We recently tried the Tesla Model X Plaid for two days. The opportunity to try the new feature that should appeal to players: Steam. The presence of the gaming platform within Tesla electric cars and the graphics power of the latter make it possible to run all the games (or almost) in the Steam catalog. GTA V, Call of Duty, Cyberpunk 2077, etc. We were able to try two games (Tomb Raider and Outer Wilds), here is the story of our experience, really bluffing.
When announcing the new Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X, Elon Musk highlighted the fact of being able to play really resource-intensive video games, like the famous Cyberpunk 2077. In the summer of 2022, the boss of Tesla announced that the integration of the Steam video game platform into the Model S and Model X was fast approaching. We finally had to wait for the Christmas 2022 update to see Steam arrive in beta version on certain Model S and Model X.
Steam on the Model X with a PS5 controller
During our test drive of the Tesla Model S Plaid, we weren’t able to try out the feature. The update had not yet been rolled out. So when Tesla invited us to test drive the new Tesla Model X Plaid at the end of March, we were eager to bring a PS5 controller to play real AAA video games in a car.
Note that Steam is not available on all Teslas. You must have a Tesla Model S or Model X produced from February 2022. The reason is simple: some video games available are very greedy, and require a lot of computing power.
The two high-end Tesla cars 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. However, Elon Musk indicated on Twitter that these older electric cars could get a hardware update to pack more RAM.
A PS5 installed in the Tesla
Unfortunately, the old Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X are not compatible, due to lack of graphics power. This is also the case for the Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model Y, regardless of their production date. The reason is simple: the new Tesla Model S and Model X carry the equivalent of a PS5 to run the infotainment system.
In detail, there is an AMD Ryzen processor (Zen +) with eight physical cores with an RDNA2 graphics chip, equivalent to an RX 6600M with 8 GB of VRAM. Tesla announces computing power of 10 Tflops. Compare to PS5’s 10.28 Tflops and Xbox Series X’s 12.15 Tflops.
Steam is not available on the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y. If the latest versions integrate an AMD Ryzen processor, it seems that they do not have the dedicated GPU (graphics chip) of the big sisters Model S and Model X , nor the right amount of RAM.
In other words, the new Tesla Model S and Model X have the equivalent of a next-gen console to run the infotainment system projected on the central screen. Add to that the integration of the famous Steam catalog, and you have a real video game console in a car. A childhood dream come true!
Not all Steam games are compatible
For those familiar with Steam, Tesla has integrated the OS equivalent of the Steam Deck into its cars. It is a Linux application that uses the Proton emulator to run Windows games on the car screen. It is therefore possible to run almost all of the tens of thousands of Windows games available on Steam. But as we’ll see later, Steam on Tesla is still in beta, and not all games are fully supported.
To be able to play games via Steam on a Tesla, it is better to use a controller. The best is to play with a PS5 controller, which is natively recognized in Bluetooth by the car. Xbox controllers can be recognized, either wired or with a special wireless adapter. For the more gamers among you, it is also possible to opt for the keyboard-mouse pair and start a game of Counter-Strike…
When we picked up the Tesla Model X Plaid, one of our first actions was to launch Steam and then log in with the account of one of our journalists, who has a Steam Deck. We were thus able to access its catalog of video games. The software experience is absolutely similar to that of a Steam Deck that we were able to test in May 2022. With the difference that on the Tesla, it is impossible to access the Linux desktop: if you leave Steam, you found on the Tesla infotainment screen with GPS.
Tomb Raider and Outer Wilds as an appetizer
With the Steam app on Tesla, games are installed on the car’s SSD. We therefore advise you to buy another SSD (but not that of Tesla), of large capacity, because the storage of the Tesla (a little less than 80 GB) proves to be too tight to install the blockbusters of the moment, at the moment. image of call of duty, GTA V or Cyberpunk 2077.
We then tested with two games that required little disk space: Rise of the Tomb Raider And Outer Wilds. We tried to install Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but the game wouldn’t launch. Note that, as on a Steam Deck, some games may be incompatible.
