In brief: Google started letting Chromebook users test Steam in alpha back in March on a limited range of devices. The new beta allows users easier access to Steam on more Chromebook models with various improvements to the user experience.
The Chromebook Steam alpha only supported seven hardware variants, requiring at least an 11th-generation i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. The beta adds compatibility with AMD's Ryzen 5000 C-Series and 12th-generation Intel processors. It also supports i3 or Ryzen 3 CPUs, though it still recommends at least an i5 or Ryzen 5 with 16GB of RAM.
The new specs extend the list of compatible Chromebooks to 20 models, including Google's new cloud-gaming Chromebooks:
- Acer Chromebook 514 (CB514-1W)
- Acer Chromebook 515 (CB515-1W)
- Acer Chromebook 516 GE
- Acer Chromebook Spin 514 (CP514-3H, CP514-3HH, CP514-3WH)
- Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (CP713-3W)
- Acer Chromebook Spin 714 (CP714-1WN)
- Acer Chromebook Vero 514
- ASUS Chromebook CX9 (CX9400)
- ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5500)
- ASUS Chromebook Flip CX5 (CX5601)
- ASUS Chromebook Vibe CX55 Flip
- Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition
- HP Elite c640 14 inch G3 Chromebook
- HP Elite c645 G2 Chromebook
- HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook
- HP Pro c640 G2 Chromebook
- IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook 16
- Lenovo 5i-14 Chromebook
- Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook 14
- Lenovo ThinkPad C14
Further lowering the barrier to entry, the Steam Chromebook beta doesn't require entering dev mode. Users interested in the beta just have to switch to the beta channel, enter "chrome://flags#borealis-enabled" in the Chrome address bar, restart, search for Steam in the ChromeOS launcher, and follow the setup instructions that appear.
One of the beta's main improvements is a new game installer that uses a sparse disk and ballooning, which helps games that download things from outside Steam. The new installer also improves game performance through the Proton compatibility layer.
General performance should be better in the beta, which adds support for DirectX 12 and Vulkan 1.3. The alpha only recommended that users play at 1080p or lower, but the beta features a scaling system to make games look better on 1440p or 4K displays. Google still suggests users select lower resolutions.
The beta's lower CPU overhead with Vulkan and DirectX compared to the alpha should extend battery life. Additionally, the system will notify users when the battery is low, even in exclusive fullscreen games.
Google's Steam ChromeOS page includes a list of recommended games that has expanded since the alpha. It primarily consists of relatively old or technically lightweight titles like Stardew Valley, Tetris Effect: Connected, Tunic, Vampire Survivors, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, Doom 2016, Dark Souls: Remastered, Euro Truck Simulator 2, and many more.
There is still no indication of when Steam for Chromebooks will enter the stable branch.