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Install and dual-boot SteamOS

SteamOS is here, the future of gaming and Linux. You can read about it in our massive feature. Steam Machines, on the other hand, won’t be making it onto store shelves, or virtual shelves, for quite some time. The solution to this dilemma is quite simple, then: make your own Steam Machine using the same image the OEMs have at their disposal.

Creating a Steam Machine yourself will also be a lot cheaper than some of the commercial offerings coming up. Until recently you would have got the best out of it with an Nvidia graphics card; however, AMD and Intel chipset support is now included.

The installation process is not always straightforward, though, and even the instructions on the SteamOS website can be misleading. There’s also an installation element missing from SteamOS right now – the ability to dual-boot. In the traditional way at least, since you cannot add SteamOS to an already working computer with a distro, as the installation methods wipe the system. With a bit of planning, though, you can dual-boot with an existing OS or create a dual-booting system after the fact.

It’s time to create the ultimate living-room gaming and HTPC and to experience SteamOS as it develops. Just remember, this will wipe your computer, so make a backup beforehand or use a spare machine.

You will need:

How it’s done:

01 Correct download

While Valve suggests you use its 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.

02 Unpack files

Make sure your USB stick is empty and reformat it in FAT32 just to be safe. Unzip the contents of the installer onto the storage device directly as to not miss any hidden files. You don’t need to write any images to it, making the process just that little bit easier.

Step 2

03 Secure boot

Some boxes that use UEFI will have Secure Boot turned on by default. Make sure to turn it off in the UEFI menu before continuing or you won’t be able to launch the installer, or even install SteamOS for that matter. The option to enter the menu should appear during POST.

04 EFI support

If your BIOS supports EFI, then now is the time to activate it in the BIOS menu. SteamOS will not even launch if you don’t have it activated. Like the previous step, make sure to look out for the time to enter setup during POST at startup.

05 Dual hard drive

The easiest way to dual-boot and retain your original setup is to install SteamOS to a second or spare hard drive. Disconnect the hard drive with your OS attached and connect the hard drive you wish to install SteamOS to before continuing.

06 Boot USB

Insert your USB storage device into your system and reboot. Either select to boot from it from the boot menu, or reorder the boot menu from the BIOS/EFI so it boots off the stick first. It will bring up a boot menu for how to install SteamOS.

07 Install choices

There are a few choices for how to install Steam from this menu; however, the manual option is just a slower version of the Automated install. Select ‘Automated install’ to continue. 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.

08 First boot

Time to see if the install worked properly. Hit Restart when given the option, and use the default GRUB option. If you see a few dots on your screen, wait a few minutes or so before pressing to reset. If it fails to boot to a login screen after three times, try the installation process again.

09 Setting up

Once at the login screen, enter steam as the username and then steam again as the password. Find the terminal and again enter steam. It will download and update the Steam client, then ask you to sign into your Steam account.

Step 9

10 Finish up

Exit Steam, then log out of the session you’re using. From the login screen, enter desktop as the username, then desktop as the password. Open up a terminal again and type:


It will ask for a password; enter desktop and press Return. It will automatically reboot after a moment.

Step 10

11 Recovery process

After the reboot, the system will perform an automated recovery to complete the installation process. 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.

12 Unsupported graphics

You might now run into a problem where it launches into a black screen. This will happen if you don’t have a supported graphics card, but there is a quick and dirty solution. Make sure to halt the boot process by rapidly pressing the up or down arrow on the keyboard when starting up.

13 Boot options

At the boot menu, press e. The boot options will be displayed on the screen – find where it says ‘nomodeset’ in the boot options and delete it. Press F10 and you should then boot into SteamOS and Big Picture Mode automatically. We’ll cover a more permanent solution as we dual-boot with another distro.

14 Reattach original hard drive

If you’re using the dual hard drive method to dual-boot, now is the time to put the original hard drive back in with the SteamOS hard drive. To boot into it, choose this hard drive from the boot menu and follow the steps to update GRUB later in the tutorial.

15 Partitioning SteamOS

Grab your CD or USB stick with your other distro and stick it into your system. Reboot and choose it from the boot menu, or reorder the boot menu. SteamOS will have put itself first in the order, but this shouldn’t be a problem to change. Most distros have partitioning tools, such as GParted with Ubuntu. Launch this and scan the main disk. You’ll notice that there’s a single, very large partition at the end of the disk. This is the storage partition, where all the games are stored, and it can be resized.

Step 15

16 Making space

You can shrink the storage partition as much as you want – however, remember that this will limit how many games you can install at one time to SteamOS. Any other distro will require at least 20GB to install, but you cannot share space between them, so keep that in mind.

Step 16

17 Install OS

You can now proceed to install your second distro. You can either use the ‘install alongside’ option or create your own custom partitions. Make sure not to select use ‘entire disk’ or you’ll destroy the work we’ve just done.

Step 17

18 Boot order

You may have to enter the EFI/BIOS and change the boot order to allow your second distro to boot. Change it to be the main hard drive first, or the hard drive with the distro on it, and reboot. If you’ve installed alongside, that should have automatically added a SteamOS option.

19 Update GRUB

If you’re booting between two hard drives, you’ll first need to mount the SteamOS partitions before updating GRUB with the following:

$ sudo update-grub

It should find SteamOS and add it to the list.

20 Modify GRUB

We can make a permanent change to GRUB which allows us to boot into SteamOS with no problems. Open grub.cfg with:

$ sudo nano /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Find the menu entry for SteamOS and remove nomodeset like before. Save the file.

21 More GRUB

If you want SteamOS to be the default option at boot time, reopen the configuration file. Locate the line set default=”0″ and change 0 to the corresponding number for SteamOS. This number will be the line it appears on at the boot menu, minus one.

Step 21

22 Media centre

You can easily turn the second distro into an HTPC by installing XBMC. However, there’s more you can do to make your Steam Machine a proper media centre. Select the option to allow automatic login, then log out and choose XBMC in the session manager before logging back in.

Step 22

23 Controls

For this setup, you will need at least a keyboard connected to your system to choose between SteamOS and XBMC at boot time. However, XBMC will support some USB controllers, the same you’ll likely be using for SteamOS, so you don’t require a remote.

24 Future updates

SteamOS has an updating system, so your version of the client will be kept up to date as new features are added. The core system doesn’t have a proper way to be updated right now, so you may have to reinstall SteamOS in the future to take advantage of better driver support. For now, though, you can get a taste of the future of gaming without the ridiculous price tag.

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