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SteamOS Install Guide

Install SteamOS in our complete tutorial, and have a look at the future of PC gaming today

Last week, Valve released the first beta for SteamOS. Although traditionally supplied on a disc image, Valve made the process slightly easier for some people by allowing you to unzip it straight onto a USB stick. However, installing it properly is a little more complex, and the Valve instructions can only take you so far. Here’s our plain English guide to installing SteamOS, and how to use hardware not recommended by Valve.

Warning: before we start, know that installing SteamOS will wipe your system. Valve also suggests you use at least a 500 GB hard drive, however about 100 GB will do if you that’s all you can find. The only limit will be how many games you can download to your system. Either use a spare machine that you don’t mind erasing everything from, or swap in a spare hard drive into your system and remove all the others.

Recommended Requirements

Processor: Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor

Memory: 4GB or more RAM (2GB may be fine though)

Hard Drive: A spare/empty 500GB is recommended by Valve, however 100GB should be fine

Video Card: Valve recommends an NVIDIA graphics card, however there is a work around to use Intel and AMD graphics – unfortunately, it won’t look as good

UEFI compatible motherboard

Step by step

Step 1 Correct download

While Valve suggest you use their SYSRESTORE files on the default installation option, by far the better option is the custom installation. Go to the build your own page on the Steam website, and download the custom installation zip file by following the link on the page underneath Custom Installation.

SteamOS Guide Dual boot
Correct Download

Step 2 Unzip files

You’ll need a USB stick to unzip the files to. 2 or 4GB should be fine, and make sure you’ve taken any important files off it. You’ll need it to be empty before adding the files to it. Once you’ve prepared your stick, unzip the files directly onto the stick. Don’t unzip them to your PC and then copy them over, as there are some hidden files you may miss.

Step 3 Boot options

You’ll now need to reboot your PC and enter the BIOS (or EFI/UEFI) menu. This will differ per system, but it will usually tell you how to enter setup when you first turn it on – something like press DEL or F2 before it boots into your OS. If you know the exact computer model or motherboard you’re using, you should be able to look up a way to enter the setup menu via online manuals.

Step 4 EFI support

Again, this will differ per motherboard. If you have no idea if your motherboard supports it, there’s a few rules of thumb. Computers from the past 2-3 years may have it, and systems with Windows 8 or newer will likely have it as well. If your setup menu is calling itself a BIOS menu, look through the menus for a label that says EFI or UEFI support. If you’re already in an EFI menu, then you don’t need to activate any kind of support – but deactivate secure boot if there’s an option for it.

Warning: at this point, if you have BIOS, and no EFI/UEFI support, then you will not be able to install SteamOS. Sorry, it’s a limitation set by Valve right now.

Step 5 USB boot

Before exiting the BIOS/EFI, you have the choice of changing the boot order to allow yourself to boot from USB. Or, you can look for a boot menu option when restarting your PC, so that whenever you boot it won’t automatically try and load from the USB stick. Whichever way you do it, the correct option will mention something like USB Storage or USB HDD

USB Boot

Step 6 Install SteamOS

Warning: this is the point of no return. Any further actions will delete everything off the hard drive in your system, without any way to recover it. Make sure you have the right hard drive in your PC, and that you’re using the right system in the first place.

Now, press enter on Automated install. This process is completely automatic, only needing your input when finished to restart the PC. This will take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your hardware.

Step 7 First boot

Your PC should now reboot, and load into a login screen. Ignore the GRUB Boot menu – the screen asking you which item you want to boot. It will automatically select the correct one. If you see a few dots on your screen, wait a few minutes or so before pressing the reset button on your PC. If you don’t have a reset button, hold down the power button until it turns off, and then turn it back on again.

Step 8 First Setup

Once at the login screen, enter “steam” as the username, and then “steam” again as the password. On the top left, click Applications, and then in the search bar type “terminal”. Open up the Terminal application that shows up. In the screen that pops up, type in “steam” and press return. It will download and update the Steam client, then ask you to sign in.

First Setup

Step 9 Finishing up

Exit Steam, then click on the top right of the screen where it says “steam”. Click on log out, confirm you want to log out, and you’ll return to the previous login screen. From here, enter “desktop” as the username, and “desktop” as the password. As we did before, click on Applications and search for the Terminal. Type in the following:


It will ask for a password, enter “desktop” and press return. It will automatically reboot after a moment.

Finishing Up

Step 10 Recovery

After the reboot, the system will scroll a series of text as it performs a recovery. When it asks, press y, and let it do its thing. When it finishes, a menu with a few options will appear. Use the arrow keys to go to reboot, press enter, and you’ll be sent straight to SteamOS.

Extra Step Black Screen

If you’re not using an Nvidia graphics card, you will see a black screen when trying to boot into SteamOS. There is a quick fix to this, however you will need to do this every time you boot. As you turn on your system, hammer the up and down keys. Very scientific, but it will stop SteamOS from booting for the moment. Once you’ve done that, press e. The boot options will be displayed on the screen – find where it says “nomodeset” on the screen, and use the arrow keys to move the cursor to where it is. Delete that, and then press F10. You should then boot into SteamOS and Big Picture Mode.

Guide nomodeset
Extra step

If you have any questions about the guide, or want us to clarify anything, please let us know in the comments. You can also send a tweet to Rob Zwetsloot, his handle is @RobThez, and he will try to elaborate on any steps you’re not sure about.

We’ll also be putting up a dual boot guide at some point in the New Year, which we’ll link here.