It’s been almost two years since Andriod Police’s David Ruddock received the juicy news that Google was partnering with Valve to provide native Steam support for Chrome OS. Since then, we’ve constantly pieced together every piece of the puzzle we could find to get a complete picture of the what and when of the aptly named Borealis Project. While it’s perfectly possible to install Steam on your Linux-enabled Chromebook, things are still a bit quirky and it’s clear that Google isn’t quite ready to complete this extremely daunting project just yet.
We had high hopes that Steam for Chrome OS would land in our laps before the end of 2021. Unfortunately, I don’t think that hope will come true. If anything, we can see Borealis at upcoming CES in January, but I’m not holding my breath. We’ll be covering the event virtually and expect some exciting news on Chrome OS, but I don’t know if Steam will be there. Forgiveness.
Still, I’d rather see Google and Valve bring a polished product to market rather than a half-baked attempt, because gamers won’t hesitate to turn a blind eye to Chrome OS if Steam isn’t fully primed-time. Intel’s latest Tiger Lake CPUs, which power devices like the ASUS Chromebook CX9, have some powerful built-in Iris-Xe graphics that are more than capable of handling the mid-range offerings in the huge Steam library, but it does seems that Google might be interested in something a little more powerful to launch the gaming platform on Chrome OS.
Almost a year ago, Robby discovered that they were working with an AMD dGPU that could be upgraded to Chrome OS. Since then, work seems to have slowed down, and given AMD’s lackluster commitment to Chromebooks, I don’t know if this project will materialize anytime soon. Luckily, Intel is all-in on Chrome OS, and a recent discovery by our friend Luke Short shows that the chipmaker’s Arc Alchemist graphics could be on our way sometime in the New Year.
Intel’s dedicated GPU DG2 – now known as the Alchemist – works in tandem with the built-in Iris-Xe graphics on Intel’s mobile CPUs, and early benchmarks show results comparable to some of the fairly powerful graphics cards used by hardcore gamers. When paired with an Intel Core i9 CPU, Digital Trends reports gameplay similar to the RTX 3080 Ti. This won’t get you the maximum settings for the most graphics-intensive games, but it’s good enough to get FPS in excess of 115 at Maintaining 1080P, and that’s a solid feat for your average gamer. Adding Arc Alchemist to Chrome OS could be the missing piece of Google’s Steam puzzle. As Luke points out, Chrome OS adds support for the use of VFIO-PCI, which should allow the Linux container on Chromebooks to get near-native performance from an integrated dPGU.
Intel said the new dGPUs could ship as early as the first quarter of 2022, and that brings us straight to Google’s next iteration of 12th generation Chromebooks and hopefully the release of Steam Gaming. Again, we could get a taste of this at CES next week, but I would realistically expect a full announcement and release sometime towards the end of the first quarter, early in the second quarter. In the meantime, I’ll keep tinkering in the Canary Canal hoping to get this Borealis container working. I would love to have a glimpse into the real world before Google and Valve make things official.