Chromebooks are no longer as ineffective as they once were!

 Forget everything you thought you knew about Chromebooks

Steam is now available on Chromebooks. That means you and your Chromebook pals may finally join the elite ranks of gaming, right? We tried the Steam Alpha and found it to be enjoyable, but it's possible that Chrome isn't yet ready for gaming.

After our sponsor, I'll explain why.


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Chromebooks' greatest strength is also their worst weakness when it comes to gaming. The emphasis is on simplicity. You can use the internet and possibly run a few Android apps, but that's about it. Yes, in 2018, Google released Crostini, a Linux implementation that lets you use pretty much any desktop environment on your Chromebook. But this isn't a step forward for Chrome OS.

You can do it on any computer, but with the addition of native Steam gaming, this 11-year-old operating system, like an 11-year-old human, appears to be maturing and evolving rapidly in the future years.

So, how does Steam work with Chromebooks?

Because it's an Alpha, you'll need to switch to the dev channel, alter a few flags, and input a few lines into the terminal, and then you're done! You're ready to go. Assuming, of course, that you have a Chromebook that is supported. The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 and the Asus Chromebook CX9 are the two we have. So what's the deal with these two?

They are, after all, one of the six devices that can run this Alpha. Only six Intel Chromebooks from the 11th generation are supported by the Alpha. As this becomes more widely available, support should grow, but for now, like the Food Network, you can get a taste by watching our movie.

First and foremost, let's discuss game performance. By changing the M.2 SSDs, we hoped to compare Steam on Chrome OS to these same PCs running Windows. They won't even start up, though. These Chromebooks, it turns out, use core boot instead of UEFI, which means we'll have to upload firmware onto them. However, we were unable to do so due to a lack of funding from their respective makers. 

As a result, a direct comparison on the same laptop will have to wait. Steam is accessible on Chrome OS Flex, a machine-independent version of the operating system. We can compare the Steam Alpha to playing Steam games on the same system as Crostini. Remember, this is an alpha. There are a number of difficulties, including no DX12 games, strange performance and scaling at non-native resolutions, and general instability on a Kanye West level.

So, while you should take these findings with a grain of salt, if you're itching to acquire some Gs in your C book, here's what you should expect. Our limited benching yielded some unexpected outcomes. They were little bananas if you will. Half-Life Lost Coast ran smoothly, with only minor improvements in the Alpha over the Linux version. However, when we consider the Talos Principle, things start to get interesting.

The game proved unplayable in Crostini, scoring between 1 and 3 frames each second. Despite the fact that the I7-equipped CX9 has more execution units than the GPU on the I5, it performed substantially better on our lower-spec I5 Chromebook, a weird tendency we found in all of our benchmarks.

We believe it's an Intel driver issue because it happened on both the Crostini and the Alpha, but we couldn't figure out why. In other Alpha oddities, we attempted to benchmark Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but after an OS update, it simply stopped operating. That's what it's like to be an Alpha, people.

Bugs are to be expected at this point. But the fact that PC gaming sometimes necessitates tinkering, and Chrome OS is by definition a constrained OS, makes me doubt that gaming could flourish on Chrome OS. File management, for example, is horribly obfuscated. You have no idea where your files are in relation to other directories, and you can't even find your Steam game files. The file structure can be viewed using Steam's file viewer, but nothing can be done with it.

If Google is serious about gaming, it must make it easy for users to fix and manage their devices. It's like experimenting on a medium level. Chrome OS has a huge gap between the limited capabilities of average users and the limitless possibilities available to developers.

What about gamers, though?


It's as if you have the option of riding a tricycle or a unicycle. I'm looking for a happy medium. Where can I install mods, alter graphics, or change power management settings without needing dev-level OS knowledge? When you have a quarter terabyte of stuff to redownload, you can't just power wah your issues away.

But first, let's discuss why Google is bringing Steam to ChromeOS in the first place.

The Chromebook Pixel, a notebook that was just a couple hundred dollars short of directly competing with the MacBook Pro, was Google's first attempt at making Chromebooks premium in 2013. And it was a complete failure. I believe Google has finally realized that in order to sell a premium Chromebook, they must first sell the concept of a premium operating system. And gaming is a big part of that, especially for Chromebook buyers in the future.

Because Google has infiltrated schools all around the world, a large number of youngsters have been raised with Google's operating system. And by making Chrome OS an attractive package as a solo personal computer, Google hopes they don't want to jump ship as they transition from their school-provided laptops to their own personal computers.

Google would love for you to switch, but they're also aiming to keep your kids, and gaming will be a big part of that.

What role do Stadia play in all of this?

Didn't you forget about Stadia? In a typical Google manner, it appears like the left hand has no idea what the right hand is up to because bringing Steam to the Chromebook appears to be hurting Stadia's growth. Sure, local gaming and game streaming are two very distinct things, but Stadia is Google's gaming brand. And it appears like they're content to leave it in the wings rather than attempting to integrate it into Chrome OS.

That, in my opinion, would be a more rational course of action. Stadia, being a cloud-based service, is more in line with Google's cloud-based future vision. Steam Alpha's introduction of traditional PC gaming is diametrically opposite to how Chrome OS has historically worked.

I don't want to play a game on a Chromebook for other reasons. The OS is terrible at converting trackpad inputs into precise mouse movement. Window management is cumbersome and inconvenient. And there's a general lack of information density in the design language, which I can't change!


Finally, while I am excited about the prospect of playing games I already own on my Chromebook, Google must fully commit to making gaming a positive experience. As a result, Chrome OS will have to evolve into something it has never been before. That's great for gamers, but it's terrible for those who prefer Chrome's lightweight simplicity. It'll be difficult to strike a balance, but Google, I believe you can accomplish it.

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