How to install SteamOS in VirtualBox

SteamOS desktop, cropped

Late on Friday, December 13, Valve released the first public version of SteamOS. As you would expect, SteamOS is currently very rough around the edges — it is essentially just a version of Debian 7.1 (Wheezy) that has Steam pre-installed. As it stands, I can’t really recommend that you to install SteamOS on some dedicated hardware — it would be a waste of time. If you’re interested in Valve’s latest machination, though, and toying with what might be the future of gaming, it’s well worth installing SteamOS in VirtualBox. That’s what I did — and I’ve written a guide on how to install SteamOS in VirtualBox, if you feel like doing the same.

Brute force

To begin with, it’s definitely not easy to install SteamOS in VirtualBox. Valve clearly didn’t intend for you to do this; you can’t just mount an ISO and install it, like a normal Linux distro. That isn’t to say that this is for experts only, though — even if you’re a Linux or VirtualBox newbie, as long as you follow this guide to the letter, you should have a working SteamOS installation within 30 minutes or so.

[This guide is for Windows XP/7/8, but if you can find a tool to create ISOs from folders or zip files for your operating system, it would work for OS X and Linux as well.]

Begin by downloading everything. Grab the latest version of VirtualBox and install it (it may take some time.) Get from Valve. Download ISO Creator and install it.

SteamOS: ISO Creator

Extract into its own folder. Open ISO Creator. You can name the ISO whatever you like, just make sure you save the ISO in a sensible location. Select the folder that you extracted the zip file to. Hit Start and wait a minute or two while the ISO is created.

SteamOS: Making a VirtualBox virtual hard drive

Now open VirtualBox. This bit is somewhat complex with lots of little steps and gotchas, so be careful. Create a New virtual machine. Give it any name. Type = Linux. Version = Debian (64 bit). Click Next. Pick any amount of memory (1GB is sensible if you’re just going to fool around; 4GB if you want to try out DOTA 2 or something). Accept the default options on the next few pages of the wizard, and choose “Dynamically allocated” when prompted. Pick a hard drive size of around 50GB.

Once you’ve created the virtual machine, select it on the right hand side and enter Settings. Click System and select Enable EFI. Click Display and select Enable 3D Acceleration. Slide the Video Memory slider up to 128MB. Click Network and select Bridged Adapter from the Attached to drop-down. Click USB and use the + icon on the right to add your USB keyboard and mouse (if applicable).

SteamOS: VirtualBox, selecting the installation ISO

Finally, head to Storage, click the optical disc icon under Controller: IDE, then hit the optical disc icon on the right hand side (see image). Click Choose A Virtual CD/DVD Disk File, then find the ISO file that you made earlier. Click OK to return to the main VirtualBox interface.

If you receive an error at this point, it’s probably because you haven’t enabled virtualization in BIOS. Enabling virtualization is beyond the scope of this how-to, but if you Google the name of your motherboard and “how to enable virtualization” it’s pretty easy.

SteamOS: Pre-install stage to load EFI

Start the SteamOS machine!

Now, click Start and pray. If all goes to plan, you’ll be greeted with a prompt that looks like the image above. After 2.0 Shell> type the following: FS0:\EFI\BOOT\BOOTX640. If you can’t type the backslash (\) for some reason (I couldn’t), change your system’s keyboard to US layout, then use the On-Screen Keyboard app to type the \. Press Enter, and you should be greeted with the first sign that you’re installing SteamOS.

SteamOS: EFI boot screen

From this screen, press Enter to begin the automated install. Don’t worry about the WILL ERASE DISK! warning — VirtualBox prevents SteamOS from changing anything on your local filesystem.

SteamOS: Installation process

The installation process is automatic and takes a few minutes.

SteamOS: GRUB boot menu, recovery mode

Once the automated install is complete the system will reboot and you’ll be greeted with the above screen. Select the second option, recovery mode. The system will boot up and you’ll end up at a Linux command prompt.

SteamOS: VirtualBox additions

Install VirtualBox Guest Additions

So that SteamOS is actually usable as a virtualized OS (clipboard sharing, shared folders, better mouse pointer integration), you must now install VirtualBox’s Guest Additions. From the command prompt type the following commands, pressing Enter after each one.

  • mkdir ~/vboxadds/ (the ~ key is usually in the top left of your keyboard)
  • mount /dev/disk/by-id/ata-VBOX_CD-DEVICEIDHERE ~/vboxadds/ (after CD, hit the Tab key on your keyboard to auto-complete the device ID. See image above for an example).
  • cd ~/vboxadds/
  • ./ (take care to include the period at the beginning)

This will take a few moments to install, then type reboot and press Enter.

SteamOS: Login

Almost there…

This time around, don’t touch the GRUB bootloader and your system will automatically boot into a graphical interface — SteamOS! Well, almost. You’ll be greeted with a login prompt. Keep Default Xsession selected. The username and password are both steam.

SteamOS: Usual Debian applications

For some reason, the Return To Steam icon on the desktop doesn’t work; you need to click Activities in the top left, then Applications, and scroll down to Steam. The Steam app will update, and then you’ll be greeted with the usual login prompt. Log in, hit Big Picture in the top right corner… and voila! You now have a (virtualized) Steam Machine!

From this point on, you’re pretty much on your own. I haven’t explored SteamOS much yet, but to be honest it doesn’t look like there’s much to discover: Right now, I think it’s just Debian with Steam pre-installed. It’s probably a good idea to have SteamOS installed now, though, so that you can take a look at exciting features — such as local game streaming — when they’re rolled out in 2014.

SteamOS: Big Picture mode, DOTA 2

SteamOS: World of Goo, running in SteamOS! omg

Personally, I installed World of Goo and played it for a while. 3D performance in VirtualBox isn’t great, so don’t expect to do a lot of gaming in your VirtualBox install of SteamOS.

And now… time to install SteamOS properly on my main gaming PC so that I can do some benchmarking on a real Steam Machine! Presumably, if Valve wants to lure people away from Windows to SteamOS/Linux, game performance under SteamOS better be pretty darn good…

Now read: Steam Machine beta kit arrives with top-tier specs and amazing packaging

ExtremeTechVideo Game News & Rumors On Upcoming Releases | ExtremeTech

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>