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SteamOS vs Windows: Comparative benchmarks

At the end of last year, the guys over at Valve made public their BETA release of the SteamOS project, a customised version of Debian “Wheezy” Linux available for enthusiasts to get to grips with. I was curious about how the system worked so I set aside one of the machines available in the MCave to see what the fuss was all about. The choice of machine was also deliberate, as we had two of them, so side-by-side tests were also a possibility.

The platform used for the installation is as follows:

Alienware X51 Desktop spec’ed with:

  • Intel I7 2600
  • Intel 6-series chipset
  • 8GB RAM
  • 1TB HDD
  • Geforce GTX 555

Graphics cards specifications

  • Graphics Clock                   736 MHz
  • Processor Clock                1472 MHz
  • Memory data rate               3828 MHz
  • Memory Interface               192 bits
  • Memory Bandwidth            91.87 GB/s
  • Total discreet GFX memory         1GB

You can read about the issues in getting the SteamOS into a running condition here, as well as my first impressions of the whole package.

2014-01-13 15.48.04.jpg

Pretty little machines standing side-by-side, can't wait for the final product!

SteamOS Benchmark Parameters and Considerations

While this isn’t a fair test due to version mismatches of certain pieces of software, we tried to level the playing field where possible.

The software specifications of the machines are as follows:

 Windows machine

  • Windows 7 SP1 Home Premium
  • Nvidia Geforce driver version 331.82

SteamOS machine

  • SteamOS version: 1390610019
  • Kernel Version: steamos 3.10-3-amd64 SMP
  • nVidia GeForce driver version 331.20
  • SteamOS is built on Debian “Wheezy”


Titles chosen for Comparative Benchmarking

Heaven Benchmark 4.0 by Unigine

The Heaven Benchmark was the most evenly stated test, as it is capable of running in OpenGL or DirectX, for the test, both Windows and SteamOS instances were set to OpenGL mode, with the following settings applied:




1920x1080 8xAA fullscreen









Why is fuzzy, sexy? Reminds me of the soft porn for some reason...

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 is by now an older title, but it has seen constant update and iteration since its release in 2007. Having gone through at least one engine update, and still receiving plenty of love from both developers and community alike, this was a great first port of call to test gameplay visuals. The big difference in gameplay here, is that Team Fortress 2 uses DirectX 9 /10 which couldn’t be altered; The SteamOS edition would continue to use openGL.

  • Resoltion:                            1920x1080
  • Model detail:                     high
  • Texture detail:                  high
  • Shadow detail:                  high
  • Water detail:                      high
  • Shadow detail:                  high
  • Colour correction:            enabled
  • Antialiasing mode:           none
  • Filtering mode:                 anitrosopic  4x
  • V-sync:                                 disabled
  • Motion blur:                       enabled
  • FOV:                                      75 degrees
  • Multicore rendering:      enabled
  • HDR:                                      full


Still one of the best games out there!

Dota 2

Dota 2 is one of Valve’s flagship titles at the present time, with massive attention being payed to it by both community and developer alike. As with Team Fortress 2, OpenGL versus DirectX are the primary differences, all other settings were as follows

  • Resolution:                         1920x1080
  • VSync:                                  off
  • Display Mode:                    Fullscreen
  • Anti-aliasing:                      on
  • Specular:                            on
  • Specular bloom:                on
  • Water quality:                     on
  • Fog:                                      on
  • Shadows:                            high
  • Animate portrait:                on
  • Additive light pass:            on
  • World Lighting:                   on
  • Ambient occlusion:            on
  • Textures:                              high
  • Render quality:                   mid- setting
  • Ambient creatures:            on


Nope, I still play this game badly...

 Unigine Heaven Benchmark Results

The results from the Heaven Benchmark are as follows:

Run 1


FPS: 3.7

Score: 94

Min FPS: 2.5

Max FPS: 5.8



FPS: 2.2

Score: 55

Min FPS: 1.7

Max FPS: 3.6


Run 2


FPS: 3.8

Score: 95

Min FPS: 2.8

Max FPS: 5.7



FPS: 2.2

Score: 56

Min FPS: 1.6

Max FPS: 3.6


Team Fortress 2 Comparative Gameplay video

While there wasn’t an effective way to compare gameplay with as accurate numbers as a proper benchmarking tool, I decided to set up the two machines to spectate players playing a game on a dedicated server. In this case, one of the MWEB GameZone Team Fortress 2 RTV servers was selected and focusing on the same viewpoint.

Dota 2 Comparative Gameplay video

As with Team Fortress 2, there wasn’t an effective way to benchmark the game’s performance, other than putting side-by-side gameplay up. A random game was chosen to spectate from someone playing in my friend’s list; auto-director was left enabled so as to jump between players at random; both machines followed the same scenes as demonstrated below:



The SteamOS software platform is still a while to go before it can compete, at least in a graphical sense, with Windows. While the appearance of the platform is solid and seamless from a presentation point of view, there is still much to be desired, by way of graphical performance

The Steambox hardware platform is only due to be shipped during the second quarter of this year, and a lot of work is still needed to bring performance on par. While the Dell Alienware X51's used are now considered “older” equipment, they are still formidable gaming machines capable of holding their own with just about any gaming title thrown at it thus far. Software improvements in graphical fidelity should make this a viable competitor to the “typical” current gaming desktop.

I’m still very much in favour of, and excited about, what the SteamOS platform promises – living-room gaming of the Valve range of games as well as third-party publishers working with the ecosystem created so far. With controller support now being clearly indicated, it’s a great way to get great gameplay from an alternative system into a place in the home that it wasn't really meant to be in the first place, and taking into account what the controller from Valve is shaping up to be, playing just about any game on from my Steam collection in the lounge is a great premise.

Here’s to the future of further couch-related gaming, powered by a real PC!   

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