After acquiring an old Dell PowerEdge R210 Server, I decided to use this as my first SteamBox platform. Why not, is was a 2.4GHz 4 core processor with 6GB RAM, it fit the bill for the SteamBox specification.
I initially went for Ubuntu 12.10, as it is the release, which is publicly stated to be compliant with the Steam Client. This install went well and booted OK, but I could not install the Steam Client on top of the OS, as the on board Video Driver (a Matrox) would not support OpenGL. My first stumbling block.
With only having a single PCIe expansion slot, which is only 1 slot high, I had a very limited choice on Video cards. After speaking with a friend, I decided to go for the Nvidia GT640 this appeared to tick all the boxes and was a reasonable price at £60 to test my project.
Unfortunately things did not go well, I spent the best part of another week working through many different combinations of Ubuntu (Desktop and Server) in order to try to get the Nvidia card to be detected correctly. I am not a Linux Guru by any means, but I can find my way around most issues. My main stumbling block was that the Ubuntu installers (12.04, 12.10,13.04 and 13.10) all reacted badly when the on-board video was disabled. It would appear that at this stage the Nvidia drivers are not included in the build – guess I am too used to the Windows platform. Lets hope that when the real Steam OS is released (with their recent announcement of Nvidia support), that this issue will be resolved.
After spending another 8 hours, while the wife was out, I finally came to the conclusion that the Dell was not going to be my SteamBox platform. A number of Internet articles suggested that the system was never designed to support a 2nd video card and that memory mapping errors were to blame for the issues I saw. Too bad, over to plan B.
I decided to look to my Home Lab and see what I could butcher next! I had a HP Proliant, 2GHz 4 core but with 8Gb of RAM – this also had a single PCIe slot, so off I went moving my Video card over to this frame. As the Proliant has a fancy RAID controller on board, I didn’t hold out much hope of Ubuntu seeing any disks – I was wrong.
Ubuntu 13.10 Desktop more than happily saw the RAID controller and the on-board video card, which natively supported OpenGL. This allowed me to get a little further with the actual installation.
Good question, why have I even bothered jumping in to this whole new Gaming Platform – I am not a Gamer at all, but I saw a challenge and the start of something which could get big (hopefully). The learning curve with Linux is never wasted and can be re-used in the future. Apart from the cost of the Video Card the project has taken up my time only, the hardware (however unorthodox) was at least readily to hand. With the XBoc One and Playstation 4 due out soon, I hoped to achieve a Gaming Machine which would come close to their performance, for a fraction of their cost. I really love challenges too!
Before I go any further,I need to reference the Blog sites and Personal Websites who have helped me get this far in the project.
This 13.10 distribution also lacked XBox Controller support (not sure why), so I found this link which allowed me to add this too.
I also looked at BumbleBee, but I think that the latest Nvidia drivers work fine – this was a Red Herring (during my Dell PowerEdge attempts).