Chromebooks have graduated from the classroom and are ready to have some fun. Recent changes to the Chrome OS code indicate Google is working to bring full RGB keyboards to Chromebooks — a feature that suggests full-blown gaming systems are on the way. After all, an RGB keyboard on a non-gaming laptop isn’t really a thing.
Spotted by 9to5Google, this RGB key support lets you individually adjust the intensity of each red, blue, and green key light. This way, you can fine-tune the brightness and colour of each key, just as you would on a gaming Windows PC. For now, the feature is only available via an internal command for devs, but it could soon arrive on upcoming laptops. While Google hasn’t confirmed the feature, 9to5Google found encouraging evidence that the RGB support is indeed meant for upcoming devices, not external Bluetooth or USB keyboards.
We don’t know which brand will be the first to take the plunge, however, a trio of mysterious devices codenamed Vell, Taniks, and Ripple give us a hint. Vell, a system powered by Intel 12th-gen Alder Lake processors, is reportedly made by design manufacturer Quanta, and the employee who most contributed to Vell also helped HP with recent releases. This could point to the upcoming release of an HP Omen Chromebook, as 9to5Google speculates.
Similarly, Taniks is the work of LCDC, the largest R&D and hardware manufacturer for Lenovo, so it’s not much of a reach to predict the forthcoming launch of a Legion-branded gaming Chromebook. As for Ripple, it reportedly relates to a detachable RGB keyboard — so we might see a Chrome OS equivalent of Asus’s new ROG Flow Z13.
Chromebooks have been around for a decade but none flaunt an RGB keyboard, or for that matter, a discrete GPU capable of playing games natively. To run games on a Chromebook today, you either need to be playing an Android app or streaming from services like Google Stadia or Nvidia GeForce Now. Limited hardware isn’t the only problem preventing Chromebooks from entering the digital battlefield. Chrome OS is Linux-based, which means you can’t just fire up Steam and play through your Windows PC library. Not yet, at least.
In January 2020, a Chrome OS product leader told Android Authority that the company was working to bring Steam to Chrome OS — with help from Valve. Indeed, a project codenamed Borealis has long been in the works to get Steam and other Linux-compatible PC games to run on a virtual machine on Chromebooks. It was first uncovered in mid-2020 as a Linux distro based on Ubuntu with a pre-installed version of Steam, and the latest evidence in the form of system flags discovered by Android Police suggests Borealis could launch in the coming weeks. Despite the mounting evidence, Google has yet to put out an official announcement of Steam games arriving on Chromebook.
Chrome Unboxed has closely followed the development of Borealis and believes Steam will be a permanent addition to the Chrome OS settings menu in the near future, and the game client could even come pre-installed on compatible Chrome OS devices.
Valve already laid the groundwork for running Steam on Linux when it launched Porton, a modified distribution of Wine, to bring Windows games to Linux devices. Not every game is supported, but 80% of Steam’s top 100 games are reportedly playable within Linux distros. Separately, Valve is readying the launch of Steam Deck, a fast-selling portable gaming PC that could popularise Linux-based gaming.
Excuse all the codenames, but the bottom line is that there is strong evidence suggesting Google will bring Steam to Chromebooks and could feature it prominently within the OS. And with today’s news, at least a few vendors are ready to flip on the RGB lights and turn Chrome OS into a proper gaming platform.
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.