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17 obscure Steam tips and tricks that can power up your PC gaming

Steam can do a whole lot more than let you buy and play games.

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Secure your account with Steam Guard

Here’s a simple, yet vital and oft-overlooked tip. After a while, your Steam account could contain hundreds upon hundreds of dollars’ worth of games, and endless hours of saved game time. Sadly, stacked Steam accounts are a juicy target for hackers—especially if you’ve amassed a deep collection of items that can be traded on the Steam Market.

The service urges you to set up two-factor authentication via its Steam Guard tool, but if you’re the type of person (like me) who mindlessly closes Steam’s starting pop-ups, head to Settings > Account > Manage Steam Guard Account Security and set Steam Guard up. You’ll need to use Valve’s kind-of wonky Steam mobile app to verify your logins when you sign into the service on a new PC, but it’s worth the hassle—and using the authenticator function itself is painless.

Family game sharing

This tip bridges the gap between our initial library management tips and the forthcoming barrage of random helpful extras. Steam family sharing is a digital reimagining of a central home gaming console, letting your family and friends play your Steam games when you’re not.

steam family sharing IDG

Before you start, Steam Guard protection will need to be enabled for all accounts for which you want to enable family sharing. Once that’s done, log into your Steam account on your friend’s computer, then head to Steam > Settings > Family and check the box next to “Authorize Library Sharing on this computer.” You’ll then be asked which local account(s) to authorize for family sharing. (You can let up to five other Steam accounts play your games on up to 10 specified devices.)

Once that’s done, simply sign out of your Steam account. From then on, the account you authorized on that PC can download and play your library of Steam games—though that sharing only works when you aren’t playing games, and when the other person has an active Internet connection. Lather, rinse, and repeat as needed for other PCs and family members. Bonus: Their in-game progress won’t affect yours.

Update your graphics card drivers

Nvidia AMD graphics cards Brad Chacos

Always run the most current drivers for your graphics card: It’s a core law of PC gaming. Nvidia and AMD pump out constant driver updates to support the latest games and optimize older titles, so you’re leaving precious graphics performance on the table if you stick to old drivers.

[ Further reading: The best graphics cards for PC gaming ]

Both graphics card companies offer software that helps keep drivers up to date, but if you’re not looking to tinker with arcane graphics settings, you can do the same through Steam. Just open the client and head to Steam > Check for Video Driver Updates in the menu bar. If new drivers are available for your card, Steam will let you know and offer to install them right there.

Show your in-game FPS

Staying on the graphical firepower beat, Steam offers an in-game FPS overlay so you can see how many frames per second you’re getting at any given time. It’s a great tool when you’re tinkering with in-game graphics options, trying to achieve the highest frame rate possible.

steam overlay fps IDG

To activate it, head to Steam > Settings > Interface. Look for the In-game FPS counter option, then click on it and select which corner of the screen you’d like the FPS counter to appear in.

Steam in-home streaming

Steam in-home streaming lets you play graphically intensive games on technologically crappy PCs and Windows tablets, or even on your TV via Valve’s affordable Steam Link ($50 on Amazon). It uses the power of your main gaming rig to run the game, and then streams it in Netflix-like fashion to your secondary PC. Think of it as OnLive or GeForce Now for your Steam collection, but only on your home network. I use it to play games on my cheap laptop from my couch or bed almost daily. It’s magical.

how steam streaming works Valve

How Steam’s in-home streaming works.

Activating Steam in-home streaming on a computer is easy: Just log on to Steam on your laptop while your gaming PC is connected to the same network and also running Steam. A pop-up notification will let you know the two machines are aware of each other, and a new “Stream” option will appear in your library for games installed on your primary PC. There are some caveats and nuances—most involve balancing your network connection and graphics settings—which you can read all about in PCWorld’s guide to Steam in-home streaming.

Playing games on your TV with Steam Link is even easier because the device focuses solely on streaming. A wired Internet connection works best with the Link, and if you plan on playing PC games that work best with a mouse and keyboard, consider picking up the Steam Controller ($50 at Gamestop). Valve’s gamepad has a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve mastered it you’ll be able to play even controller-hating games like Civilization on your big screen. Standard Xbox One controllers work just fine for games that don’t demand keyboard and mouse-style controls, though.

Next page: Advanced server options, download optimizations, and more.

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