If you follow Chrome Unboxed or Chrome OS development in general, the name ‘Borealis‘ may provoke some feelings of excitement and anticipation. If you’re a gamer and Borealis doesn’t ring a bell, now would be a good time to bring you up to speed on the news.
It has been more than two years since David Ruddock broke the news that Google was collaborating with Valve to bring native Steam support to Chrome OS. A few months later, Borealis was discovered in the Chromium Repository and it didn’t take long to put the pieces together. Borealis is the codename for the work being done to bring Steam gaming to Chromebooks. The standalone container will bring a full-fledged version of the Steam platform to Chrome OS and thanks to ongoing work with Proton, nearly every game in Steam’s massive library should be compatible with supported Chromebooks.
Fun Fact: Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, Project Borealis is the name for the fan-developed Half-Life 2: Episode 3 that has been in the works since 2017.
Two years later, the puzzle is starting to come together. Bits and pieces such as full GPU support and the implementation of Vulkan support in Chrome OS were necessary to get near-native performance for Steam gaming on Chrome OS and those pieces are now in place. Now, it’s simply a waiting game. I’m sure that Google and Valve still have some real-world testing to do and maybe some housekeeping but it really feels as if Borealis should make its debut in the very near future.
While we’re waiting, we now have a rough idea of which Chrome OS hardware will be required to fully support Steam on a Chromebook. First discovered by 9to5Google, developers have recently posted a commit that contains a shortlist of devices that will officially support Borealis. Along with it, there is also a brief mention of what hardware specs will be required to support Steam on Chrome OS. Here’s the list of current-gen Chromebooks from that list.
- Delbin – ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5500)
- Drobit – ASUS Chromebook CX9 (CX9400)
- Elemi – HP Pro c640 G2 Chromebook
- Volet – Acer Chromebook 515
- Volta – Acer Chromebook 514 (CB514-1H)
- Voxel – Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (CP713-3W)
- Lindar – Lenovo Chromebook 5i
All of these devices feature the latest Tiger Lake CPUs from Intel which makes sense. The 11th Gen Core processors feature Intel’s new Iris Xe GPUs which bring some serious performance gains in the graphics department when compared to the previous 10th Gen Comet Lake CPUs. Support for Steam could eventually branch out to older devices but my guess is that Google wants to make sure Steam gamers are getting the best experience possible on Chrome OS and that may result in Borealis being restricted to 11th Gen CPUs with the G7 Iris Xe graphics.
That theory is further supported by another line of code in the unearthed commit. In it, developers have specified that devices must be of the 11th Gen Intel variety and have no less than 7GB of RAM. Additionally, the Chromebook needs to have a Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. Again, that makes sense as the lesser Core i3 doesn’t have the same G7 GPU as its larger siblings.
For now, that keeps the list of supported devices relatively thin but we know that 12th Gen Intel Chromebooks are on the horizon and it’s plausible that some of the less-expensive Core i3 models could easily support Steam. While I’d love to see wider support for Steam on Chrome OS, I also want to see Google and Valve hit a home run with the gaming community. Keeping Borealis locked down to only the most powerful devices makes sense if both parties want to present a polished product that runs well enough for most gamers to appreciate.
Still no official word from Valve or Google on when we will finally see Steam on Chrome OS but we are quickly approaching the monumental release of Chrome OS 100 and that, to me, would be the perfect launchpad for this new feature. I have an ASUS CX9 in the Canary Channel and I will be doing my best to get Borealis up and running ASAP. As soon as we get a glimpse of Borealis actually running on a Chromebook, we’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. Stay tuned. It shouldn’t be too much longer.