SteamOS offers a gateway to gaming heaven

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SteamOS offers a complete Desktop experience as well

SteamOS offers a complete Desktop experience as well

One of the reasons that is often cited for not using Linux, besides command line phobia, is that it is not a good gaming platform. I can attest that this is somewhat true; graphic drivers for Linux often come out well after their Windows counterparts and gaming is all about graphics unless Tetrix is all you want to play.

I recently tried to test Linux Mint Qiana on a machine with an Nvidia Optimus. None of the Desktop flavours could start without some command line tinkering. Then there is the OpenGL issue, you would think that OpenGL would work better on Linux since it is FOSS and has an open API, but you would be wrong. If you don’t believe me try running XBMC on Windows and Linux to see the difference.

The folks at Steam have for the most part changed the Linux gaming landscape. More games have been released on the Linux platform in past 2 years,ever since they announced their client for Linux, than in all the other past years of Linux’s existence combined. To make people’s lives easier they decided to release a pre-configured Linux Distro of their own. It comes with the appropriate proprietary drivers installed. Most graphic cards should work out of the box.

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You can be forgiven for not knowing what Steam is. After all we all know how you get your games (from Pirate Bay of course). Despite all the self-righteous protests about “piracy” that Zimbabweans like to make publicly the shameful among you even know what BCGN means.

Steam is a one stop shop for all your popular gaming titles. It’s like the “Mupedzanhamo of games”. They conduct frequent promotions and deals. Today, for example, is the last day of the Steam Summer Sale ( it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere) which will end at 7 am tomorrow. They also sometimes sell games in bundles in much the same way that vendors sell their goods in the “dollar for …” fashion.

Requirements

Gaming is a resource intensive activity. Steam OS requires at least 4 GB of RAM ( I would recommend 8) which automatically implies a 64 Bit Intel or AMD processor is also required. You will also need at least 250 GB of Hard Drive space ( you would do well to use a 1TB drive which will be full before you know it), an NVIDIA graphics card ( Intel and AMD support is still in the works) and (if you need to be told this) a USB port to use during installation and use with your game pad.

The detailed installation instructions are found here. The default installation procedure is not for the faint hearted though. You can download an ISO image here, use Universal USB installer to create a bootable disk and use it to install onto your Hard Drive. Steam does not play well with others so a dual boot is not going to be easy to create.

SteamOS is not just a gaming platform. It uses Debian Wheezy as its base (why on earth didn’t they just use Ubuntu, Ubiquity would have simply solved so many installation problems). It comes with the Gnome Desktop and you can always install all the usual Debian software using the Advanced Packaging Tool (APT). This makes it the ideal media OS.

The Good

  • A full fledged desktop based on the proven Debian Wheezy base
  • Comes with all the proprietary drivers installed
  • Steam is installed by default together with all the appropriate bells and whistles
  • Great gaming deals
  • You get to be a saint and avoid being a hypocrite in the piracy war.

The Bad

  • Some graphic drivers are not yet officially supported
  • The software is still in beta which means that the system might crash just after you have finally managed to kill the biggest monster in your favourite RPG game or before you have managed to save your highest score
  • Requires a good internet connection. ( I usually buy and download a game right before I go to bed and most of the time when I wake up the game is ready. Sometimes, for the really good games, I need several nights.)
  • You also need a very good broadband connection to play the online games. VSAT connections are not ideal for gaming because of their high latency: sometimes you only have a couple of seconds to kill the monster before it kills you
  • You will not find many cracked games for Linux and they don’t work well with Wine either. Please don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.
  • Technical expertise is needed to install and maintain the OS.

Conclusion

SteamOS offers a gateway to gaming paradise on Linux. If you have a decent internet connection and you stay away from online games you should be able to have an unparalleled experience.

