SteamOS can’t keep up with Windows …yet

3 min read
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SteamOS

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.

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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

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • miaau

    One small flaw: On my home PC, crappy Core2Duo, I had Windows 7, then 8, then 10. Each booted faster and felt smoother than the previous. Windows 10, in particular, used far less ram on boot. This is true on my Laptop, my desktop and some test windows tablets. Windows 10 appears to do more with less.

    I have not studied this, but it seems to be sort of true, from speaking to various people, windows 10 is faster on same hardware as 8 was, while 8 was faster on same hardware than 7.

    BUT my old windows phone had 512Mb RAM, a sort of weak CPU. It did all it needed to do for me AND played Minion Rush just fine. My new Android phone has 3Gb RAM, a monster CPU and still pauses sometimes, while something catches up.

    • konfab

      Most likely the Windows Phone you had was covering up the lag with a long animation.

      • miaau

        No, it played the game smoothly and well, no problems. It did take a bit longer to load than on the Android phone, but it played smoothly.

    • HvR

      Having done a lot of development on Windows 8 and 7 environments I know that with Windows 8 faster boot up time is achieved by “selective loading” everything required to get the interface running continue loading secondary system in the background and also storing system states in non-volatile memory (basically hybrid-hibernate)

      These cause major instability issues when system state changes or if you bargain on system being in a complete start=up state. So they get disabled and your back to WIndows 7 boot up performance.

  • Pieter Kruger

    Does Linux still come bundled with Netscape?????

    • Hammersteyn

      Still a better browser than…. nah, can’t finish that sentence

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    SteamehOS. Sure if you’re running a Steam Machine in Big Picture mode because you want to pretend it’s a console it makes some sense. But I can’t for the life of me figure out why I’d want to switch from Win to SOS (heh). I care as much about Linux flavours as I do whatever Apple’s OS is called now.

    • Grand Admiral Chief SpaceNinja

      Agreed

  • Dutch Matrix

    So their OS ran out of Steam? Must be a faulty Valve somewhere…

    • Deceased

      To the top!!! XD

  • iflista

    If you look at SteamOS and linux gaming, from a windows user perspective you surely don’t need to change your system for worse performing OS. But if you try to see bigger picture you will see what Valve is going to achieve. They are in Linux gaming for 3 years almost and went from none Linux gaming to 20-40 percent performance behind DirectX, that’s in game for 21 year already. This year Valve funded Vulkan development that’s intended to work similarly to DirectX 12 with intermediate-binary and precompiled shaders and main goal of Vulkan is to lower CPU usage and better multicore usage, as OpenGL struggles the most when single core doing all work when rest are doing nothing. Here is demo of an early Vulkan version on Android vs OpenGL ES 3.0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_I8an8jXuM
    You can see it much better handles multicore usage even than OpenGL ES. So the future is bright, the only question is when?

  • WitWolfy

    Was afraid of this… Why not make a windows shell just running steam in full-screen mode the whole time?? Probably licence issues…

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