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Under the Hood of SteamOS 201

Posted by timothy
from the inside-scoop dept.
jones_supa writes "SteamOS has been further inspected to see what kind of technical solutions it uses. The Debian-based OS uses Linux 3.10, shipping with a heap of patches applied, with the most focus being on real-time-like features. The kernel is also using aufs and they seem to be sitting on some bug fixes for upstream on top of that. The kernel is not using the new Intel P-State driver, with the reported reason being, 'it causes issues with sound being choppy during BigPicture trailer video playback.' SteamOS is using SysVinit as its init system. The desktop is backed by X.Org server 1.12.4 and a custom desktop compositor which seems to be a 4,200-line patch on xcompmgr. Catalyst and Mesa components can be found on the system, but so far only NVIDIA is officially supported. The system boots into Big Picture Mode, but the user can drop into a GNOME desktop. Responsible for a great deal of the kernel changes, SteamOS compositor work, and other SteamOS code is Pierre-Loup A. Griffais, a.k.a. 'Plagman'. He was a NVIDIA employee dealing with their Linux support. Another Valve employee doing lots of the SteamOS system-level work is John Vert, who up until last year was a Microsoft employee since 1991. There's also other former Microsoft employees on Valve's Linux team, like Mike Sartain."
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Under the Hood of SteamOS

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  • Re:Only nVidia? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorArthur (1113223) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @08:52PM (#45692131)

    so far only NVIDIA is officially supported

    This seems odd to me, as I thought that the actual Steam/Valve hardware would be using AMD APU's?

    Might be, but when you're doing early prototyping you go with what the developer knows, and in this case the dev used to work for NVIDIA.

    I'm excited about the RT patches myself. I'm hoping one day that whole branch can get merged into the mainline kernel.

  • Sounds good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gweihir (88907) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @08:54PM (#45692139)

    Debian is a rock-solid foundation, that is just missing drivers. As to the custom-kernel, I have been doing that with Debian for over 10 years with no problems at all, except for some very recent issue with kernel include paths. (Which can be fixed by just using older kernel headers.)

    Now they just need AMD GPU support and some games.

  • Always AUFS ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pinky's Brain (1158667) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:06PM (#45692169)

    How many downstream projects get screwed when one of the kernel devs decides to ignore AUFS and "accidentally" breaking it? There are no more excuses. Union mount/overlay is fucking vapourware ... the farce has gone on long enough, mainline AUFS already.

  • by deviated_prevert (1146403) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:18PM (#45692229) Journal
    Interesting that Intel's frequency scaling causes audio pops so they disabled the p state drivers at the kernel level. As such this release might work well as a DAW if one were use Ardour or ecasound with jack. I am thinking about setting it up for this purpose and seeing what kind of RT performance it will achieve. Ubuntu Studio is interesting but far to convoluted and difficult to modify to ones liking. Seeing that this system is using sysvinit, coding called functions will be much easier to script and run. It would be really great if it can be tweaked to do high bit rate audio recording and broadcast in realtime streams over networks. Nice to see they are paying close attention to audio problems caused by the system at the kernel level, this release could become much more than just a gaming platform.
  • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lordofthechia (598872) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:55PM (#45692365)

    and some games.

    The games they've got. Over 300 last I checked + "more AAA titles coming soon".

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @10:39PM (#45692509) Homepage Journal

    . As such this release might work well as a DAW if one were use Ardour or ecasound with jack. I am thinking about setting it up for this purpose and seeing what kind of RT performance it will achieve. Ubuntu Studio is interesting but far to convoluted and difficult to modify to ones liking. Seeing that this system is using sysvinit, coding called functions will be much easier to script and run. It would be really great if it can be tweaked to do high bit rate audio recording and broadcast in realtime streams over networks. Nice to see they are paying close attention to audio problems caused by the system at the kernel level, this release could become much more than just a gaming platform.

