Chromebooks can finally play Windows games on Steam

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Chromebooks have come a long way from their origins as cheap, budget laptops with small screens aimed at kids and the classroom. One user segment they have yet to reach, however, is gamers. That may soon change now that Google is bringing Steam to Chrome OS.

Tuesday, Google has released an alpha version of Steam on Chrome OS for a small set of newer Chromebooks. Google has Valve to thank for its Proton compatibility layer, which allows Google’s Linux-based operating system to play Windows games on Steam. This is the same critical software used by Valve steam bridgea Linux-based portable game console capable of running some of the most popular Windows PC games.

Steam is only tested on high-end Chromebooks due to the performance demands of many games, though Steam’s adoption suggests full-fledged gaming Chromebooks could be on the horizon. System requirements for this alpha include Intel Iris Xe graphics, 11th Gen Core i5 or Core i7 processors, and at least 8GB of RAM. This leaves alpha testers with a small group of laptops to choose from:

  • Acer Chromebook 514 (CB514-1W)
  • Acer Chromebook 515 (CB515-1W)
  • Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (CP713-3W)
  • ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5500)
  • ASUS Chromebook CX9 (CX9400)
  • HP Chromebook Pro c640 G2
  • Lenovo 5i-14 Chromebook

Chromebook fans familiar with these devices may have noticed that they all run on integrated graphics. There are reports of Chromebooks with discrete GPUs launching this year, but as of now, none exist. Much like the Steam Deck, a system with enough punch to run most games at 720p at medium settings, these Chromebooks won’t be able to play every game in the Steam library.

So far, Google has verified that a few dozen games are playable on the aforementioned Chromebooks, including underworld, Portal 2, dead cells, The Civilization of Sid Meier Vand Left 4 Dead 2. Some games work with an asterisk; for example, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition require a Core i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM, and only play on medium graphics settings.

With Steam on Chrome OS in alpha, Google is very early in the process of determining how well games will play on various Chrome OS systems and whether consumers have enough appetite to embrace this compatibility.

I am intrigued by this development, even if it raises some concerns. Chrome OS is a lightweight, cloud-based operating system, and as such Chromebooks are typically sold with lower amounts of storage. If you bought a Chromebook with a 128GB SSD, one of the largest volumes offered on a modern Chromebook, you might only have space to download two or three games.

There’s also the issue of thermals: can a system that’s been built without gaming in mind maintain its coolness under heavier-than-normal load? Additionally, Google will also need to be transparent about which games can and cannot run on certain systems, something Valve has mastered on the Steam Deck.

These concerns, along with game compatibility, are some of the things Google hopes alpha testers can help address. If you want to be one of them, you can switch to the Dev channel on a supported Chromebook. Just don’t use a device you rely on, because the alpha channel is inherently unstable. Once in the Dev channel, navigate to chrome://flags#borealis-enabled and set it to enabled. Restart your system and, in a crosh terminal (ctrl+alt+t) type “insert_coin volteer-JOlkth573FBLGa”. From there, follow the steps to download Steam.

Google hasn’t provided a timeline for when it hopes to roll out Steam for Chrome OS to a wider audience. In the meantime, we’ll test this feature ourselves and let you know how it goes.