I’ve been using Steam for some time now. While it is a form of DRM, it actually provides benefits to the end user unlike most DRM. Since I had a spare machine I decided to give SteamOS a try.
I am using the same machine that I have installed Arch on. I swapped the SSD for a 500GB hard drive.
- AMD FX-6300
- 2 x 8GB DDR3 1333
- WD Blue 500GB 2.5″ HDD
- Radeon HD 4350
I am unable to use the regular SteamOS installer as my machine does not support UEFI. Fortunately, Valve provides a SteamOS iso that supports BIOS. Unfortunately, the first installation did not complete. The installer gave me an error message that simply said the base system could not be installed. Upon further research, I determined that SteamOS only contained the latest video drivers. My HD 4350 was not supported.
Switching the HD 430 for an nVidia GTX 430 yielded a successful install, albeit increased power consumption. My meter shows the system using 105W while sitting at the SteamOS GUI. I used the default install which erases the whole disk. It takes quite a bit of time to run through the entire install. Two things are noteworthy about the process. Firstly, the installer has a screen saver so it will turn off the screen after a while. This can be somewhat disconcerting if you do not realize what has happened. Secondly, the installer will start a Partclone session but will not exit it. You will have to select reboot from the Partclone menu in order to continue the install. The Partclone session appears to be making a recovery image after Steam has performed all of it’s updates.
I also performed an Expert install in order to examine the differences. The Expert install asked for my location information as soon as it began. Another difference is that it provides a Screenshot button on every menu. While this might be handy for troubleshooting there is not a simple way to move the screenshots from the machine.
While the default installer automatically partitions and formats the drive the Expert installer pauses to check if the layout is correct. Since I am using the entire drive for SteamOS I select the defaults and let it do as it wishes. The remainder of the install is virtually identical to the default installer. It asks if I want to install the Debian packages. Then I am told that SteamOS appears to be the only OS on the machine and would I like to install GRUB? I select the default options for both questions.
My sound did not initially work. I attempted various suggestions with no success. Unlike several of the posters, SteamOS would see my sound card but will not output any audio. Installing pavucontrol provided no help. It showed that everything was correct, the same as the Sound Settings dialog. I installed alsa-utils but that did not help either. alsamixer would not run, instead telling me that it was unable to connect to PulseAudio because of denied permissions. aplay gave me the same error.
options snd-hda-intel probe_mask=0x108
I did not have to updated the initramfs or delete the existing pulse directories. After a reboot I had working sound.
Rather then wait for any games to download I tried out Steam In-Home Streaming from my Windows desktop. I fired up Bastion(wonderful game) and was quickly fighting my way through a stage. Then I decided to test a Windows only game. The Poker Night at the Inventory series of games are fairly simple but they put a crunch on a system. While the intro played I saw several notes indicating slow captures and encodes. Looking at my desktop indicated Steam was maxing out the CPU. I believe my i7 860 is capable of running things smoothly but appeared to be overheating as it was only running at 44% of max processor frequency. My video card is an EVGA GTX 670 FTW. It did not have any problems with the game that I could tell. I do not believe the SteamOS client was having trouble decoding the game stream either.
A few things to note about Steam In-Home Streaming. It requires that the desktop be unlocked. Also it takes over the entire desktop, running the game as normal. Therefore you can not use the desktop for other tasks while the In-Home Streaming is taking place. In-Home Streaming is also still very much in beta. Quite a few times I would have to go to the desktop to dismiss an error dialog that had appeared. At one point Bastion continued to run on the desktop despite exiting it from the SteamOS client.
I was using a Logitech K400r wireless keyboard and a Logitech F710 wireless gamepad to control the system. They keyboard flawlessly, mostly for accessing the terminal while troubleshooting the sound. The wireless gamepad worked equally as well but took several minutes to be recognized by the system. I am not sure if that is do to the particular hardware or something in SteamOS.
All in all I would say it is definitely worth trying. The In-Home Streaming client requirements are low enough that you can fairly cheaply put together a SteamOS machine. Instead of playing the games directly on the machine you can continue to take advantage of your desktop hardware. The downside is that you have to have two machines running at the same time.
The one major strike against SteamOS is the driver support. With it only supporting recent video cards, most people will be hard pressed to create a working machine out of spare parts they have laying around after upgrading their desktop. While the GTX 430 is supported for now, I wonder what will happen when the drivers are updated and it no longer is.
Are any of you running SteamOS? What are your thoughts on it? Will it be able to displace consoles? Is it eclipsed by Steam In-Home Streaming? Let me know in the comments.