It has been almost three years since Chromebook users got word that Steam support is coming to ChromeOS. We’re still not totally there yet, but today Google announced that it’s ready to enter beta testing.
In a blog post, Zach Alcorn, Google product manager, announced that Steam on Chromebooks is available as a beta with ChromeOS 108.0.5359.24 and later. Steam on ChromeOS entered alpha in March, and Alcorn said the updates announced today are based on “thousands of gameplay reports.”
The Steam on ChromeOS alpha required not just an Intel CPU, but also an Intel 11th-gen Core i5 chip with Intel’s Iris Xe graphics. The beta supports Intel’s latest 12th-gen chips and extends support to Team Red. Alcorn said the beta supports AMD’s Ryzen 5000 C-Series CPUs.
Google’s beta also lowers spec requirements to an i3 CPU in the case of Intel-based Chromebooks, while AMD Chromebooks require a Ryzen 3 chip or greater.
The RAM requirement has also dropped from 16GB of RAM to 8GB.
However, Alcorn said an i5 or Ryzen 5 and 16GB is still recommended “for the best experience.” In fact, some supported games will only work with 16GB of memory. As is the case with any local gaming, the more powerful the machine you have, the better the performance you can expect.
Chromebooks that support Steam testing
With these updated requirements, the number of Chromebooks that can test Steam has tripled. Below is the full list of supported devices that Alcorn shared. Unsurprisingly, they include the high-refresh rate (up to 144 Hz) cloud-gaming Chromebooks announced last month.
Google has posted instructions for installing the Steam on ChromeOS beta.
Google’s Alcorn said the Steam beta comes with performance improvements and support for 50 new games, with more promised.
Some of the updates are around storage management.
“Previously we managed storage based on a game’s reported installation size on Steam. However, this prevented games that download content from outside Steam from being able to access the storage they needed,” Alcorn said. “Our entirely reworked solution uses a sparse disk and ballooning and has additional benefits, like improved file access performance for Proton games.”
Speaking of Proton, it’s worth noting that anti-cheating software BattlEye and Easy Anti-Cheat still don’t work with Proton with this beta. And some Proton games will try to render the image off-screen when windowed.
DirectX 12 and Vulkan games, meanwhile, have reduced CPU overhead now. That’s meant to boost battery life when gaming, even though PC gamers are used to needing a power source for serious gaming.
And as more premium, $1,000-plus Chromebooks continue to come out, Google is also working on getting ChromeOS to better support 1440p and 4K displays. Before, laptops with these resolutions would see “significant performance hit even when the game itself was running at a much lower resolution,” Alcorn explained. Google purportedly optimized the display pipeline when scaling, so this will be an issue for fewer games.
Steam on Chromebooks still doesn’t support external monitors, though.
Google’s announcement brings Chromebook users closer to a full-fledged Steam experience. Once there’s general availability (Google didn’t point to when that might be), we can expect to see Chromebook releases that challenge ChromeOS’s reputation as a low-price alternative to other OSes, whose best use cases are for web browsing, for children, or as a secondary device.
We’re still waiting for word on Chromebooks with Nvidia RTX graphics cards, which has the potential to push Chromebooks even further from its basic computing reputation. Last year, Nvidia announced work with SoC-maker MediaTek to make a reference platform supporting Chromium and Nvidia SDKs, plus Linux. Nvidia has shared a demo, but there has been no concrete release date shared.
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