Just yesterday Gabriel posted an article about 3 Chromebook devices being developed with AMD chipsets and how that entire segment of devices is progressing. The conversation around these upcoming AMD-powered devices always devolves into a pretty predictable question: what good is more GPU support on a Chromebook?
As it turns out, the stars are aligning in a way that GPU support may be a key factor in upcoming Chromebooks; most specifically for gamers.
Three very important things are happening at the same time right now that are laying the foundation for gaming on Chromebooks to become a legitimate, enjoyable activity. Let’s talk about them.
Linux Apps on Chromebooks Getting GPU Support
We’ve talked about this first part, but it is perhaps the most crucial part of the overall puzzle. GPU support is currently not working at all on Linux apps installed on Chromebooks. From what we know right now, we should see the switch flipped sometime in Q4 of 2018, but we don’t have a firm date set at this point. Once we do see GPU acceleration granted to Linux apps, games and graphics-intensive apps will run much, much better.
Devices With Better GPUs Coming
As Gabriel pointed out both yesterday and in another post concerning the Kabylake G processor, Chromebooks with discrete graphics cards will eventually be a thing. If we were simply talking about web apps and Android, I can see there not really being a need for this.
However, with GPU acceleration for Linux apps coming into focus, these dedicated GPUs can serve a very real, very important purpose for those looking to do more with their Chromebooks.
Steam Play Allows Linux Machines to Run Windows Games
The last part of the equation comes by way of Steam’s announcement this week that Windows games will now be playable on Linux devices.
How they are pulling this off is a bit over my head, but interesting nonetheless. You can read all about it here directly from Steam. From what I do understand, the updated Steam Play service uses a modified version of WINE (a popular Windows emulator) called Proton that allows Linux users the ability to run Windows-only games right on their Linux machines.
In the past, titles released on Linux were basically a bonus as Windows is easily the largest player base most devs aim for. With this new ability, Steam will allow Linux users to install, run and play Windows titles with ease. The whole effort is in beta and has a list of 28 already-approved games to try, but you are free to try any game you wish.
I took all of this for a spin today on my Pixelbook by installing Crouton and installing a game from Steam that is on the supported list. All I had to do was log into Steam, go into the basic settings and opt-in to the new Beta. After a restart, games that wouldn’t allow me to install them were now ready for download. Getting the games to run was hit-or-miss, but we’ll give it some time.
Within the beta program, you can even choose to try out games that aren’t currently on the supported list. Some will work and others won’t, but we have to remember this whole thing is all still in beta status for now. Steam says it fully intends for Proton to support most Windows titles as the service exits beta status.
If you’d like to give all this a try on either your Crouton install or via Crostini, you can head over here for Steam’s official instructions. If you are unsure what Crostini or Crouton are, I’d advise you sit this one out for now. The hope is we see all this ready for general use in the next few months, at which time we’ll post a guide on how to get it all running without Developer Mode or Crouton.
If we put all these pieces together, you can see a very real, very clear path to great gaming on Chromebooks and Chromeboxes in the future. Using Crostini to launch your favorite, previously Windows exclusive games on a device with a dedicated GPU could become a reality within the next 6 months.
Additionally, having that GPU support for video editors, photo editors and graphic editing apps will open up a whole new use case for Chromebooks. I’m ready for this new area of development! How about you?