How to Play PC Games on a Chromebook with Steam

How to Play PC Games on a Chromebook with Steam
Image: Google

Chromebooks are turning into gaming laptops. Don’t laugh! I’m serious! Now that Valve’s Steam platform is in an early alpha phase on Chrome OS, Chromebooks are suddenly getting access to a lot of PC games, moving beyond the small smattering of Android apps they could play before. These games aren’t streamed over they cloud, either — they play directly on the device using its available hardware.

I know what you’re thinking: gaming Chromebooks don’t exist, and there aren’t even Chrome OS devices with discrete graphics cards. That’s true, and for those reasons, only select devices with higher-end components will gain Steam support for now. To further set your expectations, those premium devices will only run less-demanding games, and only at 1080p or lower graphics settings.

While it’s fair to say your Chromebook won’t replace a proper gaming desktop or console, with Steam support, it gains access to a vast library of games. And as we learned with the Steam Deck, many of those titles, particularly the older ones, will run just fine with integrated graphics — no need for an RTX 3080 GPU.

If you own a compatible Chromebook and would like to play PC games via Steam, this guide will walk you through the steps. Just keep in mind that Steam support on Chrome OS is in an early alpha build, so doing so before its official public release is something of a risk.

Don’t use your primary system

Photo: Florence Ion/GizmodoPhoto: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

As is always the case with an in-development feature, you shouldn’t experiment using a Chromebook you regularly rely on. In its alpha phase, Steam on Chrome OS is vulnerable to bugs, glitches, crashes, and unpredictable behaviours. You should, therefore, only use a backup Chromebook or dig up an old one you’ve since replaced. Google agrees, and warned users on its Chromium Projects page to take precautions before trying Steam in its current stage.

“Alpha means anything can break. Due to the inherent instability of the Dev channel and the in-progress nature of this feature, we don’t recommend trying this on a Chromebook that you rely on for work, school, or other daily activities. You will encounter crashes, performance regressions, and never-before-seen bugs – that’s part of the fun!”

You can find a full list of known issues by visiting this link.

Check if your Chromebook is supported

Photo: Florence IonPhoto: Florence Ion

Given the inherent hardware requirements for playing games locally, only a handful of Chromebooks with higher-end components are currently compatible with Steam on Chrome OS.

These seven products fit the strict requirements outlined by Google. To run Steam right now, your Chromebook needs an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU (Core i3 is not supported), at least 8GB of RAM (16GB is recommended), and integrated Intel Iris Xe Graphics. We expect new releases to fit these requirements, including some with discrete GPUs and even RGB keyboards. Until then, the only laptops capable of playing PC games are those listed below:

  • Acer Chromebook 514 (CB514-1W)
  • Acer Chromebook 515 (CB515-1W)
  • Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (CP713W)
  • Asus Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5500)
  • Asus Chromebook CX9 (CX9400)
  • HP Pro c640 G2 Chromebook
  • Lenovo 5i-14 Chromebook

Switch to the Dev channel

Screenshot: Hot To Guys/YouTube, OtherScreenshot: Hot To Guys/YouTube, Other

Since this feature is being tested, it can only be accessed on systems running a more experimental software channel. In this case, you’ll need to be in the “Dev channel.” Switching out of the default “Stable channel” comes with all of the warnings I listed before. Please, only do so on a system that isn’t housing any sensitive information. Always assume the worst!

With that in mind, to switch to the Dev channel, sign in to your device using the owner account. Then click the time in the bottom-right corner and choose the Settings (gear) icon. At the bottom of the left panel, select “About Chrome OS” and “Detailed build information.” Next to “Channel,” choose “Change Channel” and choose “Dev Channel.”

Your device will start to download an update and need to restart.

Enable flags

Screenshot: David NieldScreenshot: David Nield

Once your system is updated to the Dev channel, navigate to the Chrome Flags by typing chrome://flags in the address bar. Scroll down until you see the flags #borealis and #exo-pointer-lock.

Enable both and restart your system one more time.

Enter a command into the Crosh terminal

Image: GoogleImage: Google

This step sounds scary, but don’t worry, it’s rather straightforward. First, you need to open the Crosh terminal using the ctrl+alt+t keyboard shortcut. When the window opens, type the following command: “insert_coin volteer-JOlkth573FBLGa” and hit enter.

You should see a fun “success” image surface and a new window open with the setup process for installing Steam. Follow those instructions.

Log in and view the games list

Image: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoImage: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Once Steam is installed, log in with your existing account or create a new one. Once in Steam, read through the list of games Google has already tested and deemed appropriate to run on those aforementioned laptops. You can view the full list of verified games here; but as a teaser, some of the more popular ones include Portal 2, Hades, Half-Life 2, and Left 4 Dead 2.

Note that some of these games will play better when running on systems with 16GB of RAM. A portion will run natively on Linux while those designed exclusively for PC will require enabling Steam Play and using Proton, the same compatibility layer that allows PC games to run on Valve’s Linux-based Steam Deck.

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.