With the flood of Steam machines introduced at CES, both casual and hardcore gamers have plenty of console options. But gamers with maxed-out hardware -- or those who just don't want to shell out for a Linux system in a pretty case -- can build their very own Steam box using the beta build of SteamOS. Here's how to set up your Steam machine.
What You Need
Note: It's important that your motherboard supports UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). This is the new standard firmware interface that will replace the old BIOS. If you bought a machine in the last two to three years, chances are you are running UEFI.
Disclaimer: SteamOS is still in beta, so we can't guarantee that it will work flawlessly or even at all. Download.com takes no responsibility for damage that may occur from following these instructions. As always, please back up all your data before following these steps.
Building Your Steam Box
1. Download the custom SteamOS beta installation (SteamOSInstaller.zip).
I ran the custom install, because the default setup didn't work well. Alternatively, you can also grab the download directly from Valve. Look for the smaller of the two files: SteamOSInstaller.zip.
2. Format the USB drive with the FAT32 file system.
3. Unzip the contents of SteamOSInstaller.zip to the USB drive.
4. Plug the USB drive into your PC. Power on and tell the BIOS to boot off the USB (common keys like F8, F11, or F12 will bring up the boot menu).
Make sure you select the UEFI entry. It may look something like "UEFI: Crucial/Kingston/SanDisk/Brand of your thumb drive."
5. Run the Automated installation.
After the boot, you'll be greeted with the Steam logo with three installation options. Choose the first one ("Automated install (WILL ERASE DISK)") and hit Enter. As the warning says, this will wipe your hard drive to make room for SteamOS. Go grab a snack and refill your beverage, because the process will take around 20 minutes.
6. Remove the USB and boot up SteamOS.
At the end of the setup, you'll be asked to reboot. You can now safely remove your installation USB and reboot the system. Upon start, you'll now be greeted by the GNU GRUB bootloader with two options. Select the first one ("SteamOS GNU/Linux, with Linux 3.10-3-amd64").
7. Log on with Steam.
At this new log-in screen, choose the Gnome session from the drop-down bar and log in with "steam" as the default password and log-in ID. We're now on to the home stretch.
8. Install Steam from the terminal.
Now that you're finally inside, you can see the familiar Debian desktop that SteamOS was built on. The final step is to install Steam itself inside SteamOS. Plug in your Ethernet cable to ensure you have a working Internet connection. Launch the terminal by clicking the Activities button at the top left and selecting the Applications tab. When the terminal launches, type in "steam" and hit Enter to start installing.
9. Set Steam to automatically boot without going through the desktop.If you're a perfectionist, you can also set Steam to launch automatically without going through the desktop. Just log out and log back in using the ID and password "desktop." Relaunch the terminal, type in "~/post_logon.sh", and hit Enter. Let it copy the necessary files (5-10 minutes), and it'll reboot directly into Steam. Now you're set to go.
10. Congrats, you've just installed SteamOS. All that's left is to download your games and play!
Since SteamOS is still in beta, there are bound to be things that don't work properly. Some motherboards will have issues. My audio output was only coming through the video card's HDMI-out. This could be a bit tricky if you have a monitor without speakers, but connecting my Steam machine to a TV seemed to solve the problem. The number of games is a little disappointing, and the downside of a homemade Steam box is not having a nifty Steam Controller (Steam will autodetect a wired Xbox 360, though). Games work very well once they're set up, however. I had a blast running through Portal again on a GTX 650.
If you're having problems setting up, you can consult the setup instructions from Valve. There's also a great community on Reddit to help you troubleshoot any problems you may run into.
Overall, making your own Steam box is fun but it's not a true console replacement, due to lack of support and a limited game library. But with a large fan base and wide acceptance from manufacturers, SteamOS will surely see dramatic improvements in the near future. Why waste money on hardware when you can use it to buy games? Speaking of which, after that last Steam sale, I can't afford a Steam box anyway.
At least Torchlight 2 is free this weekend.
Editor's note: Updated to reflect that AMD and Intel graphics cards are now supported in the new Alchemist beta (possible Steam Macs?).