Chromebooks have come a long way from their origins as cheap, budget-friendly laptops with small displays that are meant for kids and the classroom. One user segment they haven’t yet reached, however, is gamers. That could soon change now that Google is bringing Steam to Chrome OS.
On Tuesday, Google released an alpha version of Steam on Chrome OS for a small set of newer Chromebooks. Google has Valve to thank for its Proton compatibility layer, which allows Google’s Linux-based operating system to play Windows games on Steam. This is the same critical piece of software employed by Valve’s Steam Deck, a Linux-based handheld gaming console capable of running some of the most popular Windows PC games.
Steam is only being tested on higher-end Chromebooks because of the performance demands of many games, though the adoption of Steam suggests full-blown gaming Chromebooks could be on the horizon. System requirements for this alpha include Intel Iris Xe Graphics, 11th Gen Core i5 or Core i7 processors, and at least 8GB of RAM. This leaves alpha testers with a small pool of laptops to choose from:
- Acer Chromebook 514 (CB514-1W)
- Acer Chromebook 515 (CB515-1W)
- Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (CP713-3W)
- ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5500)
- ASUS Chromebook CX9 (CX9400)
- HP Pro c640 G2 Chromebook
- Lenovo 5i-14 Chromebook
Chromebook fans familiar with these devices may have noticed that they all run on integrated graphics. There are reports of Chromebooks with discrete GPUs launching sometime this year, but as of now, none exist. Much like the Steam Deck, a system with enough oomph to run most games at 720p at Medium settings, these Chromebooks won’t be able to play every game in the Steam library.
So far, Google has verified a few dozen games as playable on the aforementioned Chromebooks, including Hades, Portal 2, Dead Cells, Sid Meier’s Civilization V, and Left 4 Dead 2. Some games run with an asterisk; for example, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition require a Core i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, and only play on Medium graphics settings.
With Steam on Chrome OS being in its alpha stage, Google is very early in the process of determining how well games play on various Chrome OS systems, and whether there is enough appetite from consumers to adopt this compatibility.
I’m intrigued by this development, though it does raise a few concerns. Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system based around the cloud, and as such, Chromebooks are typically sold with lower storage amounts. If you purchased a Chromebook with a 128GB SSD–one of the larger amounts offered on a modern Chromebook–you might only have space to download two or three games.
There is also the question of thermals: can a system that was built without gaming in mind maintain its cool under a heavier-than-normal load? Also, Google will also need to be transparent about which games can and can’t run on certain systems–something Valve has mastered on the Steam Deck.
These concerns, along with game compatibility, are some of the things Google hopes alpha testers can help answer. If you want to be one of them, you can switch to the Dev channel on a supported Chromebook. Just don’t use a device you rely on because the alpha channel is inherently unstable. Once in the Dev channel, navigate to chrome://flags#borealis-enabled and set it to enabled. Restart your system and, in a crosh terminal (ctrl+alt+t) type “insert_coin volteer-JOlkth573FBLGa.” From there, follow the steps to download Steam.
Google didn’t provide a timeline for when it hopes to roll out Steam for Chrome OS to a wider audience. In the meantime, we’ll test this feature ourselves and let you know how it goes.