    Buddy, that is very smart. I've written here on several occasions about my annual efforts to use Linux as a main production machine in my DAW setup. I've been using it for streaming samples and rendering and off-loading effects and other processing (via Cockos' Reaper) but it never was ready for prime-time. UbuntuStudio and Debian and others, and there were always problems.

    I think it's interesting that today I noticed that Valve has started selling a DAW program called "Ohm Studio" through Steam. Wouldn't it be great if there was some connection to SteamOS? I'd love for it to become a solid platform for music production. Plus, when I get tired after my 30th take, I can unwind with a little Dota2.

    I'm glad you posted this, because I'm not really enough of a Linux maven to have made the connection/

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 14, 2013 @11:13PM (#45692645)

    You know they're up to 19 now, right?

  • Re:Sounds good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <`VortexCortex' ` ...'> on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:03AM (#45692821) Homepage

    Not to mention, as an indiegame dev who cares more about the game than the money and creates cross platform code using GNU/Linux, I might just say screw purchasing iHardware and lose the additional time sink of build/test on Win. There's a few other developers I know of similar mindedness, so if the audience isn't non-existant you may see Linux exclusive games too. In my instance I'd just concentrate on the Linux build to get it out the door (as I always do), but put the testing on other platforms off until interest/demand warrants it.

    Since I started with an OS abstraction layer and use the GNU toolchain everywhere, there's no such thing as porting between platforms -- setting up cross compiling is a one shot deal; However, there's nothing like testing on the metal. Porting changes even without the cross compiler suite is just "git pull && make" on any platform GCC runs on; I could use LLVM, but the point is that I'm not compiling with multiple different compilers with their own quirks to work around; FLOSS means vendor lock-in isn't a concern there. It's a shame that Apple makes it illegal for me to install their OS on my superior yet cheaper hardware. I can't justify buying separate lower spec systems just for OSX gamedev given their market share, and even setting up the cross compiling from Linux is a bit questionable, so while it's doable I avoid it. Linux and Windows allow installation on whatever they'll run on, even VMs in most cases.

    Now that consoles are basically just neutered PCs where the functionality is sold back to you at a premium: Fees for multiplayer & P2P chat? Charging for publishing i.e. making their platform valuable? While ads are on the dash, wtf? And considering that heterogeneous computing is coming to desktops, mobiles, etc. I think this last console generation was it for me. Upgradeable game system? Yeah, it's just a full featured personal computer. FINALY! One thing I don't hear many folks talk about is the huge potential for tons of actual user generated content with SteamOS (PC) games in contrast with consoles; Not just gloating over social media screenshots and vids of in-game footage... You really need a desktop interface to get down and dirty with some wicked modding;

    As a modder from way back, all of my game dev efforts are mod centric. I have mods I made for games decades ago that still play great today. If we want gaming to be realized as the full expressive medium it can be, we need to stop the practice popular in the last decade of birthing games and giving them DRM death sentences. I'm less concerned about this aspect on SteamOS than a console. EG: My Xbox 360 can see my friend's console. We'll be connected and chatting with each other. The consoles both know we have the original Halo 2 in the tray, and all the game needs is to be given the IP of the other client to play online -- And yet you can't do this on XBL, they turned off the Halo2 server; You have to purchase a newly released version of the game. That's asinine. Fire up a VPN w/ system link (or XLink Kai), BLAM, online multiplayer without XBL. What the fuck, MS. Might as well not be paying for your planned obsolescence non-service.

    One day the Halo 3 server will be cut off, and all of the Halo Tracks [] we modders spent lots of time building and playing for that game will be unplayable online. Without emulators, our hardware will crap out too. This kills the game. Game devs and players benefit most if games can run everywhere forever, but most console makers are directly opposed to the game industry's benefit: They benefit if games can only be played in one place for a limited period of time. I really hope SteamOS takes off and breaks the cycle of needless game death. Art should not have needless death sentences applied.

