Gaming on ChromeOS has come a long way over the past few years. Android apps, Stadia, GeForce Now, Xbox Game Pass, and even Amazon’s Luna service are all readily playable right in the browser on your Chromebook. (Subscriptions often required, of course.) That’s not counting the countless websites out there that offer embedded retro and modern games free to play anytime you feel like it. With all these options available, a Chromebook is a very solid choice for most casual gamers.
For those keen on PC gaming, it’s likely no secret that Google has been working hard to bring a full-blown Steam experience to late-model ChromeOS devices with capable hardware. At its initial Alpha launch, Steam on ChromeOS was restricted to only a few devices that included 11th Gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7 Chromebooks with at least 8GB of RAM. No surprise there as Steam is significantly more resource heavy than your average browser-based platform and Intel’s Iris Xe graphics have enough horsepower to handle the task.
Back in July, Google opened Steam gaming to a select number of testers on Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake devices which should be the poster children for Steam on ChromeOS when it finally makes it to the mainstream. Again, Steam was limited to Core i5 and Core i7 devices because they’re equipped with the quite powerful Iris Xe GPUs. We’re still in the Alpha testing phase but Google is making big strides with Steam on ChromeOS and I think that it will be a huge deal for the ecosystem when it finally arrives.
Installing Steam on a Chromebook
Since it launched, we’ve spent quite some time discussing just how far the hardware support would expand for Steam on ChromeOS. On one hand, I wouldn’t think that Google would allow Steam to work on low-powered devices because it would produce a horrible user experience and in turn, bad PR for the platform. On the other hand, “buyer beware.” If someone wants to install Steam on an underpowered device, Google could simply trigger a prompt to let them know that it’s probably not going to be great.
I don’t know how wide the range of devices will be but we get asked one question a lot. Will Core i3 models ever be added to the list of supported devices? Yesterday, I would have told you that there’s a good chance the answer is no. That’s simply because 11th and 12th Gen Intel processors don’t have those saucy Iris Xe graphics. Instead, you get the latest UHD graphics that fall well short of the Iris Xe GPUs. Yesterday, I would have been wrong.
In a commit I discovered earlier today, it appears that Google is bringing Steam to not only 11th and 12th Gen Intel Core i3 Chromebooks but also expanding support to the latest Ryzen processors from the 5000-series made for ChromeOS.
borealis: Allow i3/r3 on brya, volteer and guybrush with a token
Adds the ability for an insert_coin token to override the normal CPU check, effectively allowing low-tier CPUs on those boards.
Volteer is the baseboard 11th Gen Intel Chromebooks and Brya is the baseboard for 12th Gen devices. Guybrush is the platform on which AMD’s Ryzen 5000 devices are built and the r3 indicates that even the base Ryzen 3 5125C could be supported. That means that the AMD-powered Acer Chromebook Spin 514 that was just made available at Best Buy could get Steam support in the future. Now, that’s no guarantee that these “lesser” devices will offer the best gaming experience but I’d wager a bet that Google has tested the Core i3 and AMD chips enough to determine that they’re more than capable of handling the task.
That’s a huge deal because it greatly expands the number of available devices that could support Steam on ChromeOS. Instead of picking up a $700+ Chromebook to get Iris Xe graphics, it’s very possible that a true mid-range Chromebook could become a staple for streaming and Steam gamers alike. If you can buy a Chromebook and have access to all the gaming options above for less than $600, it makes a console a lot less desirable in my opinion. I’ll be keeping a close watch on this and hopefully, we can get Steam running on a Core i3 device. As soon as we do, we’ll give you an up close and personal look to see just how well it performs.