 

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8 Comments

  1. ngth says:

    Right off the bat it has some problems, hopefully some of these will be fixed in future releases
    – The easy install is a 1TB image, the slightly harder one 500GB, this immediately rules out SSD and if you building a high end gaming rig you probably want SSD
    – Despite what valve tell you a lot of titles in the steam store do not run on Linux, Steam OS included.
    – A lot of titles do not have proper controller support, even simple things like controlling the main menu sometimes needs a mouse, considering this is a solution that is supposed to compete with consoles and plug into your tv, games need to work with only a controller
    – There are currently no other addon services like youtube, upnp media streaming etc all stuff people with consoles use as much as they do gaming
    – A decent gaming rig is expensive and if you want in home streaming you now coughing up for a second box under your tv as well.

    Its a start but I don’t think Xbox and PlayStation are worried yet, to be honest if you want an under the TV pc you probably still better off with Windows 8.1 as it has full controller support, all games work and you can run all your other media etc programs on it now.

    1. Tapiwa says:

      Linux itself has great controller support: from cheap, no-name USB controllers to Six-Axis (Android inherits it’s wide controller-support from Linux, FYI). The trouble is most Windows games only support the Xbox controller.

      The Linux section of the Steam store is good enough for me, though I no longer consider myself a ‘hardcore’ gamer. Being able to do a quick game of TF2, Left 4 Dead or Dota is the reason I no longer boot to Windows. In addition to Valve’s titles, almost all breakout Indie titles are available for Linux/SteamOS. So while a lot of games in the Store do not support Linux (as a percentage), there are a lot of games available for Linux, in absolute terms (if that makes sense).

    2. Garikai says:

      The thing about not all titles being supported was supposed to be in the Bad section (it was right there at the edge of my mind when I wrote the article but it must have slipped) thanks for reminding me. You can always enjoy steam on smaller hard drives by installing another distro Ubuntu, Arch, and Mint all support Steam as well as a host of others.

    3. Solith says:

      I installed SteamOS on my ultrabook (Dell XPS12) with 250GB SSD. So SSD is definitely not ruled out. Also it has only Intel graphics card, so I don’t know what author meant by “still in the works”.

      1. Garikai says:

        The generic kernel driver works well for most tasks but it is pushed to its limits during gaming. Intel works but it is not officially supported.

  2. Tapiwa says:

    hen there is the OpenGL issue, you would think that OpenGL would work better on Linux since it is FOSS and has an open API, but you would be wrong. If you don’t believe me try running XBMC on Windows and Linux to see the difference…

    That’s a pretty broad brush you’re painting with there, unless you’ve tested all graphics cards & distro combinations. your problem is likely Optimus not switching profiles in Linux (Nvidia’s fault); my XBMC works equally well Linux or Windows with a non-Optimus Nvidia GPU.

    You might already know that Nvidia (used to) have horrible Linux support, which is why none other than Linus himself infamously gave Nvidia the finger.

    P/S: OpenGL is an open standard, but the (official) Nvidia drivers are closed-source blobs, the open-source driver implementation (Nouveau) are generally worse and didn’t support Optimus, last I checked (no thanks to Nvidia’s lack of documentation)

    1. Garikai says:

      Ah! The finger, it seems to have made a difference. I have tested XBMC using GeForce, Intel and of course NVDIA’s Optimus. I remember the issue was brought up somewhere on the XBMC forums ( cannot seem to find the link) and the blame was laid squarely on OpenGL’s door. Something to do with not enough testers on Linux ( which is odd considering how active the Linux community is). XBMC works well when using a remote, at least I haven’t had a problem when using a remote, mouse support is terrible however even on a dual boot machine with Windows, Windows works better, for me at least.

  3. henrique says:

    The system ta evolving because of Valve’s partnership with Intel, Nvidia and AMD
    various engines like Unreal Engine, CryEngine, Unity3D and others announced support of
    Here is a list of games that I remember already announced support SteamOS:

    Star Citizen
    Project Cars
    Rome Total War 2
    HomeFront
    Civilization 5
    Two Worlds 2
    Evolve
    X COM
    New Carmagedom
    Killing Floor 2
    Mount & Blade: Warband
    Goat Simulation

    these are the ones I remember!

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