Since 2013, the developer of the steam gaming platform, Valve, has had its own Linux-based operating system: SteamOS.
This Linux gaming operating system was originally intended for a number of now-abandoned “Steam Machine” brand hardware and can be installed on any computer.
But is SteamOS good for Linux games? Can you only rely on SteamOS when playing or should you boot with Windows dual? Let's take a look.
What is SteamOS?
SteamOS is a Linux Debian family that is optimized for video games.
It is installed on standard PC hardware and offers a console-like experience via the Steam game client. Big Picture mode is recommended for a console-like experience.
In particular, SteamOS offers an optimized kernel that should improve game performance. The latest graphics drivers are supported, but SteamOS offers few additional applications. Although it contains the GNOME desktop and a version of the Chrome browser, little else is included.
After all, this is an operating system that is all about gaming. While ChromeOS is dedicated to cloud computing, SteamOS is dedicated to gaming.
SteamOS hardware requirements
From June 2020, the following minimum hardware requirements apply to run SteamOS on your PC:
- Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
- 4 GB or more memory
- 250 GB or larger hard drive
- NVIDIA, Intel or AMD graphics card
- USB port or DVD drive for installation
For games with full graphics and FPS settings, of course, you need more RAM and a top-class GPU
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Significantly, however, most PCs currently available are more than suitable for running SteamOS. Regardless of whether you choose an old device or a brand new PC, most of the Linux-compatible Steam library can run.
Note that the Steam client and some third-party drivers are proprietary while the operating system is open source. If you have played on Linux before, you will understand that this is not uncommon. However, if you are an open source lawyer, this may not be the ideal solution for you.
What games are running on SteamOS?
A decent selection of Steam hosted games runs on SteamOS – too many to list here. In June 2020, there were over 6,500 Linux-compatible games available in the Steam library.
This is an impressive title library that includes big minds like Civilization 6, Saints Row IV, Rocket League, CS: GO and Dota 2. Independent publishers also publish games on Linux, which leads to the most diverse and lively games and the community.
Around 250,000 people now use Linux for Steam games every day. This number is of course lower than the total number of Linux users who have Steam installed.
In short, Steam is the future of Linux gaming, and SteamOS connects you directly to that environment.
Does SteamOS have any restrictions?
SteamOS is good, but it has some limitations.
First of all, there is the obvious mistake: Not all games are available on Linux. While SteamOS has led to a dramatic increase in Linux compatibility and indie games often support Linux, many big publishers ignore this.
However, it gets a lot better than it was. Often games are first released on Windows and MacOS, then support for Linux is added later.
Another disadvantage of SteamOS is that the operating system is only designed for games. While additional software can be added through Apt, wait for many dependencies to be installed as well. If standard computing is required, SteamOS is best avoided in favor of a normal Linux desktop. You can still install the Steam client if necessary.
Install SteamOS on your PC
If you want to install SteamOS, you need a 4 GB USB stick or a black DVD on which you can write the installation program.
Download: SteamOS (free)
The simplest option is that Automated installation– However, this will delete your hard drive. Use the for double booting Expert installation Option to create a new hard drive partition for installing SteamOS.
Basically, installing SteamOS is as easy as installing any Linux version
What is the easiest way to install Linux on your computer?
How is it playing on SteamOS?
SteamOS is therefore a Debian-based operating system on which the Steam client is preinstalled.
There's not much to say about the Steam client itself, which you probably don't know yet. It is the same Linux client that is largely identical to that on Windows and MacOS. It has the same features, including in-home streaming. With SteamOS you won't miss anything.
The gaming performance is also indistinguishable. Whether RPG, FPS or strategy, Linux is up to the task. Hardly a surprise from a performance point of view, but it is impressive how Steam deals with Linux. Successes and other unlockable elements are also supported.
This shouldn't come as a surprise. SteamOS doesn't contain much more than the Steam client, leaving significant system resources that can be reserved for each game. Performance differences between Windows and Linux are minimal. If you get the same frame rates, it will ultimately be difficult to tell the difference anyway.
Controller support is also good, since it supports pretty much every controller you can think of. While the best results are likely to be Xbox One or PS4 controllers, it's worth using the Steam controller. However, as these are becoming increasingly rare, a standard console controller is the best option.
Playing on Linux? You need SteamOS!
If you want to use Linux mainly for games, SteamOS is the best option. It is lightweight, offers good GPU support and the list of compatible games is constantly growing.
Used alone, it can handle most of the games you want to play. Steam Play has also been added to the Steam client since 2018. This contains a modified version of Wine and is intended to convince incompatible games to run on Steam.
All games that cannot be run must be installed under PlayOnLinux / Wine or in a virtual machine. However, both options result in poorer performance on newer titles.
But what you really want to know is this: Can SteamOS replace Windows?
If you only deal with PC games and the games you like offer Linux support, then yes. However, you may want to dual boot and use Windows for productivity or as an alternative for non-Linux games.
If you are a fan of online games, you will likely use a chat solution to simply keep in touch with your fellow players. Find the best game chat tool in our Discord vs. Comparison. Steam chat
Discord vs. Steam chat: which is the best app for gamers?
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