  • by pcolaman (1208838) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:43AM (#45692931)

    You said it much better than I could ever have hoped to. I've been a big Windows guy since 3.1 (maybe partially because for a while I didn't know any better) but lately Windows 8 has made me realize that Windows 7 will probably be the last version I will have installed on any of my systems voluntarily. I have a Win8 laptop (preinstalled) that I now have dual boot with Ubuntu 13.10 and I have considered more than once wiping Win8 off and making it a completely Ubuntu laptop. Seeing SteamOS has made me an even bigger believer in what Valve is doing for PC gaming because as far as I can tell, Microsoft is the worst enemy to the PC as a gaming platform and that's only going to get worse.

    Perhaps this is partially to help push the XB1 forward as a "better choice" than the PC for gaming. Perhaps it's just ineptitude on Microsoft's part. Probably it's a bit of both. But either way, I think as my children get older and I start teaching my kids how to code and how to work with computers at a deeper level than launching netflix and playing plants vs. zombies that it'll be primarily with some sort of *nix based system (not Mac OS X though, they've just become overpriced PC's with specialized software). As a matter of fact, my goal is by the time my kids are over 10 they'll know how to write basic C programs and use make along with gcc, and they'll feel as comfortable using terminal as they will using a GUI.

  • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pcolaman (1208838) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:46AM (#45692943)

    Valve has already commented that they will be porting all of their engines over to Linux, so I doubt that it'd be long before Portal 2 is offered as a native game in Linux rather than having to play through the streaming service.

  • Re:No not really (Score:4, Interesting)

    by aiadot (3055455) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @07:52AM (#45694155)

    How many of those 9,000 windows steam games run on the consoles? (BTW it's closer to 3,000 - 3,500 unique windows games - excluding DLC). Somebody that already has a gaming PC (presumably with Steam) isn't the target demographic of this push. Folks who want console level convenience but would be open to saving money buying on Steam are. And what will they see when Steam Machines launch early next year? PS4 169 Total Games released and announced XBONE 77 Total Games released and announced Steam Machine 300+ games already released (and purchasable) *and* more coming soon.

    Technically you are correct when you point out the number of games. But I don't think that doesn't really mean a lot. The PS Vita has over 1300 games available for it on the PSN and look how great its doing. I'd rather buy a platform that has one game I want than a platform with thousands that I don't.

    Have a handful of system sellers is more important than having 100s of games no one cares about. Those 300 games? Mostly old Valve first party and indies that are available everywhere. A good chunk of hot PC games(Blizzard games, LoL, Minecraft, Origin) are not even on Steam, and even if those games were on Linux I find it hard to imagine the average joe sideloading the apps (basically the Android/Google Play situation).

    I think the extra competition by the Steam Machines are a great opportunity for traditional console makers to review some of their outdated practices and offer more interesting products. Currently the only reason I buy consoles alongside my gaming PC are for the exclusives games(and the lack of which is also the reason I'm not interested on Steam OS). And because of that I wish them good but yeah, they will have to do something about that library. As for the other features, while interesting, they're secondary. Game consoles are for games. Steam machines are just open gaming consoles.

  • Re:Always AUFS ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Baki (72515) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @08:16AM (#45694205)

    Yes I discovered AUFS a while ago and it is really great.

    I use it to backup to 5 disks (of various sizes).
    Need to backup 10TB to a bunch of disks, but in the case of a disaster I want to be able to read individual disks without setting up a (software) raid array when restoring from an emergency. So I joined 5 disks of various sizes, 10TB in total, together with aufs and write to the aufs device. Aufs ensures that files are written on one of the disks, the one with the most space left.

    Later I can take an individual disk and find part of all files on int, or put them together in an aufs-setup and restore in one go.

    Raid-JBOD has the drawback that loss of one disk (in the backup set) means loss of all of them.
    Raid-5 is more complicated and fragile for restores, and wastes 1 disk for parity, which is not required for a backup (the live system already is raid-6).

    (and yes, I've got two backups).

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