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Although Windows is still the most-used operating system for PC gaming, Linux has seen an impressive rise in the gaming scene. A few years ago, Linux had virtually no games available for it, aside from some oft-mentioned open source ones. Fast forward to today, and Linux now has more than 1,500 games available on Steam alone, with a few AAA titles littered among those 1,500.

If you’ve become interested in gaming on Linux, using SteamOS as your Linux distribution of choice is a good idea. But how do you get SteamOS on your computer so you can start playing on it? Here’s a detailed guide that will cover every step and possible question you may have along the way.

What is Steam and SteamOS?

For those who don’t know, Steam is an online game distribution platform. You can make an account with Steam, download their client, browse their massive library of games, buy a few (as well as pick out a few free ones as well), and let the client download and install the games for you. It’ll also keep them updated for you automatically. For anyone with a decent Internet connection, this is easily one of the best ways to get games. Origin is a similar competitor from EA, but Origin carries only EA titles while Steam is publisher-independent.

Valve, the company behind Steam, has made it publicly known that it doesn’t like Windows 8 nor Windows 10, and sees the future of gaming on Linux. To help entice more gamers to switch to Linux, Valve made Steam available on Linux How to Install Steam and Start Gaming on Linux How to Install Steam and Start Gaming on Linux Installing Steam on Linux computers is straightforward, and the result is usually the same seamless gaming experience you had on Windows. Read More and created SteamOS — a custom Linux distribution based on Debian Is SteamOS a Good Choice for a Gaming System? Is SteamOS a Good Choice for a Gaming System? Can you rely solely on SteamOS with good performance, or should you still keep that dual-boot with Windows? Let's take a look. Read More . The main goals of SteamOS is to make it easy to install to create your own “Steam Boxes” (console-like devices that run on PC hardware), run optimized software and drivers for gaming, and have the Steam client bundled with the operating system.

While it’s possible to dual-boot with SteamOS, its intended purpose is to be the sole operating system on your computer. Hence, SteamOS is best used on a system that you plan on using solely for gaming (on Linux).

Prep Work

To get started, we’ll need to download SteamOS and have a USB flash drive of at least 2GB ready. If your computer can boot via UEFI, download the custom installer (or the default installer, but be warned that it requires that your system have a hard drive of at least 1TB!).

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Once the download finishes, go ahead and reformat your USB flash drive to FAT32. If it’s already FAT32, reformat it anyway so that it’s wiped clean. Next, unzip what you downloaded earlier and copy the contents of the unzipped folder (the contents, not the folder itself) onto your USB flash drive. Once that finishes, restart your computer and make sure that your motherboard boots via the USB flash drive in UEFI mode.

If you’d rather have an ISO file that can boot up on any system, you can still find it by going here, choosing the latest release folder (“brewmaster” at time of writing), and clicking on the ISO file to download it. Once that finishes, you can burn it to a DVD or write it to a USB flash drive 10 Tools to Make a Bootable USB from an ISO File 10 Tools to Make a Bootable USB from an ISO File A bootable USB is the best way to install an operating system. Besides the ISO and a USB drive, you need a tool to set it all up. That's where we come in. Read More using established methods. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the ISO for my installation.

The Installer

steamos_boot
If that was successful, you should see something like this. Choose Expert install (unless you only have one hard drive in your system and use want to use the entire drive for SteamOS).

steamos_language
It will then ask you for your preferred language, your country, and your keyboard’s layout.

steamos_partitions
It will then try to give you a suggestion for the partition layout and where SteamOS will be installed. You can go with its recommendation if you are fine with it, otherwise you can configure the partitions to your liking by double clicking on them to view the options for each partition. Once you’re done configuring the partitions, it will confirm that you want to actually write the partition changes to the disk before beginning to install the core utilities of SteamOS.

If you do a custom partition setup and you get warned about not having a SWAP partition, read up on the details of SWAP partitions What Is a Linux SWAP Partition, And What Does It Do? What Is a Linux SWAP Partition, And What Does It Do? Most Linux installations recommend that you include a SWAP partition. This may seem odd to Windows users – what is this partition for? Read More before continuing with or without one.

steamos_additional_software
Once that is done, it will ask you what else you’d like to install in addition to the SteamOS core. I would recommend the default selects of the Debian desktop environment and the standard system utilities. However, you can add more GNOME utilities to the Debian desktop environment (which is just GNOME Shell GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop Read More ), or include all three options if you’d like. After that, there’s one last step.

steamos_grub
Choose Yes when it asks to install the GRUB boot manager (it will play fine with Windows if you’re dual-booting).

steamos_grub2
Then choose the hard drive that SteamOS is installed on or whichever hard drive the BIOS is set to boot first.

After Installation

steamos_grub_boot
After GRUB is installed, your computer will restart and boot into SteamOS.

steamos_desktop
The Steam client will automatically launch and start updating itself if it’s already connected to the Internet. It will then configure some kernel modules to optimize performance on your system and then restart one more time. After some work to set up those kernel modules, you’re finally done. Congrats, you’re now running SteamOS!

