Test Notes: Installing SteamOS

By Will Smith

We're testing out SteamOS for an upcoming video feature. Here's how the install went for Will.

I spent a few hours installing Steam OS on an Intel NUC box on Wednesday night, and I wanted to take a few minutes to share what I’ve learned so far. If you aren’t aware, SteamOS is Valve’s attempt to build a Windows-free environment for games using a custom version of Debian Linux. While that’s interesting in theory, the lack of Linux-native games I’m much more interested in using a SteamOS machine to play games that are running on my gaming PC in the office on the big living room TV. The beta OS has received several updates since it was released in mid-December, but the streaming functionality hasn’t been enabled yet.

We’ll talk more about the Intel NUC box I’m using to test the OS in an upcoming video feature. The NUC box is essentially a small laptop computer without a screen that you add memory, a SSD, and a wireless card to.

Installing SteamOS on hardware that mimics the official Steam boxes Valve sent to beta testers in December isn’t particularly difficult. Grab the recommended image from the Steam OS install page, follow the provided instructions, and you should be up and running in no time. Of course, the NUC box isn’t an official configuration, and the fact that I’m using a much smaller than recommended SSD meant that the image-based installer wouldn’t work properly. That meant I needed to use the custom installer.

I’ve spent enough time using Linux in the past that the install process was fairly straightforward. I only hit upon two problems, the first was appeared when it came time to boot into SteamOS for the first time. My system’s UEFI-enabled motherboard didn’t detect the Linux partition on the hard drive as UEFI-enabled, so it didn’t know how to boot the PC. It took me a few hours to track down, but the issue seems to be the NUC’s implementation of UEFI booting.

I was able to solve the problem by booting into rescue mode, which is part of the SteamOS installer, and moving the GRUB UEFI boot image (Grubx64.efi) from the location SteamOS expects it to be into the location my motherboard expected to find it (/EFI/BOOT/bootx64.efi).

After I fixed the UEFI problem, I was able to boot into SteamOS and complete the steps for the install. Unfortunately, default support for sound using the HDMI-output on the NUC’s motherboard. I’m still working on that, but I’m sure I’ll either figure it out, or Valve will update the OS with support for the new driver.

Right now, using SteamOS requires fairly deep knowledge of Linux to use, and the selection of native games is a tiny subset of the overall Steam library. Of course, I can’t comment on the ability to actually play games using the SteamOS, as I haven’t played anything yet. I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone who isn't already a Linux user (or is willing to learn).

Norm and I are both putting together and testing SteamOS machines, and will have a SteamOS video feature coming up in the next few weeks. We'll talk more about what we built, how it works, and what we think about SteamOS then. If you have any questions about SteamOS or building your own Steam machine, ask them in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer.