Everything you need to know before installing Steam OS
Valve recently released its Beta version of SteamOS, based on the Debian distro of Linux. Naturally, we were intrigued by its release and wanted to take the new OS for a test run. We’ve put together a guide on how to install the operating system, and also provide you with our hands-on impressions of Valve's software.
NOTE: Before beginning, we highly recommend that you back up everything on your system before attempting to install SteamOS, as the installer in this guide will erase your entire drive.
To get started, you’ll need to make sure that your rig meets the minimum hardware requirements: Intel or AMD processor, 4GB of RAM or more, a 500GB hard drive or larger, Nvidia video card (Valve states AMD and Intel graphics support are coming soon), UEFI boot support, a USB port for installation, and a 4GB flash drive or larger.
How to Install SteamOS instructions:
Step 1: Format your flash drive to FAT32
Plug in your flash drive and format it to FAT32. To do this, right click on the USB drive in My Computer and select format. Then change the file system from NTFS to FAT32 (if it isn’t already FAT32). Then click format to freshly wipe your flash drive.
Right click on the SteamOSInstaller.zip you just downloaded and extract it to your flash drive. We used the free 7-Zip software to do this. Do not click on or open the flash drive to view its contents after the unzipping is complete, as this will mess up your extraction, and you won’t be able to boot from the key after that.
Step 4: Reboot your system and boot from your flash drive
Reboot your system and press F8, F10, or F12 to get to your Boot Menu and select your flash drive as your Boot Device. Make sure the Boot Option says UEFI and then the name of your flash drive, for example, UEFI SanDisk Cruzer.
Step 5: Run the automated installer
You will then boot into a black screen with a purple Steam logo. This screen will have a list of three options, which include Automated Install WILL ERASE DISK!!!, Expert Install, and Rescue Mode. Select Automated Install WILL ERASE DISK!!! by pressing enter and the OS will start installing onto your hard disk. You will then see a white and purple installation screen for about 10-15 minutes, as it installs a fresh copy of SteamOS onto your machine.
Step 6: Remove your installation device
After the OS finishes installing you’ll be prompted to reboot your system and to remove your installation device.
Step 7: Select SteamOS Linux GNU/I
The OS will boot up and have you choose between two options: SteamOS GNU/Linux, with Linux 3.10-3-amd64 and SteamOS GNU Linux, with Linux 3.10-3-amd64 (recovery mode). Make sure the first option is selected and then hit enter to start the boot up process.
Step 8: Log into SteamOS
You’ll then see a login screen. To login use "steam" as both your password and username.
Step 9: Launch the terminal application to install Steam
Now that you’re at the desktop the last step is to launch the terminal application to install Steam. Go to the top left corner of the OS and click on Activities and then click on the Applications tab. Once the terminal is launched, type in steam and then hit enter to start the installation process. (You will need an internet connection for this installation setup to work)
Step 10: You can now start gaming
After the installer is finished running, you can login into your Steam account and start playing games.
Click the next page for our impressions of SteamOS.
With our GeForce GTX 680, our performance was great and we had no trouble hitting 60+ FPS in every title that we played using SteamOS. However, we didn’t like how there was an immense amount of screen tearing, even when V-Sync was enabled. We saw less tearing in 2D games like Bastion and Shattered, but we experienced a heavy amount of tearing in Portal. Our current assessment is that games with complex polygons will experience a lot of screen tearing while 2D games will have very little to no screen tearing.
We encountered audio problems on the OS, as it only supports audio via HDMI, so your onboard motherboard audio will not work. We did get external headphones to work when we used an audio pass through on our monitor, in combination with HDMI as our video output. Valve probably assumes people will use SteamOS in their living room, so we think they guess most people will be using an HDMI audio setup too, or this could simply be patched up when SteamOS officially launches to the masses.
We like the idea of SteamOS and feel it could give Microsoft a run at being the go-to gaming OS, but right now it’s very stripped-down. There aren’t many third party applications you can run on SteamOS because not much supports it. We tried installing Chrome on the OS, and it didn’t work because the browser doesn’t support SteamOS. We were able to use the Internet by using Iceweasel, which is a rebranded version of Mozilla’s Firefox for Debian distros of Linux, however.
SteamOS isn’t a free gaming OS that can replace Windows at the moment. We’d much rather take Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, as a Windows alternative at this point because there’s much more you can do with this Linux distro. Ubuntu 12.04 LTS also has more third party applications than SteamOS, and it performs similarly in gaming too. Ubuntu also supports legacy hardware, so you won’t need to mess around modifying an installer to get it to work properly on your coveted rig. Lastly, unlike SteamOS, which doesn’t support Intel and AMD graphics as of print time, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS will install easily to Intel, AMD, or Nvidia graphics hardware.
If Valve wants to move people away from Windows and onto SteamOS, they’ll need a more versatile OS to bring people on board. When it comes to gaming, currently, there are over eight thousand titles on Steam that support Windows, while SteamOS has just 440 games. For an OS devoted to living room gaming, it’s a cool idea, but Windows can do so much more than the free OS at the moment, both in gaming and productivity. Still, if you've got some time to spare, SteamOS is free so feel free to give it a try and let us know what you think of it in the comments below!