Select Chromebooks Get Alpha Version of Steam

(Image credit: Google)

Google and Valve Software have officially launched an alpha version of the Steam gaming platform for Chome OS. For now, Steam alpha is available only on seven machines from various PC makers, but its very availability indicates that Google wants Chrome OS-based PCs to offer gaming capabilities.

"I am very excited to share that today we are releasing an early, alpha-quality version of Steam on Chrome OS in the Dev channel for a small set of recent Chromebooks," a statement by Google's Chrome OS gaming team reads. "We are so excited to be working with Valve to bring their expansive library of games to Chrome OS, and we hope you enjoy what we have built so far!"

Right now, Steam alpha for Chrome OS can be enabled in the Dev channel on Chromebooks (i.e., owners need to switch their PCs to the Dev channel version of Chrome OS) based on Intel's 11th Generation Core i5/i7 'Tiger Lake' processors with Iris Xe Graphics G7 (80 or 96 EUs) and equipped with at least 8GB of memory. Google and Valve obviously want to provide some kind of minimum acceptable gaming experience, which is why 11th Gen Core i3 CPUs with Xe-LP-based UHD Graphics (32 or 48 EUs) are not supported.

For now, Steam alpha works on the following Chromebooks:

  • Acer Chromebook 514 (CB514-1W)
  • Acer Chromebook 515 (CB515-1W)
  • Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (CP713-3W)
  • ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5500)
  • ASUS Chromebook CX9 (CX9400)
  • HP Pro c640 G2 Chromebook

Google admits that since Steam for Chrome OS is in its alpha version, it behaves like you'd expect from early software. Among known issues the company notes that laptops with 8GB of RAM may encounter issues in games that require 6GB of memory or more, whereas notebooks with display resolutions greater than 1080p may face performance and scaling issues. From a performance point of view, Intel's Iris Xe Graphics G7 GPUs are good enough for casual gaming at up to 1080p, so it's not surprising that these systems cannot handle more demanding titles at 1440p or higher resolutions. Meanwhile, scaling issues are somewhat surprising and look like issues of Chrome OS and/or Intel's driver for this operating system.

So far, Google's gaming team has tried Steam on about 50 popular games, many of which are rather old (i.e., easier to run), but this is something to be expected given the limited graphics performance offered by Chromebooks. Since Chrome OS is based on Linux, it runs the Linux version of a game if it exists, though formally the platform also supports Proton and can therefore run Windows titles in emulation mode.

Late in January it transpired that select makers of Chrome OS-based PCs were working on machines designed specifically for gamers and therefore equipped Intel's 12th Generation Core 'Alder Lake' CPUs as well as RGB keyboards. So far, these systems have not made it to the market, but Google is indeed enabling gaming on Chrome OS.

Assuming that Intel's drivers for integrated GPUs (which have already been certified for Chrome OS) also support the company's upcoming discrete Arc Alchemist graphics processors based on the Xe-HPG architecture, it's merely a matter of time before we see Chromebooks featuring standalone GPUs and offering higher performance in games. While Chromebooks may now be considered as entry-level gaming machines, it's a small step for them to gain more graphics oomph.

What remains to be seen is how quickly Google, Valve, and game developers will get rid of the teething problems and be able to offer a "fit for public consumption" version of the Steam platform. Obviously, the long-term goal is to allow end users to install the software without having to be in developer mode, though we still expect some minimum hardware requirement for Steam to run on a Chromebook.

Anton Shilov
Contributing Writer

Anton Shilov is a contributing writer at Tom’s Hardware. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.