SteamOS Compositor Details, Kernel Patches, Screenshots
Written by Michael Larabel in Gaming on 13 December 2013 at 09:08 PM EST. 37 Comments
Here are more details on the innards of SteamOS along with some screenshots of the GNOME-based desktop environment outside of the Steam Big Picture Mode.

As written in the previous article, SteamOS has its own graphics compositor while SteamOS is based on Debian Linux. In digging through the steamos-compositor code, it's a modified version of xcompmgr.

Xcompmgr is a simple composite manager for X11 written a long time ago by Keith Packard and duesn't see too much activitity these days. The xcompmgr package is still popular though among lightweight Linux users. In looking through the code, steamos-compositor is much-changed compared to upstream xcompmgr. The diff between steamos-compositor and upstream xcompmgr is over a 4,200 line patch.

SteamOS is using the Linux 3.10 kernel, but it's not a vanilla kernel. There's many patches added onto the Linux 3.10 kernel for SteamOS, particularly taken from the real-time patch-set and other changes. As pointed out by a Phoronix reader, "SteamOS appears to be using linux 3.10 - PREEMPT_RT_FULL (unsurprisingly) with a heavy amount of patching (282 patches for -rt in the 'all' architectures/folder, alone). The kernel is also using aufs and they seem to be sitting on some bug fixes for upstream on top of that. Some of the -rt related hacks they are using i have seen (in one case, i am using the same patch for ntrig)... It looks like they have gone to a lot of effort getting the kernel just right for their needs."

SteamOS is using SysVinit as its init system (no systemd or Upstart) and is just using an X.Org Server 1.12.4 without Mir or Wayland. The Catalyst and Mesa drivers are present on the system, but SteamOS Beta 1 is being advertised as NVIDIA-only.

SteamOS by default boots into the Steam Big Picture Mode that users have had access to for months, but if dropping out of the Debian-based SteamOS there is a GNOME Shell environment to be found along with other basic Linux desktop programs. Here's some screenshots for those that haven't tried out SteamOS:

SteamOS benchmarks are forthcoming on Phoronix! Follow @MichaelLarabel for real-time updates.

UPDATE: New details in this article! There's also now the first SteamOS benchmarks.

About The Author
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via

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