Steam gaming on Chromebook could finally be happening — yes, really!

a photo of the Asus Chromebook Flip C434
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I love a Chromebook. More often than not they're superbly cheap and cheerful laptops that have everything you need to get a lot of everyday work done, and rarely kick up a fuss with bugs, flaws, or crashes.. But unless you’re into cloud streaming or playing simple Android games, Chromebooks suck for gaming. 

But that could change as according to Android Police, Chrome OS could support Valve’s Steam gaming platform. Yes, Steam gaming on a Chromebook really could be a thing. 

We’ve already heard that the Google Chrome team was working to bring Steam to Chrome OS. Now it would appear that it’s made some progress, possibly with the help of Valve. 

That’s because Android Police came across system flags for use in the upcoming Chrome OS 98.0.4736.0 detailing Borealis — the reported codename for integrating steam into Chromebooks. While this version of Chrome OS is expected to be a ‘Canary’ beta for testing rather than a full release, it’s looking likely that Chromebooks will be able to run Steam in the near future. 

But “what’s the point?” you may well and rightly ask. After all, Chromebooks aren't equipped to be gaming laptops. They're generally machines that rely on a lightweight operating system and internet connectivity to get stuff done; they don't contain powerful processors, except in rare exceptions like the Google Pixelbook Go, which can be configured with an Intel Core i7 laptop CPU. 

However, I think there’s a reason to be interested here. Thanks to advancements in onboard graphics, laptop chips like the Intel Tiger Lake processors have integrated GPUs that are powerful enough to run games, albeit at lowered settings and with significant limitations on what games will run.

The same could be true of Chromebooks that have Core i5 chips and 8GB of RAM, like the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, our pick for one of the best Chromebooks. I’ve managed to get Steam games running on similarly specced Windows laptops, provided they're not graphically-demanding titles. 

So while Chromebooks won’t suddenly become gaming laptops overnight, Steam support on Chrome OS could make them into solid native platforms for playing old yet classic games, or a whole suite of indie games that often don’t require much in the way of graphics grunt or processor power. 

steam deck

A promo shot of Valve Steam Decks running Stardew Valley, a game that would also be quite nice to play on a Chromebook. (Image credit: Valve)

Equally, if you take a look at the upcoming Valve Steam Deck, it aims to deliver Steam-based gaming in handheld form, thanks to Valve’s work with graphics and processor maker AMD. So I see no reason why Google and other Chromebook makers couldn’t take some of this tech and add it into Chrome OS machines. Combined with Steam support, you could be looking at a future where Chromebooks actually provide decent gaming experiences. 

I’d quite like the idea of taking out a Chromebook on a train journey and giving semi-modern classic games like Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Company of Heroes or Rome: Total War a spin. And the scope for indie gaming could be huge, with stellar titles like Limbo, Bastion, Braid, Gunpoint and more all being fairly easy to run but offering surprisingly deep gameplay mechanics. 

Chromebooks already support game streaming via Google Stadia and other cloud-powered services, of course. But in the U.K. where internet connections can be shoddy — notably in my apartment of late—  being able to game natively and away from a Wi-Fi connection is still very appealing. 

Granted the Steam Deck promises to deliver such gaming opportunities with even more power. But pricing starts at $399 and goes up to $649, whereas Chromebooks can be had for under $200. 

In a world where gadgets seem to be getting pricier and more elusive, it’s gratifying to get the impression that more affordable devices aren't being neglected when it comes to functionality. And I for one, can’t wait to try a bit of Steam gaming on an old but still appreciated Chromebook. And, at the very least, Chrome is introducing a new feature to help online shoppers save money.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.