Ever since Gabe Newell decided he hated Windows and announced that Valve would be making a Linux-based operating system just to play games, I’ve looked at the whole project with a bit of derision.
While Linux is a fine operating system that’s great for very many things, gaming isn’t one of those things, mostly thanks to poor driver support, limited game support and most consumers not especially keen on learning new things. The promise though, was that Linux would allow for games to run better, more efficiently, without the overhead that Microsoft’s bloated operating system introduces.
SteamOS! That’s the realisation of Gabe’s dream – and with the company’s news console-like mini PC’s, Steam Machines, out in the wild along with that new-fangled operating system, people have put it to the test.
Unfortunately for adherents of the Penguin, SteamOS has been weighed in the balances, and found wanting. In numerous tests, SteamOs just isn’t able to keep up with Windows 10 in performance in most games. And that’s when those games are even available.
Ars Technica ran tests using Shadow of Mordor and Metro Redux on some older hardware set-up to dual boot between Steam OS and Window, and the results were pretty clear. SteamOS just isn’t great for games right now.
“No matter how you slice it, running these two high-end titles on SteamOS comes with a sizable frame rate hit; we got anywhere from 21- to 58-percent fewer frames per second, depending on the graphical settings. On our hardware running Shadow of Mordor at Ultra settings and HD resolution, the OS change alone was the difference between a playable 34.5 fps average on Windows and a stuttering 14.6 fps mess on SteamOS.”
You’d imagine though, that Valve’s own games would run better on Linux. You’d be wrong.
“Unfortunately, Valve’s own Source engine games showed the same performance hit when compared to their Windows versions. Portal, Team Fortress 2, and DOTA 2 all took massive frame rate dips on SteamOS compared to their Windows counterparts; only Left 4 Dead 2 showed comparable performance between the two operating systems.”
In the end, they say that SteamOS is a bust.
“Hopefully, Valve and other Linux developers can continue improving SteamOS performance to the point where high-end games can be expected to at least run comparably between Linux and Windows. Until then, though, it’s hard to recommend a SteamOS box to anyone who wants to get the best graphical performance out of their PC hardware.”
Could this change in the future? Absolutely. NVidia and AMD will have to come to the party in a big way, engineering better drivers for Valve’s operating system, and the impending implementation of OpenGL’s successor, Vulkan, could even the odds a little – though DirectX 12 could swing the balance more.
If you’d like to play around with it, SteamOS is available for you to download right now – just don’t expect it to match the performance of your Windows setup.
Last Updated: November 16, 2015