Valve's new console-aping Steam Machines could be hampered by the performance of the company's Linux-based SteamOS operating system compared to Windows gaming. An Ars Technica analysis published Friday morning highlighted considerable performance gaps between SteamOS and Windows on a computer running both operating systems, gaps that persisted across both AAA ports and games built on Valve's own Source engine. The operating systems performed similarly in benchmark tool Geekbench 3, but tests involving Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Metro: Last Light Redux yielded frames per second gaps that ranged from 21 to 58 percent.
The timing of the analysis isn't ideal for Valve. The company's first set of Steam Machines and peripherals were officially made available for purchase last week, including machines from Alienware, Zotac, and Cyberpower. If there's a sizable gap in performance between SteamOS and Windows, it's hard to argue against spending a little bit more on machines with comparable internals that run Windows instead.
The biggest problem facing Steam Machines is catalog size, not performance
The question of performance also obscures the biggest problem facing Valve and its Steam Machines right now: the size of its catalog. The gulf between the number of games available on Windows and the number of games with capable SteamOS ports is only widening, and SteamOS doesn't have any major exclusives that'd encourage Windows gamers to make the leap. Ars Technica said as much in the course of conducting their analysis. "The only problem is that the most graphically intensive recent releases on Windows 10 aren't available to test on SteamOS," wrote senior gaming editor Kyle Orland. "We'd love to see how games like Fallout 4 or Call of Duty: Black Ops III run on SteamOS, but until and unless their developers come out with Linux ports, that's going to be impossible." The ideas behind Steam Machines are still seductive, but the recommendation we made in June holds true: they're not ready for purchase.