So, I did the unthinkable and put Windows on the Steam Machine. To be more precise, I put Windows 7 Home Premium on a second hard drive I installed in my Steam Machine.
“Why would someone do such a thing?!” might be a question you are asking yourself.
Well, as I stated before, Steam OS is Linux based and this limits the titles you can play on the Steam Machine to those which specifically support Linux. Of the 160+ games I have on Steam only about 40 or so support Linux and a majority of them are not very graphics-intensive. Considering that most PC gamers are graphics snobs, this doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Also, I wanted to see if I could do it.
So, step one was to open the machine. There is a single screw in the back of the machine that holds the cover on. Simple enough, though actually getting the cover off was another story. It seems that the plastic vents they use to direct the flow of air off of the CPU and GPU don’t want to let go. It took me about 10 minutes (and some four-letter words) just to pull the cover off. Once you get it off, the components are laid out pretty well.
As you can see, the hard drive is easily accessed and there is even room for another one in the case as well as 4 more SATA connections on the ASRock Z87E-ITX motherboard. I used the same Hard Drive (Seagate 1TB Hybrid) that was included just to make sure that compatibility was not an issue although you should be able to use any Hard Drive the motherboard supports. You’ll also need the following to get the install done:
- A screwdriver
- A Valid Windows 7 license (doesn’t matter what type, although I used Home Premium)
- A USB flash drive with a boot-able version of the Windows 7 Installer on it. You can download a utility from Microsoft to create a boot-able USB stick using a Windows 7 disc image. The Steam Machine has no Optical Drive. You are going to NEED this.
- Another USB flash drive with the drivers for the motherboard, graphics card, wireless device, etc. I ran into this issue on my first install. Windows 7 will NOT install the correct drivers for the hardware and you will have NO internet access. Fun, huh? Go to the motherboard manufacturer’s website to get the correct drivers. You don’t have to get them all, but it helps in the long run.
After some trial and error (and *ahem* reinstalls) here are the steps that I found worked for installing Windows 7 and being able to dual-boot. I am not an expert by any sense of the word, so please, if you intend to do this do not blame me if it goes horribly wrong. Also, I deplore Windows 8, so I used Windows 7.
- Before opening the case, please disconnect all power and other cables. Seems like I shouldn’t have to say this, but just making sure.
- Disconnect the Hard Drive that the Steam OS is installed on and put it aside. Steam OS formats it’s Hard Drives as GPT and the Windows 7 Installer does not like this. Also, it prevents you from accidentally formatting the HD that has Steam OS already on it. Go ahead and connect your new, unformatted HD that you want to put Windows on.
- Close the case up and reconnect everything, including a keyboard and mouse. You’ll need them to install Win7.
- Stick the USB stick in one of the many USB ports on the machine. I recommend using the ones on the back as the ones on the front are not (to my knowledge) USB 3.0.
- Power-up and get into the BIOS for the system. In my case, you hit F11 to choose the boot order (or Del to get into the BIOS itself) and have to select the USB stick as the first bootable drive.
- Follow the Windows 7 installer. If I have to tell you how, you shouldn’t be doing this.
- When the machine powers off, disconnect the Win7 USB drive. Let Windows load, then plug in the USB drive with the hardware drivers. You’re going to have to install the hardware drivers the hard way by using the Device Manager in Windows. Again, if you don’t know how to do this. You shouldn’t have attempted to install Windows.
- Once Windows is all nice and comfy on your Steam Machine, power down and unplug everything. Open the case and reconnect the Hard Drive with Steam OS on it.
- Close up and reconnect everything and power-on the system.
- Make sure you get into the BIOS before anything starts (hitting F11 or DEL) and select Steam OS as the first boot-able drive. Steam OS should start normally.
- This is the tricky part. If you notice, you’ll get a quick screen of the bootloader for Steam OS (it uses grub) after the BIOS, but before the big Steam OS logo. I do mean quick. Hitting the DEL key will bring up the grub menu. It will look similar to this: If you want to add Windows 7 to the choices for the system you’ll have to do it here. In my experience, I’m much more apt to using the BIOS to select the OS I want by making the correct Hard Drive the first bootable drive. Otherwise you’ll need good timing to get the grub menu when you want it. There may be a way to use a different bootloader, but grub works so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
There you have it. Now you’ll be able to use either Steam OS or Windows 7 on your Steam Machine. Provided everything went well.
After installing the Steam client while in Windows you should be able to access Big Picture mode and play any game in your Steam library instead of the limited amount of Linux titles. Granted, Windows 7 is not as lean as Linux, so performance may be curtailed but in my experience it wasn’t notable.