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How to build a Steam Machine with Steam OS

Official Steam Machines aren't coming until November, but you can build your own today

Valve aren’t know for rushing things, look at Half Life 3 for example, and it has certainly taken its time over  Steam Machines, with the concept first unveiled as far back as 2013. Steam Machines are mini-PCs running Valve’s own Steam operating system which itself has been designed exclusively to play games downloaded from the Steam service. Valve has just announced that the first bona-fide Steam Machines will sold by retailers in November.

However, you don’t have to wait that long to get stuck in with Valve’s DIY games console. There’s a beta version of the software, which is receiving regular updates, and that you can install on typical PC hardware to day and get playing. We show you how.

Steam OS ^ A big, bold interface designed to be navigated from your sofa


Steam OS is based on Debian Linux, and installing it is relatively simple. There are two installation methods listed on the Steam OS website: Default and Custom. Both require you to boot from a USB stick and will completely wipe the hard disk you select as an installation destination. The website says you need a 500GB hard disk, but we found we could install to a 120GB SSD.

Both installation options require you to use a 4GB USB drive formatted as FAT32. You simply have to copy the files from the Steam OS Zip file to the USB drive, then boot the PC from this disk. The PC you want to use as your Steam Machine will need to support booting from UEFI devices – you may need to enable this in the BIOS.

Steam OS system requirements You don’t really need a 500GB hard disk, but an Nvidia graphics card is essential

The Normal installation aims to use the open-source Partclone software to copy an entire ready-configured Steam OS disk image from the USB drive to your hard disk. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the procedure to work, and we couldn’t find a way to get Partclone to display an error saying what the problem was. We instead switched to the Custom installation. This isn’t much more complicated. Steam OS installs automatically, but you then have to boot into the Debian Desktop, run Steam (we could only get it to work by running Steam from the Terminal), wait for Steam to install its updates, then log in as a different user and run a logon script. The system will now boot into Steam OS, and you’re ready to go.

Steam OS installation instructions We could only get the Custom installation to work

This installation worked fine on a PC equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 graphics card. AMD and Intel graphics are listed as “coming soon”, and when we attempted to install Steam OS using the integrated graphics on an Intel Haswell processor, we had an “OpenGL GLX extension not supported by display” error.

Once we’d booted into Steam, we ran into another problem; Steam OS seems to be hard-wired to use HDMI sound rather than your PC’s analogue output. This would make sense for most people, as they are likely to have their Steam Machine plugged into a TV or AV system, but it would be good to have the option of using your PC’s analogue output. Even booting into the Linux desktop (you can enable access in the Interface section of the Steam OS settings), and changing the settings there makes no difference once you boot into Steam.

Steam OS sound Even changing to analogue sound in the Linux desktop won’t make Steam change from HDMI sound

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