The Steam Link is a counterpoint to the Steam Machines that were announced previously. Unlike a Steam Machine, HTPC running Steam, or a PC running SteamOS, Steam Link will not run any games. Instead, it leverages your existing desktop through Steam In-Home Streaming. This allows the Steam Link to be small, low power, and low cost.
While Steam has a robust software store and distribution setup their hardware side leaves something to be desired. I ordered my Link during the initial preorder period. Steam took my order and money in their usual fashion, but after that it was complete radio silence. Nowhere on the Steam site or program was there a place to check your order status. I was left in the dark, wondering when and if I would even get my order.
Finally, there was an email! Steam notified me that my order was preparing to ship and provided me with a tracking number. This arrived on the 8th. My expected delivery date was the 13th. Unfortunately, my order did not even ship until the 13th, leaving me to wait several more days for it to arrive.
Once it arrived I quickly opened the package and set it up. I was impressed by the packaging. The box is sturdy and nicely laid out. It comes with several power adapters for use outside of the United States. Unfortunately, while the power supply is thin enough to only take one slot on a power strip, the prongs are oriented such that it covers several others.
Underneath the flap below the adapters was something I did not expect. In todays age of penny pinching I was surprised to find both an HDMI and Ethernet cable. The only thing additionally required is some sort of controller or keyboard to operate the Steam Link. I used the same Logitech K400r wireless keyboard and Logitech F710 wireless gamepad to control the Link. Both were recognized immediately, but when waking the Link from sleep, the controller seems to take several seconds to start working. I assume that the controller is waking from sleep as it does not have a power switch, unlike the keyboard.
The Steam Link is about the same size as a portable USB hard drive. Like the Roku and Apple TV it lacks a power button. Fortunately, it does wake well from sleep. My entertainment center is wired so I can not speak to the wireless performance. The Link connected to my network with no problems. It saw my desktop and once I attempted to connect, the Link asked me to input a series of numbers into Steam on my desktop. No further configuration was necessary. One problem I did run into is that the Link did not automatically update itself. Once I performed an update the look and feel completely changed. Steam also emailed me and suggested that I run the beta Steam client as well. Once I selected that, the client has proceeded to average an update a day.
Streaming from my Windows 8 desktop worked much better than I previously spoke about. The games ran well, with no noticeable delay. There were no crashes and I was able to navigate the games as if I were playing them locally. I did still have a few issues that required the use of a keyboard, such as starting Poker Night at the Inventory 2. But the crashes and slowdowns that plagued my previous experience were blissfully absent.
Unfortunately, things did not work so well with a Linux host. Firstly, Steam streams all of my monitors instead of just the one running Big Picture. This makes it hard to navigate the system. It does run correctly once I log into a game, so I assume it is something to do with my Xorg settings. Also, the gamepad is no longer recognized once the Link connects to my desktop. Lastly, the sound did not work correctly. Sentinels of the Multiverse audio was very low and Bastion audio was nonexistent. I would assume these issues do not exist with a SteamOS host but I have not tried that yet. I will update this post with any solutions I find.
In closing, if you are a Windows gamer who wants to have the console experience, I would recommend the Steam Link with no reservations. It performed well, with Valve having fixed the problems that plagued earlier Steam In-Home Streaming. If you are a Linux user, then you may have a harder time. Steam In-Home Streaming works, but depending on your distro and configuration, it will probably require a bit of tweaking. Or in my case, a lot of tweaking. 🙂
Let me know what you think and if there is anything in particular you want me to test in the comments below.