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

SteamOS, here's everything you need to know about it.
Warp Terminal

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

While it has been around for more than a decade now, there are a few things that you should know about it.

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

What is SteamOS?

SteamOS is a Linux distribution from the popular game distribution platform Steam. It is not a generic desktop operating system like Debian, Linux Mint or Ubuntu, though you could use its 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.

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 is SteamOS based on?

SteamOS is a Linux-based operating system, originally based on Debian 8. With Valve’s 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.

an illustration showcasing steam deck with a green background

System requirements for SteamOS

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

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

Will SteamOS Work on your PC?

SteamOS 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 — yet.

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 can 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 used to be based on Debian 8 for a long time, and with the transition to Arch Linux, the developers have been pushing constant updates to improve the overall experience.

However, if you were looking to install it on your personal machine, the version available publicly (SteamOS 2.0) is not actively maintained anymore.

With a recent preview, many improvements were shown off for SteamOS 3.0. Things such as a fix for a black screen issue with some games on Steam Deck OLED, a fix for the USB compatibility issues, and more were among the highlights of it.

We do not have a release date for SteamOS 3.0, but Valve did mention that they will be making it available for everyone eventually.

Should You Prefer SteamOS for PC Gaming?

No. SteamOS is not a proper replacement for Windows or other Linux distributions. The latest version is primarily meant for the Steam Deck, and while it was tailored to play games, there are many other caveats to know before you proceed.

Do all games work on SteamOS?

No. SteamOS relies on the Proton compatibility layer to make most 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 on 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 refer to ProtonDB, they list all the games on the Steam store and rank them according to the level of support for Linux.

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 regularly receives new updates. But you can't find the source code for it because Valve hasn't made it public yet. We can only wait and see when they do.

However, you can get regular updates about SteamOS from its Steam News page.

Is SteamOS free to use?

You won’t find the latest SteamOS version available to the public yet, but it is essentially free to use.

Can I find a gaming system with SteamOS built in?

a steam machine
Steam Machine

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 Steam Deck.

If SteamOS was to be made available for other hardware, you could see popular prebuilt PC brands offering SteamOS pre-installed on their gaming products.

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

Will SteamOS Make Linux a Viable Choice for Gaming?


Linux may not be the recommended choice for gamers out there. But, if SteamOS continues evolving to support every game for its Steam Deck hardware, desktop Linux users could also benefit from it, finally getting to experience all unsupported Steam games.

You can also explore one of our older articles on why we recommend Linux for gaming to gain further insights.

About the author
Ankush Das

Ankush Das

A passionate technophile who also happens to be a Computer Science graduate. You will usually see cats dancing to the beautiful tunes sung by him.

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