We recently tried out the Tesla Model X Plaid for two days, and it was the perfect opportunity to test the new feature that gamers will love: Steam. The integration of the gaming platform in Tesla’s electric cars, combined with their powerful graphics capabilities, allows almost all games from the Steam library to run smoothly. GTA V, Call of Duty, Cyberpunk 2077, etc. We were able to try two games (Tomb Raider and Outer Wilds), and our experience was truly impressive.
During the announcement of the new Tesla Model S and Model X, Elon Musk emphasized the ability to play resource-intensive video games, such as the famous Cyberpunk 2077. In the summer of 2022, the Tesla CEO announced that the integration of the Steam gaming platform in Model S and Model X was fast approaching. Steam finally arrived in beta version on select Model S and Model X vehicles with the Christmas 2022 update.
Steam on Model X with a PS5 Controller
During our test of the Tesla Model S Plaid, we could not try the feature as the update had not yet been rolled out. So when Tesla invited us to test the new Tesla Model X Plaid at the end of March, we couldn’t wait to bring a PS5 controller to play true AAA video games in a car.
It’s worth mentioning that Steam is not available on all Teslas. You need to own a Tesla Model S or Model X manufactured from February 2022 onwards. The reason is simple: some games available are very demanding and require a lot of processing power.
Both high-end Tesla models produced from this date have 16 GB of RAM, unlike the Model S and Model X produced between 2021 and February 2022, which only have 8 GB. Elon Musk, however, indicated on Twitter (X) that older electric cars might receive a hardware update to accommodate more memory.
A PS5 Installed in Tesla
Unfortunately, older Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles are not compatible due to insufficient graphics power. This is also the case for Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, regardless of their production date. The reason is simple: the new Tesla Model S and Model X come equipped with an entertainment system equivalent to a PS5.
In detail, the system features an AMD Ryzen (Zen+) eight-core processor with an RDNA2 graphics chip, equivalent to an RX 6600M with 8 GB of VRAM. Tesla claims a processing power of 10 Tflops, compared to the 10.28 Tflops of the PS5 and the 12.15 Tflops of the Xbox Series X.
Steam is not available on Tesla Model 3 and Model Y. The latest versions feature an AMD Ryzen processor, but they lack the dedicated GPU (graphics chip) and sufficient RAM found in the larger siblings Model S and Model X.
In other words, the new Tesla Model S and Model X come equipped with a next-gen console equivalent for running the infotainment system displayed on the central screen. Add to this the integration of the renowned Steam catalog, and you get a real video game console inside a car – a childhood dream come true!
Not all Steam games are compatible
For those familiar with Steam, Tesla has integrated the equivalent of the Steam Deck’s OS into its cars. This Linux application uses the Proton emulator to run Windows games on the car’s screen. It can run almost all of the tens of thousands of Windows games available on Steam. However, as we will see later, Steam on Tesla is still in beta, and not all games are fully supported.
To play games via Steam on a Tesla, it is better to use a controller. The PS5 controller is ideal, as it is natively recognized by the car via Bluetooth. Xbox controllers can also be used, either wired or with a special wireless adapter. For avid gamers, there is the option to use a keyboard and mouse for games like Counter-Strike.
When we got hold of the Tesla Model X Plaid, one of our first actions was to launch Steam and log in with one of our journalists’ accounts, who owns a Steam Deck. We were able to access his library of video games. The software experience is almost identical to that of a Steam Deck, which we tested in May 2022. However, on Tesla, it is not possible to access the Linux desktop: when you exit Steam, you return to the Tesla infotainment screen with GPS.
Tomb Raider and Outer Wilds as a starter
With the Steam application on Tesla, games are installed on the car’s SSD. We recommend purchasing an additional high-capacity SSD (not Tesla’s) because Tesla’s storage (just under 80 GB) is too limited to install current blockbusters like Call of Duty, GTA V, or Cyberpunk 2077.
We then tested two games that required little disk space: Rise of the Tomb Raider and Outer Wilds. We attempted to install Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but the game refused to launch. It is worth noting that, like on a Steam Deck, some games may be incompatible.
