I recently had the agonizing reveal of a failed gift for my birthday. Wife tried to secure a Steam Deck for me, and the deal fell through. She didn’t have to tell me this happened. I think she was subconsciously trying to torture me.
Valve’s Steam Deck is their stepping stone, to getting out from under the giant thumb that is the Windows OS, and by extension, Microsoft. Setting aside that debate and discourse over whether that’s a good or bad idea, and the varying shades of grey, that come with that, I’m here to throw out some first hand experience with SteamOS, and how it does on a full blown computer, rather than the handheld, it is officially available on. This will very much be an open ended brain dump, and by that I mean, an on-going thread, as I slowly grind the seemingly gargantuan download sizes, on my now dogshit internet connection. Let’s get into it.
For the uninitiated, SteamOS is the official OS for the Steam Deck. It ships with it. It is designed for that very specific hardware, out the box. However, because SteamOS is based on Arch Linux, someone caught on to the idea that, SteamOS could probably be changed somewhat, and made to work on a normal PC. Enter HoloISO, the unofficial SteamOS image. As of the time that I downloaded it, a month ago, it only supports AMD graphics cards. Why? Because the Steam Deck ships with an AMD APU (an AMD CPU with a built-in, or on-die Graphics module). Working Nvidia graphics support into the OS isn’t that simple, and quite frankly, outside of the scope of what I care to cover in this topic. Nvidia is so ubiquitous, I’m sure SOMEONE is working on the issue
This is the hardware I installed it on:
- AMD 2700X
- Asrock X470
- 16Gb RAM
- AMD RX6600
- 500Gb, 1Tb NVME’s
- 1920x1080@144Hz monitor
- Steam Controller
As I said before, only the AMD Graphics Card is required. You can install it on any reasonably new computer (less than 7 years old). Bleeding edge is probably not a great idea. I am not sure how it would handle Intel’s new P vs E core CPU’s. As for the gamepad, having a Steam Controller isn’t needed, it works with an XBox Controller too. I just used my Steam Controller, because I thought it was poetic.
This wasn’t as smooth as I wished it was, but by no means, was it a show stopper. I first installed it on the 500Gb NVME. Then when it came time to use the system, I discovered, that the 1Tb drive was no where to be seen. Now, I could hack around and add it in, because I know how the internals of linux work, but the whole bloody point, was to report as layman a user experience as possible. So, off to reinstall I went. Nuking it all again, and installing this time, on the larger 1Tb NVME drive. You do need a keyboard and mouse, to do the install. It is still a computer OS install, after all. Other than the other drive, that I’m not using, the install process was easy. You don’t need special knowledge if all you have is one NVME, SSD, or Hard drive.
After it booted, I discovered, I didn’t need the keyboard and mouse anymore. The interface by default, is console like, and is designed to work with a gamepad type controller. On startup, everything is preselected that should be, to start up SteamOS. After logging in the first time, you don’t need to, again. I went so far as to turn on the feature in the bios, that makes the PC startup again, when it turns off, from a sudden loss of power. Pretty nice. Settings wise, you have what you’d expect from any modern OS: General, System, Security, Internet, Notifications, Display, Audio, Bluetooth, Controller, Keyboard, Customization. Then some overlap with what you would see in Steam’s settings section: Friends & Chat, Downloads, Cloud, Family, Remote Play, Storage, Home, Library.
I kept the majority of this stuff pretty default. I changed the resolution to 1920x1080@144Hz. I switched the audio output device to the graphics card, so I could run it out of the monitor. Obviously went to bluetooth, during setup, to connect the controller. Connected to the Wifi, in the Internet section. I think I changed the Beta Participation to Beta channel (but maybe that is the default, I can’t remember). I made sure to set Game File Transfer over Local Network to Allow transfers from my own PC. And that’s about it. Time to get to installing.
And man, did it take an eternity to install. To be clear, this is because the internet connection here is a wireless ISP, that at the best of times, is 20Mbit/s, but at the worst, is 2Mbit/s. And with the load shedding, happening so often, I thought I’d never get some of these games installed. I underestimated the ease of use of a console that auto powers back on, after a power failure, and resumes it’s downloads. Not to mention, how resilient the steam client actually is, when downloading files. It’s fantastic. Anyhoo, I installed:
- Art of Rally,
- Metro 2033 Redux,
- Resident Evil 2,
- Horizon Zero Dawn,
- The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt.
Starting up Art of Rally, the very first game I tried, the resolution didn’t look correct. I quick check in-game, said 1280x720 or was it 1280x800. I can’t remember, but it definitely wasn’t the 1920x1080 that I had selected at the System level. Also, correct resolution wasn’t available in-game. Well that’s odd. So I quit the game. And found an option in the properties of the game itself, under General, Game Resolution, to set it to 1920x1080. Backed out of properties, and started the game again. And that’s it really, the rest was just me playing Art of Rally, without any fuss, hitting rocks or sliding off a hill, swearing, wife coming to the rescue, investigating why I’m swearing, walking away swearing at me. Game ran fine, no discernible difference in performance, or experience. It kind of just worked, without any oddities. No crashes, no mysterious weird shit. FYI, I rage uninstalled this game.
