Valve has unveiled its first of 300 Steam Machine prototypes that will be heading to beta testers later this year, revealing - to nobody's surprise - a small form factor gaming PC.

Part of the company's push to become more self-reliant, itself a result of founder Gabe Newell's vocal distaste for recent Windows releases, the Steam Machine prototypes are Valve-produced hardware running a customised version of Canonical's Ubuntu Linux operating system dubbed SteamOS. Designed specifically for gaming, the devices are living-room-centric hardware which are to be joined early next year by licensed hardware from original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners.

Valve has been teasing the Steam Boxes for some time, but has so far been reticent to allow anyone to see their designs. A reporter from The Verge was recently given the opportunity to go hands-on with the first Steam Machine and its innovative haptic controller - and in doing so has provided the world with its first glimpse of Valve's early designs.

An image of the actual prototype box, minus its casing, reveals something that should come as no surprise to anyone: the first Steam Machine is a small form factor PC, coupling what appears to be a mini-ITX motherboard with a dual-slot Nvidia graphics card connected to a PCI Express riser board. The result, coupled with the placement of the power supply at the front of the case, is an extremely compact yet powerful system - and a glance at the ports available show integrated dual-antenna Wi-Fi, wired Ethernet, optical and analogue audio, and both USB 3.0 and eSATA connectivity.

Press renders of the casing itself, meanwhile, show something rather akin to Microsoft's Xbox 360: a square box with a round button to the left of the face which doubles as power button and indicator light, alongside a pair of USB 3.0 ports joining the rear-facing connectivity. Vents at either side provide cool air intake, while the graphics card itself - claimed to be an Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan - vents its air directly from the rear. Interestingly, the case employs a split-chamber design: the motherboard and graphics card are sealed off from each other, with each receiving dedicated vents and cooling.

The prototypes won't reflect the first retail products, however: according to a Valve spokesperson, the first licensed Steam Boxes will be unveiled in January for sale mid-year - and the OEMs are working hard to get the size down from the prototype's 305mm x 305mm x 74mm dimensions. 'You can get far smaller, and that's what many OEMs are doing,' a Steam Machine team member told the site. 'I think it's safe to say [they will be] less than a quarter of the size,' the spokesperson concluded, while admitting that such devices won't boast the full-size dedicated flagship GPU of the prototype.

If you're interesting in Valve's work on licensed hybrid PC-consoles, the full write-up - which includes hands-on time with the controller, shots of earlier prototypes, and claims that Valve won't be making any SteamOS exclusives to push adoption of the OS - is well worth a read.

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