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How to Dual Boot Windows and SteamOS

steamos-big-picture-mode

Valve’s SteamOS is a living-room gaming operating system based on desktop Linux. It’s currently in beta, but you can install it yourself on almost any computer thanks to Ye Olde SteamOSe, a modification of the SteamOS installer.

Important Note: We tested this ourselves, but we’re using an unofficial modification of a beta operating system here. Before doing this, ensure you have back ups. You do this at your own risk — you could run into problems.

Why We Recommend Ye Olde SteamOSe

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So why are we recommending Ye Olde SteamOSe, an unofficial third-party “respin” of the SteamOS installer rather than Valve’s official installer? Well, SteamOS is currently in beta – although it feels more like an alpha – and Valve appear to be focusing on their official Steamboxes. The official installer will eventually become the best option, but here are some current limitations Ye Olde SteamOSe solves:

  • SteamOS requires a computer with UEFI. The unofficial respin supports both UEFI and traditional BIOS.
  • SteamOS claims to require 500 GB of hard disk space. The unofficial respin has more realistic space requirements of about 40 GB.
  • SteamOS only officially supports NVIDIA graphics. The unofficial respin should include more graphics support, including for Intel, AMD, and even VMware and VirtualBox graphics. At the moment, 3D acceleration is only working inside VMware, not VirtualBox.
  • SteamOS takes over your entire computer. The unofficial respin can dual-boot with Windows. Its installer includes support for resizing Windows NTFS partitions to make this happen.
  • SteamOS networking is limited to Realtek hardware or firmware-free networking. The unofficial respin includes typical Linux networking drivers, including Wi-Fi support.
  • SteamOS only supports HDMI audio output. The unofficial respin supports almost any sound card.

You can attempt to install Valve’s build of SteamOS, but unless you have a fairly specific hardware configuration, it just won’t work without some tweaking. Ye Olde SteamOSe’s developer, directhex, has done this tweaking work for us and packaged it up.

Start Installing SteamOS

First, visit the Ye Olde SteamOSe page and download the installer disc image with a BitTorrent client. As SteamOS is freely redistributable, this is entirely legal.

Burn the ISO image file to a DVD and boot your computer from the disc. If you’d rather use a USB flash drive instead of a DVD, use Win32 Disk Imager to write the ISO image to the USB drive and create a bootable USB drive.

When you boot from the disc, you’ll see the boot menu. This is a customized version of Valve’s SteamOS boot menu. The Power User install (custom partitions) option here is specific to Ye Olde SteamOSe and will allow you to resize your existing partitions and set up a dual-boot system.

Very Important: You must select the Power User install option to set up a dual-boot system. Selecting the Automated install option will wipe your entire first hard disk, erasing any Windows system or files on it and installing SteamOS over the empty space.

ye-olde-steamos-boot-menu-dual-boot

Partition Your Hard Disk

The Power User install option will put you in the SteamOS installer, which is actually a customized version of the Debian Linux installer. Much of the installation process will happen automatically, but the process will stop once you reach the Partition disks screen.

Select the Manual option and click Continue to start partitioning your disk. If you select the Guided – use entire disk option, your hard disk will be wiped and SteamOS will use the entire disk.

install-steamos-with-dual-boot

Select your Windows NTFS partition and click Continue to resize it, which will make space for SteamOS.

If you have a second hard drive you want to install SteamOS on, you should be able to choose the second hard drive here and create partitions on it instead of resizing an existing Windows partition.

steamos-resize-windows-partition

Select the Resize the partition option and click Continue.

steamos-installer-resize-this-partition

You’ll be asked whether you want to write any previous changes you made to disk. If you’ve been following this process, you haven’t made any changes so you can select Yes and continue.

confirm-changes-steamos-installer

Enter a smaller size for your Windows partition to shrink it and free up space for your SteamOS system. Be sure to leave enough space for Windows, but also provide enough space to Steam OS.

steamos-resize-windows-partition[4]

Select the “FREE SPACE” you created and continue. We’ll now create several different partitions for SteamOS.

select-free-space-steamos

First, we’ll create a partition for the SteamOS base system. Select the Create a new partition option and enter a partition size. Valve uses a 10 GB partition for this, but directhex says you can use a 3 GB partition at absolute minimum.

We recommend making this a Primary partition and place it at the Beginning of your free space when asked.

Ensure the partition is set to “Use as: Ext4″ and “Mount point: /”. These options should be automatically selected.

Select the Done setting up the partition option and click Continue when you’re done.

create-steamos-base-system-partition

Second, we’ll create a swap partition. This is basically the same thing as the pagefile on Windows. Select the free space again, click Continue, and enter a partition size. Valve uses 10 GB for this, but directhex says you only need a gigabyte or two. This will actually depend on how much RAM you have in your computer and what games you’ll be playing — if you’re installing SteamOS on an old computer with little RAM, you may want to create a larger swap partition.

