The Faux Steam Machine

Now that everyone is talking about SteamOS and Steam Machines I thought I’d blog about my “Faux Steam Machine”. SteamOS is basically a Linux-based OS, and we know that the SteamBox is basically a PC. And while people are guessing that the announcement on Friday will be a controller, I went ahead and assembled my own with my own stuff.

Certainly not “Steam Certified”, but it’ll tide me over until I can buy the real hardware, and it’ll let me follow along with development of Steam at the “Big Picture” level. This is all pretty straightforward and there’s nothing new in this post that you haven’t been able to do before. It’s just now that Valve is committed to this direction I want to follow along – especially as the number of titles coming out continues to increase.

For this tutorial you need:

  • An Ubuntu machine with good video performance. I have an Nvidia based machine. You need to install Steam on this machine.
  • This wireless receiver which enables you to reuse your Xbox 360 controller on your PC.
  • An Xbox 360 controller or some other wireless gamepad.

First you need to get the controller working in Ubuntu:

And now, make a Steam session:

  • Can I run Steam as its own standalone session? - this is great because it allows us to just login to the machine and then Steam fires up automatically in big picture mode. Kudos to you thor27 (the author of this little integration bit).

And finally, turn on auto login in LightDM so that our machine just boots right into Steam with no user input:

Steam updates itself at the client level so there’s no need to worry about that, the final step for a console-like experience is to enable automatic updates and you should be good to go!


  • There’s certainly some work we can do in Ubuntu to make configuring gamepads suck less.
  • There’s a Steam repository that has some goodies like a Steam Plymouth theme, this would make first boot look real slick.
  • Does anyone know if there’s a similar cable for PS3 controllers?
  • Performance: I assumed that loading Steam in a dedicated session would lead to better performance but it’s actually slower than running it in Unity. I think it has something to do with Steam running in the stripped down XFCE window manager that doesn’t have compositing? Need to investigate.
  • Someone on reddit mentioned that SteamGuard/login in could be a problem but I haven’t run into those issues yet.