For as long as Chrome OS has existed, gaming has been one of the most important Achilles heels. Most Chromebooks have lower-power hardware and the operating system is built on web technology, so playing AAA games included with Windows is not an option. The rise of cloud-based gaming services like Google’s own Stadia has helped with this, but perhaps the biggest breakthrough in Chromebook gaming came in late March, when Google announced that Valve’s Steam platform is in an early alpha stage on Chrome OS. As you can on Windows, Mac and Linux, this lets you download and install games from the extensive Steam catalog. As a Chromebook fan who also loves a good game, I had to give this a shot.
So Google provided me with one of seven Chromebooks capable of running Steam, an ASUS Chromebook CX9 with Intel’s 11th-gen Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. These are heavy specs for a Chromebook, but Google has stated that Steam requires at least a device with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. While Steam may eventually work with lower-power devices, it’s clear that many Chromebooks won’t be able to cut it. But if you have the right hardware, the Steam experience is pretty good as long as you keep your expectations in check.
i didn’t have any problems Installing Steam, but much more complicated than installing it on a Windows computer. You’ll need to migrate your Chromebook to the Development channel, so don’t do this on a machine you trust for day-to-day use. After that, you need to enable a certain flag in Chrome and type a few commands in the Chrome OS Crosh terminal. Once this is done, Steam will download it to your machine, at which point you can log in and start downloading the games.
Right off the bat, any supported game on Steam for Linux can be installed without any compatibility issues. As I’m a big Half-Life fan, the first two games I tried were Valve’s own game. Half-Life 2 and Portal 2 — two old games that don’t require powerful hardware. Both played like a charm, unsurprisingly. There were occasional framerate drops, but the experience was the same as playing them on Windows or Mac.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I decided to go crazy and load up on the 2018s. God of Warwas originally released for PS4 and ported to Windows in January of this year. It was a completely unplayable slide show. This is no surprise, because God of War Requires NVIDIA’s GTX 960 or AMD’s R9 290X graphics cards with 4GB of memory. The Chromebook’s integrated Intel Iris X graphics aren’t in the same league. This isn’t a real blow on a Chromebook, as a Windows machine with the same specs can’t work. God of War, anyone. I was most surprised that I was able to install it.
To install games like God of War or other games without a native Linux version, you need to open the experimental Steam Play compatibility tools. Once I’ve done that, I can install almost any game I’ve come across. Frankly, like challenging games God of War won’t work, but there are tons of titles in the Steam library that are worth checking out. both Hades and mug head ran flawlessly and fallout 4 it worked pretty well too. It wasn’t as smooth as other games I’ve tried, but the first few hours were definitely playable.
The main problem is that the first time you run games using compatibility tools, they are extremely slow to load. Steam needs to “process Vulkan shaders” for many games, and this is true for some games (eg. fallout 4). Fortunately, this only happens the first time you launch a particular title.
Most of the games I tried were from Google’s own list of recommended games tested on Chrome OS, and nearly all of these experiences were solid. The only game my Chromebook can’t quite keep up with is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Google suggested playing this with low graphics and said that only Chromebooks with i7 processors will work. Even then, frame rates and control response were so poor that I didn’t want to play after a few minutes.
While Google and Valve will certainly improve the Steam experience from this early alpha, it’s fair to say that Chrome OS will never be the place to play the latest games. Chromebooks are not built with this kind of hardware.
However, Steam’s library is huge and there are thousands of titles of every genre you can think of. Bringing this catalog to Chrome OS is a big step forward for those who love games but don’t need to. cyberpunk 2077 settings are high. Get to replay old classics like Portal 2 or like trying newer versions HadesSteam for Chrome OS greatly expands the games you can play on a Chromebook. And if you really want to play witch 3 or God of WarA streaming service like NVIDIA’s GeForce Now could close the gap. So far, the alpha build of Steam for Chrome OS is promising and hopefully Google and Valve can get it to work on more Chromebooks before long.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team independent of our parent company. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.