We recommend making this a Logical partition and placing it at the Beginning of the free space when asked.

Select the Use as: option and set it to Swap area. When you’re done, select Done setting up the partition and click Continue.

create-swap-for-steamos

Third, we’ll create a recovery partition for SteamOS’s recovery feature. Select the free space again and create another partition in the same way as above. Valve uses 10 GB for this partition as well, but directhex says you can probably use 3 GB at an absolute minimum.

Ensure the partition is set to “Use as: Ext4.” Select the Mount point option and click Continue to set up a mount point. Click Enter manually  and click Continue to enter a custom mount point.

steamos-mount-point-enter-manually

Enter /boot/recovery as the partition’s mount point. Select Done setting up the partition and click Continue again when you’re done.

steamos-set-up-recovery-partition

Fourth, and last, we’ll create the partition where SteamOS installs games. You should make this as large as possible, as you’ll need the most space here.

Select the free space again and click Create a new partition. You can select the default partition size to use the remaining free space for your games partition.

Set the partition to “Use as: Ext4″ and “Mount point: /home”. The installer should choose these options automatically. When you’re done, continue.

create-steamos-home-partition-for-games[4]

Your SteamOS partitions should now resemble the ones in the screenshot below. Select Finish partitioning and write changes to disk when you’re done.

steamos-custom-dual-boot-partitions

After confirming the changes, the rest of the installation process should happen automatically.

The installer will ask you about setting up a dual-boot setup with the GRUB boot loader. Click Yes and allow it to continue.

steamos-install-grub-boot-loader-for-dual-boot

After installing SteamOS, you’ll see a boot menu each time you boot your computer. This will allow you to choose whether you want to boot into SteamOS or Windows. Use the arrow keys and Enter to select an operating system.

The boot menu will be themed to match the rest of SteamOS after you complete the rest of the process below.

steamos-dual-boot-with-windows-menu

Post-Install Setup

You’re not actually finished the setup process yet. After booting into SteamOS the first time, you’ll see a login screen. Log into the system with the account name “steamos” and the password “steam”. Select the GNOME session.

steamos-first-login-setup

On the SteamOS desktop, click the Activities option, select Applications, and open a Terminal window.

steamos-open-terminal

Type “steam” into the terminal and press Enter to run Steam. Accept the EULA and allow Steam to set up the system.

steamos-steam-bootstrap

You don’t actually need to sign into Steam yet. You can close the window when you’re asked to sign into your Steam account.

After the process completes, log out of the desktop by clicking the steam account option in the upper-right corner of the screen and selecting Log Out.

steamos-log-out

Next, log in with the account name “desktop”, the password “desktop”, and the GNOME session.

steamos-desktop-bootstrap-login

Open a Terminal window in the same way as before. Type the following command into the terminal and press Enter:

~/post_logon.sh

Enter the password “desktop” when prompted. The script will set up SteamOS and automatically reboot the computer into the recovery partition utility, so just let it run.

(We’re not sure what was going on with the graphics when we took the screenshot below, but everything seemed to work out okay. This is just a very beta experience.)

steamos-desktop-post-logon-sh

Type “y” and continue to create the recovery partition.

confirm-steamos-recovery-partition-creation

You can now reboot into SteamOS.

reboot-after-steamos-recovery-partition-setup

Using SteamOS

SteamOS should now be working normally. It will boot up in a more polished way with a progress bar. When it boots up, you won’t see any old Linux login screen — you’ll see the same SteamOS experience you’d get on a new SteamBox.

welcome-to-steamos

Log in with your Steam account to use SteamOS. All your games that support Linux will be available to download and play.

log-into-steamos

If you’d like to access the desktop again, go to Settings > System > Enable access to the Linux desktop. You can then select the Exit option and choose Return to Desktop.

steamos-access-linux-desktop

SteamOS doesn’t yet provide good official support for a variety of sound cards. You’ll need to run the PulseAudio Volume Control (pavucontrol) application from the desktop’s Activities menu and use it to select your sound card and system volume levels. The volume control integrated into the GNOME desktop won’t work with Ye Olde SteamOSe at this time.

pulseaudio-volume-control-steamos

Ye Olde SteamOS primarily functions as a modification to the SteamOS installer, adding additional installation functionality and packages that aren’t present in the official distribution of SteamOS. Your SteamOS system should now automatically update from the official SteamOS repositories, just like an official Steambox. It does this in the background using standard Linux package management tools — SteamOS is very similar to standard desktop Linux systems.


Over time, this process will become much simpler. One day, Valve will provide their own easy installer that will support a wider variety of hardware and easy dual-boot setup. For now, we have to jump through these hoops — but it’s better than not being able to run SteamOS at all.

Thanks to directhex for creating the Ye Olde SteamOSe respin and doing all this work!

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/9/14

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