On to the next game, perhaps a shooter. Yeah, let’s try Metro 2033 Redux. Started the game, and immediately noticed, it was running at a low resolution, and 1080 wasn’t an option. OK, does this mean, I have to change the resolution in the properties of each game? Oh dear. Takes notes Not a train smash, but an extra step, I’ll have to keep in mind, during post installation of a new game. Moving on, I started a new play-through of Metro, and that’s where anything worth while mentioning stops. It played. I shot monsters. They removed my face from my head. I reloaded checkpoints… frequently. :
Artyom, like Arthur meets Buddha. I did switch back and forth between keyboard and mouse. Thankfully, seamless and painless.
As an aside: I won’t be mentioning the resolution change per game properties further, but know that I had to change it for every new install.
Next up was Prey. I know I had played this game previously, so would the old save work? Yes it did. Oh wait, it’s the wrong save. Wait what? After head scratching, and digging for info on linux gaming, I came to the conclusion that Steam’s cloud saves are different for Windows and SteamOS. SteamOS is essentially, linux. Linux save game location is different to windows. And the saves that SteamOS had pulled down, was actually the saves I had from the last time, I tried gaming on linux. It wasn’t the save game, from when I first played Prey (which was much further on in the story). Something to keep in mind, and possibly investigate for future games. Oh btw, Prey: it ran fine. I tried mouse and keyboard here too, just to sense check stuff. No issues.
How about another racing game, but one with less weird camera angles: Wreckfest! Ok, stop now. Still no problems. Surely there are more issues, than just changing the resolution per game. This was more fun than I expected, and less problems than I expected, namely none. I actually played through a season in career mode, not that long. Steam says 83mins.
I moved on to Resident Evil 2. I mean, I’m sure you can guess by now, what I’m going to say. It ran fine. A few code browns, thanks zombies. Game ran fine. This one I played longer, around 2.1hrs. And I will definitely go back. I played the original on PlayStation, eons ago, before the great co vid.
Horizon Zero Dawn is the last game I tried, though I have more installed. This being the first previous PlayStation exclusive, that was ported. I want to say it was flawless, but it wasn’t. However, I discovered, it’s specific to using the Steam controller. The default mapping for the right touch area, is wrong. It doesn’t move like a trackpad, but rather, continuously moves you in the direction, you are touching, relative to the centre of the right touchpad, ie. WRONG. Plugged in an Xbox controller, and issue fixed. I imagine the majority of you don’t have this unicorn steam controller, so will most likely, not have a problem at all. Game ran fine as well. Man Horizon Zero Dawn is gorgeous. Makes note to finish it.
I tested Cyberpunk remotely, using Steam Remote Play, or Steam Streaming. It worked OK. You could feel a sluggishness to it, that was obviously because the game was actually running on the PC next to the SteamOS PC, and streaming the video to this PC. I had to change it to performance, rather than quality, and needed a cable to plug in, to stop the lag spikes. Then it ran much much better. Gives me hope, for when I have an actual Steam Deck, and just running the games, that I install on the handheld, remotely off of a faster, more powerful computer.
Side note: this is a great way, to test how fast your wifi is on your router.
I also tested a new feature to install over the local network, from another steam client. That means, in theory, the huge download, doesn’t come through your internet connection, but rather another device on the same network. It worked, but not in every direction. Windows PC to SteamOS, yes. Linux PC to SteamOS, yes. SteamOS to Windows PC, HARD NO. I didn’t test the SteamOS to Linux PC (I had formatted that computer by then, to make way for something else).
Is this comprehensive? Fuck no, but it’s a start.
All the games on the list are tagged as Great on Deck. That is to say, they have been verified by Valve, that they will not have any issues on the Steam Deck. So it stands to reason, that is why, so far, it really has been great. Apart from the resolution thing. And even that, is the OS assuming you have a Steam Deck, which has a known resolution. It’s possible, that sometime in the future, someone automates that resolution change step, or at the very least, changes it, so you don’t have to set once for every new install. But right now, nuh uh.
Of all the games I have tried so far, everything that they said, should be good, was good. That gives me faith in the future. In SteamOS, I have 209 Games listed. 52 are Verified as Great on Deck. 137 Games are Verified or Playable. 159 Games are Verified, Playable or Untested. Some quick maths, and that would leave me with 65% (137) of my library as reliably playable. I’m being conservative here. There are untested games, that could work, but we can’t count those. Is this ready for mainstream. Nah. Not enough testing done. And I haven’t tried games that run off of other game launchers. That’s going to be the real test.
- Am I switching? Are you out of your mind.
- Will this ever become the go to status quo? Oh hell no.
- Can you use it as an exclusive Steam Console (with no other game client/launchers), right at this moment? Yes.
What am I looking to investigate?
- Ubisoft compatibility
- Epic compatibility
- Battle.net compatibility
- EA compatibility
- may check GoG too
- Check a few untested games
- Experience what exactly a br oken game is like on the system
- Find out some sort of metric on release day vs actual support added lag behind
Obvs, I left out 2 games, from the list. More testing to come.