What is SteamOS? Everything Important You Need to Know About This “Gaming Distribution”

SteamOS is a Linux-based operating system that aims to provide a seamless gaming experience from Steam’s own game store.

While it has been in existence for about a decade now, there are a few things that you should know about it.

In this article, we try to address most of the common questions regarding SteamOS.

What is SteamOS?

SteamOS is a Linux distribution from the game distribution platform Steam. It is not a generic desktop operating system like Debian, Linux Mint or Ubuntu though you could use the desktop features. By default, SteamOS gives you a console like interface because SteamOS is intended to be the operating system on Steam devices like Steam Machine (discontinued) and Steam Deck.

steamos
SteamOS interface

While you can install the Steam game client on any Linux distribution and other platforms, SteamOS was developed to provide a console-like experience to play games from the Steam store.

Which Linux distribution SteamOS is based on?

SteamOS is a Linux-based operating system originally based on Debian 8. With Valve’s new Steam Deck handheld gaming device, SteamOS’s latest version (SteamOS 3.0) uses Arch Linux as its base because of its rolling-release update schedule.

The developers believe that Arch Linux as a base for SteamOS is useful to push quick updates and optimize SteamOS for Steam Deck.

steam deck

System requirements for SteamOS

Ideally, any machine with the following minimum requirements should work:

  • Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
  • 4GB or more memory
  • 250GB or larger disk
  • NVIDIA, Intel, or AMD graphics card
  • USB port or DVD drive for installation

Will SteamOS Work on your PC?

SteamOS (version 2.0) comes with drivers and chipsets that support a specific set of hardware.

It should theoretically work on every PC, but there’s no official support for the latest and greatest hardware.

Is SteamOS just another Linux distribution?

SteamOS is technically one of the gaming Linux distributions available. But, unlike some others, it is not meant for a full-fledged desktop experience. While you have the ability to install Linux applications, it supports a limited number of packages.

In short, it is not suitable to replace a desktop Linux OS.

Is Steam OS Actively Maintained?

Yes and No.

SteamOS is based on Debian 8 for a long time now with no updates whatsoever.

So, if you are looking to install it on your personal machine, the version available to the public (SteamOS 2.0) is not actively maintained.

However, Valve is actively working on SteamOS 3.0 for its Steam Deck hardware. Hence, there is a possibility that you should find it available soon enough for your desktop.

Should You Prefer SteamOS for PC Gaming?

No. SteamOS is not a proper replacement for Windows or other Linux distributions.

While it was primarily tailored to play games, there are many caveats to know before you proceed.

Do all games work on SteamOS?

No. SteamOS relies on the Proton compatibility layer to make most of the Windows-exclusive games work.

Of course, Gaming on Linux has been made possible with the same underlying tech, but at the time of writing this, you cannot make all the games available in Steam work with it.

Even though many games should work on it, that does not guarantee that all games you have in your library will work as expected.

If you are looking to play supported games and Linux-only games, you can consider trying it.

Is SteamOS open source?

Yes (SteamOS 2.0).

The operating system is open-source, and you can find the source code in its official repo.

But, the Steam client that you will be using on it is proprietary.

It is worth noting that SteamOS 3.0 is still a work in progress. So, you cannot find the source code or any progress of it available to the public.

Is SteamOS free to use?

You won’t find the new SteamOS version available to the public yet, but it is essentially free to use. The older version based on Debian is available to download from the official site.

Can I find a gaming system with SteamOS built in?

Steam Machine console has been doscontinued
Steam Machine console has been doscontinued

SteamOS was originally created to be the operating system on Steam’s very own PlayStation/Xbox styled console called Steam Machine. Released around 2015, Steam Machine did not see much success and was eventually discontinued.

Now the only device to feature SteamOS is the much-anticipated Steam Deck.

If SteamOS is available to download for other hardware, you may see commercial choices to have SteamOS pre-installed with a gaming machine.

But, for now, you should not believe any claims by unknown manufacturers to offer SteamOS out of the box.

Will Next-gen SteamOS Make Linux a Viable Choice for Gaming?

Absolutely. Yes.

Linux may not be the recommended choice for gamers out there. You can explore if we recommend Linux for gaming. Still, if SteamOS evolves to support every game for its Steam Deck hardware, desktop Linux users can finally experience all unsupported Steam games.

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  • “SteamOS’s latest version (SteamOS 3.0) uses Arch Linux as its base because of its rolling-release update schedule”

    Never understood that.
    Why choose Arch over Debian?
    I doubt that the engineers have such lack of knowledge to choose Arch because of “rolling-release” when Debian has “Debian unstable” which is “rolling-release”.

    I suspect some other reason.
    In one article I read that someone at Steam didn’t like the deb package management , and that I do understand.

    • Hardware support may play a part here. The SteamDeck is based on the AMD RDNA2 graphics chipset, the same as my GPU (Radeon RX5700XT). I can confidently say that Arch supports it smoothly upon installation, whereas I was unable to get it working properly under Debian Stable or Testing (though I haven’t tried Unstable).

      • Maybe they also were swayed by the AUR; as it’ll be easier to install proprietary software like Spotify in which non-linux users will like.

      • They are the absolute two top linuxes out there, AND distrowatch reflects that 100%. MXlinux & Endeavor are Debian & Arch. Steam OS2 was utter garbage, Steam OS3 will be amazing. Funny enough it’s other than the distros fault. IF you wish A EARLY version of a steam deck OS RUN GARUDA (Arch), I recommend EITHER barebones (best) or gamer…take your pick appx 2gb or 3.9gb ISO

  • The alleged SteamOS storage requirement couldn’t possibly hold true… The cheapest version only has 64 GB of storage.

    • That’s true, if we consider the Steam Deck and upcoming SteamOS 3.0.

      Here, I’ve listed the last-known official system requirements for the older Steam OS 2.0 (which is available to download).

      I’ll make sure that I update the info when there’s any official update from Valve.

    • i came hereto get info on the linux filesystem. I am hoping they went btrfs , yet they may of went ext4
      yeah 64gb is super small…yet if that’s what people want, you can play lots of low spec games, yet if you want to play RB6 Seige that will chew up your whole drive, and it may be a tight squeeze with the OS huggin it also.

  • I’ve never used Steam client but I was wondering whether it’s possible to install some older titles on it. I have some games that are discontinued but I still would like to play them. Like Richard Burns Rally for instance.

    • You can go to steams webpage and search for games you are interested in. They show an icon for the three major OSes they support, Windows, OS/X, and Linux.

  • I still hope in the near future that Linux become 100% compatible with all the Windows games through the use of SteamOs or other Linux game os.

    • Agree with Eric but so long as Steam OS is on Github, not Gitlab, Windows can just steal Steam and put it in the next Windows. I hope Valve is smart enough to stop using Github then we will all benefit from getting rid of Windows.