There are many guides available online on how to install SteamOS, so I won’t dive into that any more than I really need to. What is important to mention is that I had to take the manual install approach, as the quicker installer requires a 500GB hard drive minimum and will otherwise fail. It is a little more complicated and it came with more than its fair share of problems regardless. In fact, this article was intended to be about the benefits of SteamOS, why you should use it and how. Now this article is going to be why you should wait, because SteamOS has proven to be more trouble than it’s worth for us here at eTeknix.
Our test system is great, it’s affordable, compact and packs the hardware you’ll need for some good ol’ 1080p gaming with high settings in most modern games and ultra settings on anything more than 18 months old. I have no doubt this is a great budget gaming build. The benefits of a free operating system are too good to ignore and from a consumer perspective, free is a tempting deal, but you really get what you pay for.
The first issue I had is that SteamOS seems to hate AMD graphics cards, there are a lot of driver and display issues right from the start. Without knowing some fairly advanced Linux commands, you’ll struggle to get anywhere; not that Nvidia cards are trouble free either with this OS still being in Beta format. Just don’t expect an easy time when trying to configure your hardware.
When I eventually got SteamOS installed, I was hampered extensively with display issues, something called the “black screen of death”, freezes, crashes and the problem of having to re-install several times to try get anywhere; the end result being I had to throw in the towel. Perhaps we have the wrong hardware, perhaps there’s some settings we’re missing, either way, I wanted to test how consumer friendly SteamOS has become and the end result is that it isn’t; we can’t win every battle. I had a few images of the install process, was hoping to test a few games and more on our hardware, but if I can’t finish the tasks I set out to do, even with our own good knowledge of Linux in general, then a consumer doesn’t stand much of a chance doing a build-your-own project.
What benefits are there to SteamOS?
It’s free, that’s something you cannot ignore at this point. If you’re on a tight budget and are willing to navigate the awkward install processes, you could save money from not needing a Windows installer.
What Downsides are there to SteamOS?
It’s not easy to install, we’ve covered that much. However, we have to remind ourselves that this is a Beta OS and it’s obviously unfinished. Valve are constantly working on improving it, but it’s clear that it still has a long way to go.
The game choice is limited. Many games on Steam already work on Linux, quite a few work on SteamOS since it is also Linux, but many games do not. By installing SteamOS you’re also missing out many of the aspects of PC gaming that make PC gaming so great. A lot of big name games aren’t on Steam, so by limiting yourself with this OS, you’re missing out on Origin, uPlay, GOG Galaxy and a whole host of other gaming platforms.
You don’t have a full desktop OS that you can use for day-to-day work and web browsing. There is still a desktop and a browser, but it’s not yet up to par with what you can expect from mainstream operating systems.
Linux isn’t consumer friendly. It’s a fairly complex beast to master, especially when compared to the visually interactive setup and configuration procedures you’re used to from Windows and OSX.
What Alternatives are there to SteamOS?
Right now, there’s several other ways of doing this. Naturally you can install Windows, but that comes with a higher retail price, something that we suspect will be addressed with the upcoming release of Windows 10.
The main alternative, that also remains free, is that there are many Linux distros out there you can use. Ubuntu is a great place to start, as it gives you a much easier install process, is widely used and supported and you can install Steam, as well as some other gaming platforms, directly into the OS. It has a more user-friendly GUI and features great functionality as a desktop when compared with big names such as Windows.