In such cases, the Steam application specifies the incompatibilities, which can range from total incompatibility to minor issues (e.g., suboptimal display), as detailed on Steam’s website. Surprisingly, Call of Duty was not listed as incompatible.
Before we go any further, let’s mention that Steam integration on Tesla is still in beta. However, Tesla is known for its lengthy beta phases. FSD has been in beta in the United States for over three years since its launch in October 2020.
A gaming sensation in a car
Nevertheless, we were pleasantly surprised by the experience. We first launched Outer Wilds, a 2019 space-themed video game. The universe is dark, and the graphics are not designed to be flashy. What impressed us most was the game’s responsiveness and, above all, the car’s sound system.
The 960 watts produced by the car’s 22 speakers (including a subwoofer) fully immerse you in a parallel universe. The 17-inch motorized screen with high resolution (2200 x 1300 pixels, between Full HD and QHD) enhances the immersion, as it can be oriented towards the passenger or driver, not just the center of the cabin.
Using the PS5 controller, it is straightforward to navigate through space in our spaceship. The controller also allows for easy navigation through the game menus and Steam menus. In fact, simply indicating the controller used (PS5, Xbox, etc.) to Steam will cause the interface logos to adapt to the controller and display the correct icons.
After being sucked into a black hole, we left Outer Wilds to try a more demanding and graphically advanced game: Rise of the Tomb Raider. Despite its age (released in 2015), the game looked stunning on the Tesla screen. We were able to push the graphics to the maximum without any slowdowns. Once again, the combination of Tesla’s screen and sound system provided an instant immersive experience.
We wanted to test other newer and more demanding games, but we lacked the time and available storage space. Tesla’s 4G connection was reasonably good, with an average speed of about 15 MB/s (150 Mbps) for downloading titles. Note that without a network connection, it is impossible to launch Steam, which requires an active connection. The games, on the other hand, are installed locally.
Room for improvement
Unfortunately, as soon as Steam is closed, downloads are paused. It seems possible to let downloads continue after leaving the car, but we couldn’t test this feature.
If you want to change the cabin temperature, turn a heated or ventilated seat on or off, you must return to the Tesla operating system’s home screen. This means closing Steam and the game in progress. There is no background task, which is one of the main criticisms of Steam’s integration with Tesla.
Additionally, several minor bugs occasionally prevent a perfect experience. For example, when Steam’s launch crashed while the loading wheel was still spinning. We waited a few minutes before deciding to exit the application and relaunch it. Normally, Steam takes about 15 to 20 seconds to start. It’s not long, but it’s not instantaneous either.
Another criticism of this integration is the inability to play video games while driving. This is understandable, as it prevents driver distraction. However, it is a shame that Steam is not offered on the 9.4-inch rear screen. Tesla says this could technically be possible in the future but is not officially planned for now. It would be a treat for rear passengers who could compete in games like Street Fighter or FIFA.
A 2023 car for a 2023 experience
As you can tell from this article, we were impressed by the experience offered by integrating Steam into the Tesla Model S and Model X. It’s not perfect, but it is a beta version with room for improvement. This is unlike what competitors like BMW offer with their older game catalogs. Only BYD, Hyundai, and Polestar come close, with upcoming GeForce Now integration.
However, this will take place in the cloud, not locally, with performance depending on the available network. This could be a few months at best or more realistically, a few years.
Twenty years ago, when GTA III was released, the author of this article dreamed of playing it in multiplayer mode inside a car. Twenty years later, that dream is achievable. But not for everyone. Teslas are not affordable for all budgets, and it would be interesting for the American company to offer Steam on its more affordable electric vehicles: the Model 3 and Model Y, and perhaps even in the future and hypothetical Model 2.
In the meantime, we can console ourselves with the Steam Deck, which can be used in any car but with a significantly smaller screen and lower performance. Regardless, Tesla once again demonstrates its lead over competitors in the area of onboard systems. Stay tuned for a full review of the Tesla Model X Plaid soon.