It has been just shy of two years since Andriod Police’s David Ruddock received the juicy news that Google was working with Valve to bring native Steam support to Chrome OS. Since that time, we have been steadily putting together every puzzle piece we could find to get a full picture of the what and when around the aptly-named Borealis project. While it is absolutely possible to go ahead and install Steam on your Linux-capable Chromebook, things are still a bit wonky and it is clear that Google isn’t quite ready to take the wraps off of this extremely daunting project.
We had high hopes that Steam for Chrome OS would land in our laps before the end of 2021. Alas, I don’t think that hope is going to come to fruition. If anything, we may get a glimpse of Borealis at the upcoming CES show in January but I’m not holding my breath. We’ll be covering the event virtually and we are anticipating some exciting Chrome OS news but I don’t know if Steam will be in the mix. Sorry.
Still, I’d rather see Google and Valve launch a polished product as opposed to a half-baked attempt because gamers will not hesitate to turn a blind eye to Chrome OS if Steam doesn’t arrive fully prepared for prime time. Intel’s latest Tiger Lake CPUs that power devices such as the ASUS Chromebook CX9 have some powerful integrated Iris Xe Graphics that are more than capable of handling the middle-of-the-road offerings found in Steam’s massive library but it appears that Google may be interested in something a bit more powerful to aide in launching the gaming platform on Chrome OS.
Nearly a year ago, Robby discovered work being done with an AMD dGPU that could be headed to Chrome OS. Since then, it appears that the work has slowed, and given AMD’s lackluster commitment to Chromebooks, I don’t know if that project will flesh itself out any time soon. Thankfully, Intel is all-in on Chrome OS and a recent discovery by our friend Luke Short reveals that the chipmaker’s Arc Alchemist graphics could be headed our way at some point in the new year.
Intel’s DG2 dedicated GPU – now known as Alchemist – works in tandem with the integrated Iris Xe graphics on Intel’s mobile CPUs and early benchmarks are showing scores comparable to some pretty powerful graphics cards used by hardcore gamers. Matched with a Core i9 CPU from Intel, Digital Trends reported gameplay similar to that of the RTX 3080 Ti. This isn’t going to get you maxed out settings on the most graphic-intensive games but it is good enough to maintain FPS of over 115 at 1080P and that is a solid performance for your average gamer. The addition of Arc Alchemist to Chrome OS could be the missing piece to Google’s Steam puzzle. As Luke points out, Chrome OS is adding support to leverage VFIO-PCI which should give the Linux container on Chromebooks the ability to eke out nearly native performance from an onboard dPGU.
Intel stated that the new dGPUs could start shipping as early as Q1 of 2022 and that puts us right in line with Google’s next iterating of 12th Gen Chromebooks and hopefully, the release of Steam gaming. Again, we could get a tease of this at CES next week but I would realistically expect a full-out announcement and release at some point around the end of Q1, beginning of Q2. In the meantime, I’ll keep tinkering in the Canary channel in the hopes of getting this Borealis container up and running. I’d love to have a real-world sneak peek before Google and Valve make things official.