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PiixL G-Pack review – Hands on with the new ‘Steam Machine’

PiixL G-Pack mount angle

We go hands on with the Kickstarter-bound PiixL G-Pack

Living room PC gaming has been rising in prominence and Steam has helped play a major role in the move away from gargantuan-sized desktop gaming systems. Steam OS might have been delayed to 2015 but this hasn’t stopped London-based startup PiixL from looking to capitalise through its upcoming G-Pack gaming system. With PiixL announcing that the G-Pack will be available as a chassis-only kit, we had a chance to go hands-on with the latest complete build of the system and we came away very excited.

The G-Pack is a full Windows system in a custom-designed chassis that takes advantage of Steam Big Picture mode for a living room gaming experience. It will also support Steam OS whenever that is released, in addition to the Steam controller. What’s interesting about the G-Pack is that rather than using a console-like chassis, such as with the upcoming Alienware Alpha, PiixL has designed a custom chassis that uses standard VESA mounts to attach the system to the back of your television, hiding it away from sight.

The mounts for the G-Pack weigh about 5kg for the pair and the custom chassis is made from aluminium and weighs an additional 5kg. The chassis itself is manufactured by SilverStone, a company with a good reputation when it comes to cases. With the components all fitted in the case, everything weighs around 15kg.

When wall-mounted, PiixL has told us the G-Pack should be able to support the weight of a television upwards of 100kg but that the mounts have been stress-tested to 400kg, so you shouldn’t have any problems attaching it to a large television. It does, however, mean that your television won’t sit flush against the wall, so there’ll be a bit of clearance after installation.

If your television isn’t wall mounted, PiixL recommends using a more sturdy stand than the one that comes as standard with your television due to the additional weight of the system and mount, potentially making things unstable. PiixL is considering offering its own television stand on Kickstarter.

Using rails, you are able to adjust the length of the G-Pack depending on the size of your television. The mount and chassis will support televisions from 32in up to 70in, anything beyond that length and thermal temperatures become an issue due to the distance. You’ll want to adjust the length of the system to ensure that the connections are located on the edge of your television for ease of access.

Once mounted, it’s possible to remove the G-Pack system by sliding it out across the rails. This is a useful feature for those looking to tweak and modify the system after installation.

PiixL has used a clever chassis design that uses compartments and a series of centrifugal 120mm fans to drive heat away from components and out from the PSU’s exhaust. During our use, temperature management seemed incredibly efficient. Even after an hour or so of gaming, including Crysis 3, at no point did the PSU’s fan kick in and there wasn’t any audible noise from the other case fans.

PiixL G-Pack internals

When ambient temperatures are higher, such as during the recent London heat wave, the PSU fan will need to operate but PiixL state that noise is still within reason. The placement behind a television and distance from the user should also mean that noise should hopefully not be a major issue. PiixL said that the aluminium chassis might even draw heat away from the television that is then driven out by the internal fans. We’ll have to more thoroughly test the system to be sure of these claims but we were impressed by what we saw.

The system we previewed was equipped with a quad-core 4.0GHz Intel Core i7-2700K processor, 16GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 780 graphics card and a Crucial M500 SSD. We tried playing Crysis 3 at 1,920×1,080 resolution, 4x anti-aliasing and Very High graphics and while we weren’t able to get a frames per second measurement, we ran through our usual Swamp map used for benchmarking and it was silky smooth. We also played Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Battlefield 4 at maximum settings and 1,920×1,080 resolution without a hitch.

In our early hands-on, the G-Pack certainly acquitted itself as a more than capable gaming system and we’re really excited by its potential. It should be noted this wasn’t a finished model, though, and the exact configurations are still being decided. We were told to expect three configurations when the G-Pack launches on Kickstarter; one low-end configuration for multimedia use, a mid-tier configuration that will handle games at 1080fps, and a top-tier configuration that will support 4K resolution that sounds breathtaking.

We were told there would be support for upwards of an Intel Core i7-4790K processor, which is the latest Devil’s Canyon release. Top-end configurations will also come with a GTX 780ti or Titan Black graphics cards, and possibly even a GTX 880 whenever that materialises. The G-Pack shouldn’t have any problems out-performing the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. The G-Pack also has hot-swappable dual disk drive support with RAID enabled so you can use it as a NAS, which is a nice option to have. There’s a multi-card reader and optional slot-loading Blu-ray drive hidden away behind a flap on the side of the system.

Gaming from the comfort of a sofa using a wireless Xbox 360 controller was certainly an enjoyable experience and PiixL is also developing drivers and software to allow you to navigate Windows with the controller. There’s also nothing to stop you installing XBMC on the system to have a fully-fledged, elegant entertainment system.

PiixL G-Pack Ports Side

The G-Pack is expected to launch within the next two weeks on Kickstarter and we were also told to expect to see the custom chassis available separately for those looking to build their own system. The chassis should have support for a wide range of graphics cards and ITX motherboards that don’t go beyond the G-Pack’s standard 500W PSU.

PiixL will be offering the chassis with its own custom components including the 120mm fans and PSU, which it recommends for the best performance, but the chassis should be compatible with most 1u PSUs and 120mm centrifugal fans.

Pricing has yet to be finalised for the configurations or the chassis alone but, having gone hands-on, we’re certainly excited to see the final product and will provide a full review when possible. For more details head to PiixL.