. The rand/dollar exchange rate isn’t exactly being kind to anyone at the moment either, so getting hold of a Steam Machine is like navigating an economic mine field at the moment.

The answer, then, is to build your own Steam Machine by sourcing all the parts locally and installing everything into the nicest case you can afford (and that will fit into your lounge’s décor). You won’t need a copy of Windows, an optical drive, speakers or a monitor, so your up-front cost won’t be as high as for a regular desktop machine, and all you need on top of the hardware is a copy of SteamOS, which you can download for free from the Steampowered.com website.

Here’s a list of the components we reckon would make for a pretty decent Steam Machine. We feel these will offer you very good value for your money, as well as good enough performance to play any Steam game you care to name at high settings. All parts are available from Sybaritic.co.za, but if you use other e-tailers or Pricecheck.co.za you can probably find everything for less than the total we came to. We’ll assume you will be hooking this up to a TV.

CPU: AMD FX 6300 @ 3.5GHz: R1750
Motherboard: Asus M5A78L-M LX AM3+ 760G (micro ATX): R764
RAM: Kingston DDR3-1600 8GB (2x4GB) HyperX Genesis Memory Module Kit: R1228
Graphics: Gigabyte GeForce GTX660: R2895
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 500GB: R684
PSU: Gigabyte GreenMax Plus 650W Power Supply: R727
*Chassis: Gigabyte X3 – Silver (No power supply): R250
Wireless Keyboard & Mouse: Logitech Wireless Combo MK220: R295
HDMI cable: 3m Unique HDMI to HDMI cable: R62

*This chassis is cheap and nasty but will get the job done while keeping costs down. We recommend shopping around for other cases if your budget supports it; Lian Li’s PC-C37 Muse HTPC Chassis (R1755) is the one we’d go for if money wasn’t a concern.

Total: R8655

Once you’ve put everything together, it’s time to install SteamOS. Valve has supplied detailed install instructions on how to go about it, which we’ve reprinted below verbatim for the sake of convenience. Just note that the first method, which is arguably the easiest and the best choice if you have no experience with Linux, requires a 1TB hard drive rather than the 500GB one we’ve recommended above.

Default Installation

You will need to create a SteamOS System Restore USB stick to perform this install. The image provided here requires at least a 1TB disk.

  1. Download the default SteamOS beta installation
  2. Format a 4GB or larger USB stick with the FAT32 filesystem. Use “SYSRESTORE” as the partition name.
  3. Unzip the contents of SteamOSImage.zip to this USB stick to create the System Restore USB stick.
  4. Put the System Restore USB stick in your target machine. Boot your machine and tell the BIOS to boot off the stick. (usually something like F8, F11 or F12 will bring up the BIOS boot menu).
  5. Make sure you select the UEFI entry, it may look something like “UEFI: Patriot Memory PMAP”. If there is no UEFI entry, you may need to enable UEFI support in your BIOS setup.
  6. Select “Restore Entire Disk” from the GRUB menu.
  7. When it is complete it will shutdown. Power on the machine to boot into your freshly re-imaged SteamOS.

Custom Installation

The second method is based on the Debian Installer. It requires multiple configuration steps:

  1. Download the custom SteamOS beta installation
  2. Unzip the SteamOS.zip file to a blank, FAT32-formatted USB stick.
  3. Put the USB stick in your target machine. Boot your machine and tell the BIOS to boot off the stick. (usually something like F8, F11, or F12 will bring up the BIOS boot menu).
  4. Make sure you select the UEFI entry, it may look something like “UEFI: Patriot Memory PMAP”. If there is no UEFI entry, you may need to enable UEFI support in your BIOS setup.
  5. Selected “Automated install” from the menu.
  6. The rest of the installation is unattended and will repartition the drive and install SteamOS.
  7. After installation is complete, log onto the resulting system (using the Gnome session) with the predefined “steam” account. The password is “steam”. Run steam, accept the EULA, and let it bootstrap. Logoff the steam account.
  8. Log on with the “desktop” account. The password is “desktop”.
  9. From a terminal window, run ~/post_logon.sh. This will prompt for a password – enter “desktop”. This script will perform the post-install customizations, delete itself, then reboot into the recovery partition capture utility.
  10. Confirm “y” to continue and the recovery partition will be created. When it is finished, reboot into your freshly installed SteamOS.

Et voila, you own a Steam Machine! Now all you need to do is sign in with your Steam ID, and you’re good to go.

One last note: you don’t even need to build a PC from scratch, you can turn any computer you have into a Steam Machine simply by loading Steam OS; just be aware that the hardware will determine how good or bad its gaming performance will be.

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.