It’s been a long wait, but Valve Software has finally released the operating system which it believes will take on Microsoft’s Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, by allowing people to build their own console for the living room.

Valve’s promised gaming operating system, SteamOS, can now be downloaded for free, from this official site here, and there’s a direct link to the repositories here. We’d strongly recommend not trying to grab it from other sources unless you’re 100% sure you trust the origin.

All you need it a PC to install it on. Valve is recommending a machine with 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard drive and an NVIDIA graphics card – at this point in time, there’s no support for AMD or Intel chips by default. It’s a 960MB download, so it’s not humungous, but be prepared to Google a bit if you’re not already a Linux ninja. Valve has put up a friendly comprehensive overview about it, and a separate FAQ, explaining a bit about SteamOS, but it turns out that it is – at this stage – considerably harder-core than we though.

Rather than being based on Ubuntu, as most suspected, this is a spin of the super-stable but much less user-friendly Debian distribution of GNU/Linux. Ubuntu itself is a Debian derivative, so any any work developers have done in Ubuntu (as recommended by Valve) to prepare their games for SteamOS will stand. It does mean, however, that Valve is focussing far less on cutting edge features which can be found in other distros and more on rock solid, stable performance.

That’s not a bad thing. Right now, the biggest issue is that it means you miss out on the super simplicity of the Ubuntu installer, but the instructions for setting SteamOS up are fairly straightforward – so long as you don’t mind wiping out all data on the PC you’re installing it on, so be sure your target system is ready to be nuked. Using the default installer packages that Valve has made public means no dual booting – which is a huge shame, but understandable for a beta.

If you do know what you’re doing with Linux, and you want to dual boot a SteamOS, it looks like the best workaround is to install Debian Wheezy first alongside Windows, then add the Steam repos and install SteamOS on top – some enterprising hackers have apparently done this within hours of its release. We’ll be testing this as soon as possible and writing up a full guide next week.

But if you do happen to have a spare PC lying around… we’d love to get feedback from South Africans using or developing for SteamOS. Post below or in our gaming forum over here.

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.