From here, you can configure things that you’d normally do, such as install any other system updates, and then launch the Steam client and install your games. Don’t forget — if you want to have a more console-like experience with your new SteamOS-powered system, you can go into Big Picture mode and navigate using a mouse, keyboard, or gamepad.

Would you use SteamOS? If not, would you stay with Windows or use a different Linux distribution instead? Let us know in the comments!

  1. ptolemy
    December 5, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Firstly I disagree with the comments about Linux being overly complicated. It is complicated for those who have run nothing but windows for years. I personally find the newer windows versions totally unintuitive. Add apple to that list. The only issue I have with Linux are the lack of easily acquired video drivers,..though there are workarounds.
    Secondly, Steam is deep into everyone's personal shit in the way it operates. Just like windows and just like apple,..they want know what you are doing, recording it, and want to tell you what you can and not do,..on penalty of losing your account/games, etc. Ever notice on Steam forums how Ra! Ra! all the comments are? Their game/accounts are being held hostage.
    I doubt the Linux community will embrace Steam OS with it's current malware and dictatorship approach to gaming.

  2. Michael
    December 4, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Steam is the first organization to bring Linux gaming into the mainstream. Prior to 2014, Linux gaming was basically outdated indie games and technical workarounds. Now we have a huge growing list of AAA titles like Borderlands 2, Lego: Jurassic World, Arkham Knight, and a lot more. It grows by about 150 titles a month. Virtually all of these titles work flawlessly with default Intel graphics. In order for Linux to be successful, someone has to commercialize it, otherwise it becomes a mediocre product stuck in an open source community.

    I'm sorry, but as a consumer, I find that most open source software sucks. After all these years, even the most polished Linux distributions are overly complicated, buggy, and half-baked compared to their commercial counterparts.

    • Bryan
      December 24, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      While I'll grant you that Steam is the first company to bring Linux gaming truly to light, your other comments leave a lot to be desired. First, I would LOVE to see you run Arkham Knight on Intel HD Graphics. Not just that, but most games nowadays at 1080p run like hell on that gpu. That gpu is meant for apps and petty Windows animations and nothing more. I can say this in confidence because I own 2 different Intel Core systems of the most recent generations, 5 and 6, and there's no way you're going to get any decent frames per second on any mildly demanding game without an aftermarket GPU. Second, I don't know what you're talking about open source software sucking. It's seriously the first thing I search for when I'm looking for a known brand software replacement. Instead of Adobe Acrobat Reader, I use SumatraPDF, instead of uTorrent, I use QBittorrent, instead of VMWare, I use VirtualBox or Xenserver. There are literally dozens of things I can think of off the top of my head trump most paid software in every single way. That said, you are right about commercialization of Linux needing to happen when it comes to games.

  3. ckrivik
    November 5, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    I agree that handing over control to a third party company like Steam is not optimal, but as long as Windows is the only game in town for PC gaming, Microsoft has a monopoly on it. I'd rather surrender a little control of my gaming to Steam and get more control over the rest of my computing experience.

    Hopefully Steam can garner some first party support for Linux. If that happens, I'm sure the open source community we know and love will start coding and amazing things will happen.

  4. likefun butnot
    November 3, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    I think that PC gaming on Steam has created a monoculture every bit as mistaken and perverse as desktop computing being the nearly sole domain of Windows. I don't care for Steam's terms of service and, while I'm happy that some of the games I like will play on Linux, I won't be doing it via Steam.

    I have a very strong preference for GoG.com's model for electronic distribution, which does not rely on a login service and which distributes the full installation files for any title that is purchased on demand. As things stand in the world of PC gaming, if Steam is having an issue, or if Steam's notoriously poor Support decides your account has an issue, you are left without recourse.

    Linux as its own gaming platform also has issues, mostly in the form of badly lagging userspace experience, particularly from the binary-only drivers provided for graphics hardware. There really isn't a fix for that. Desktop Linux does not at this point in time have enough market presence to justify anything other than an afterthought from AMD and nVidia.

    • ckrivik
      November 4, 2015 at 1:24 am

      And Steam doesn't like that Linux is only an afterthought to graphics card developers, so they're trying to increase Linux usage. Even if you don't like Steam, if it makes Linux popular enough to demand drivers and support from manufacturers, that's still a win for you, no?

      • likefun butnot
        November 4, 2015 at 7:39 am

        @chrivik,

        I would rather not see growth by Steam. It's bad for gaming and would be worse if it were seen as the only viable means of distribution across multiple personal computer platforms. The worst part is seeing that PC gamers have ceded control to this outside party seemingly without any consideration for the consequences of doing so, undermining what had been a real strength of computer gaming in the first place.
        I think the philosophy of control and responsibility involved in making Valve the de facto authority over gaming is antithetical to personal computing.

        I'd like it if video drivers on Linux had feature and performance parity, but oddly there's a larger issue here and that issue is who has control over the experience of gaming. For me the answer has to be "not Steam."

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