In this case, the Steam application specifies it, and indicates what the incompatibilities are. This can range from total incompatibility, to a few small incompatibilities (a not optimal display for example), as specified on the Steam site. Surprisingly, Call of Duty was not listed as incompatible.
Before going any further, let’s mention that the integration of Steam on Tesla is in beta state. But let’s not forget that Tesla loves extended betas. The FSD is still in beta in the United States, more than three years after its launch in October 2020.
A video game slap in a car
Still, we were pleasantly surprised by the experience offered. We launched first Outer Wilds, a 2019 video game that takes place in space. The universe is quite dark and the graphics have not been designed to impress. But what struck us the most was the game’s responsiveness, and above all, the car’s sound system.
The 960 watts spit out by the car’s 22 speakers (including a subwoofer) totally immerse you in a parallel universe. The 17-inch motorized screen with a good definition (2,200 x 1,300 pixels, i.e. between Full HD and QHD) allows to increase this immersionsince it is possible to direct it towards the passenger or the driver, and not just in the middle of the passenger compartment.
With the PS5 controller, it is very easy to navigate in space, with our spaceship. The controller also obviously allows you to navigate in the game menus, and in the Steam menus. Moreover, it suffices to indicate to Steam the controller used (PS5, Xbox, etc.) so that the logos of the interface adapt to the controller and display the correct icons.
After being sucked into a black hole, we left Outer Wilds to try out a more demanding and graphically advanced game. It is Rise of the Tomb Raider, which despite its age (released in 2015) looked extremely good on the Tesla screen. We were able to push the graphics to the maximum, without the game experiencing any slowdowns. Once again, the Tesla’s screen and sound system combo instantly takes us on a journey.
We then wanted to test other, more recent and more demanding games, but we lacked the time and available space on the storage. The Tesla’s connection (in 4G) was quite good, with an average speed of around 15 MB/s (or 150 Mbps) to download titles. Note that if there is no network, it is impossible to launch Steam, which needs an active connection. Games are installed locally.
Unfortunately, as soon as Steam is closed, downloads pause. He is a priori It’s possible to let downloads happen when leaving the car, but we couldn’t try this feature.
If you want to change the cabin temperature, turn a heated or ventilated seat on or off, you have to go back to the home screen of the Tesla operating system. This amounts to closing Steam and the game in progress. There’s no background staining, and that’s one of the main complaints about Tesla’s Steam integration.
In addition, several small bugs arise here and there, which prevents having a perfect experience. Like this time when Steam launch crashed, while the loading wheel was still turning. We waited a few minutes before resolving to quit the application to relaunch it. Normally, Steam takes about 15-20 seconds to launch. It’s not long, but it’s not instantaneous.
The other criticism that can be made of this integration, it’s the impossibility of playing video games while driving. This is normal, to avoid distracting the driver. But it’s a shame Steam isn’t offered on the 9.4-inch rear screen. Tesla tells us that this might be technically possible in the future, but it’s not officially planned at this time. It would be a treat for the rear passengers, who could compete on a street fighter or one Fifa…
A 2023 car, for a 2023 experience
As you will have understood from reading this article, we were won over by the experience offered with the integration of Steam to the Tesla Model S and Model X. Not everything is perfect, but it is about a beta version that still has room for maneuver. It has nothing to do with what the competition offers, such as BMW and its catalog of much older games. Only BYD, Hyundai and Polestar rival it somewhat, with GeForce Now coming on board.
But this will happen in the cloud, not on-premises, with performance depending on the available network. Within a few months at best, or in a few years, being more realistic.
Twenty years ago, when GTA III had just been released, the author of these lines dreamed of being able to play it in multiplayer, in a car. Twenty years later, this dream becomes achievable. But not for everyone. Indeed, Teslas are not within the reach of all budgets, and it would be interesting for the American company to offer Steam on its more affordable electric cars: the Model 3 and Model Y. And why not in the future and hypothetical Model 2?
In the meantime, we will console ourselves with the Steam Deck, which can be used in any car, but with a radically smaller screen and lower performance. Whatever happens, Tesla once again proves its lead over its competitors in the field of embedded systems. You will soon be able to read the full test of the Tesla Model X Plaid in our columns.