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How to set up Steam on a NAS

The size of game downloads has ballooned over the past few years, with many triple-AAA games coming in at well over 100GB. Local storage has fallen repeatedly in price, but keeping up with a large and growing games library, especially across various PCs or devices, can be increasingly expensive. Not to mention the hassle of keeping multiple sets of updates going, especially if you’re on a slow connection. Steam is now capable of detecting other clients on your network with a game installed and downloading them internally, but this isn’t perfect and requires two devices to be on simultaneously. Storing games on your NAS can be a cost-effective solution to keeping many games downloaded, is relatively easy to set up, and can help alleviate some of the pain of a slower internet connection.

Benefits of loading games from a NAS

Centralizing certain games can be a good idea

One key benefit of loading your games from network storage is that you only need to keep a single copy of them. This benefit scales depending on the number of devices you have but can save you significant hard-drive space. For each new machine you would otherwise install a game on, you’ll save that game’s download size (if you have more than a single machine) by storing it on your NAS instead.

If you’ve got two or three machines, say a living room gaming PC, desktop, and gaming laptop, that could save you twice the size of a downloaded game in disk space that remains unused. This can be better put to use by storing things that might benefit from redundant copies, like backups of documents, photos, or media. Alternatively, this means that not all your machines need mass storage. For example, your household could access a large library of games over the network on laptops or gaming PCs with only a single, small, fast SSD in them. Or, if you’re like me and use your Steam Deck to play mostly in bed, a NAS could be an easy way to bump your Steam Deck’s capacity without upgrading the SSD or buying endless flash memory cards.

Only one set of updates is required

If you’re on a slower internet connection, this one might be a biggie. Downloading games can take time, and while downloading a game to your PC and then uploading it again to your NAS is going to be a bottleneck, it’s unlikely to be a problem unless you’re on a gigabit (or close) internet connection to start with. There are a couple of ways to set up Steam on a NAS, some downloading games on your NAS and some downloading them locally to your PC and then transferring them to a NAS, but both have the same feature in common: they centralize updates and downloads. Only one client needs to download or update the game, and then all the other clients on your network can run games from it.

You’re not limited to Steam

While this one depends on Launcher support, and other clients may handle this differently, nothing is limiting your games to just Steam. You could run games downloaded from GOG, the EA app, Ubisoft Connect, or any other launcher from a network drive. It might even be a great place to start building up a collection of older retro games or classics, many of which are never going to see updates again and can be purchased DRM-free.

You could run games downloaded from GOG, the EA app, Ubisoft Connect, or any other launcher from a network drive

If all else fails – you can just download your game

Part of the benefit of using Steam for your NAS is that, even if you are having issues running a game from your NAS, you can always just copy it down locally. Depending on your internet speed, this will function as a form of cache-less caching server (we wouldn’t recommend using this for multiple clients at once like a true caching server), and you can simply download a game down from your NAS to play it locally. Your NAS disk will stay mounted in your operating system, so all files should still be accessible through either Windows Explorer or your Linux file browser of choice.

Problems with running games from a NAS

OS versions present a problem

If you’re a lucky owner of a Steam Deck or other portable handheld, this might sound like a dream. But things aren’t quite that simple. Game downloads are compiled and downloaded only for the OS version the Steam client is running on, which means that your Windows PC won’t be able to easily share files and downloads with your Steam Deck (running Steam OS). It is in theory possible to run Windows copies of games through Wine/Proton on the Steam Deck, and there are some brave souls on Reddit who’ve got this setup working, but we wouldn’t recommend it for most users. If you’ve got a handheld running Windows like the Ayaneo 2S, this won’t be a problem, and you could always install Windows on a Steam Deck if so desired.

Not all games will work

From experience, most games will run fine from a NAS, but most games are not all. In particular, poorly optimized games might struggle or lock up completely with slow or inaccessible storage. You might see some reduced performance, whether that’s lower quality or slower loading textures, pop-in, stuttering, or loading times, but in the majority of games, these are unlikely to significantly affect your experience. The ongoing load on your NAS will also affect things here (it’s even possible that, depending on the speed of your NAS, you might even find that a 1Gbps connection to a fast NAS with iSCSI is faster than loading games from an old hard drive you’ve got lying around.) There’s no easy way to tell whether a game is going to run fine, so we’d suggest you test out some of your favorite games.

How to add a network drive to Steam

Steam has supported multiple libraries for years

The process of setting up access to your NAS will vary from device to device and will depend on how your specific NAS is configured, but the steps are all generally the same. Set up a shared folder on your NAS, then mount it in your operating system as a network drive. Once you’ve got your shared folder mounted, follow the steps below to set up a second library in Steam.

  1. Open your desktop Steam client
    A screenshot showing where to open the Steam Client in the taskbar.
  2. Browse to Steam > Settings
    Screenshot showing where to open Steam Settings.
  3. In the settings sidebar, browse to Storage
    Screenshot of the Steam Client showing where to locate your Games.
  4. Select your Drive in the top panel, then select Add Drive
    Screenshot showing where to Add a drive in Steam
  5. Browse to your mounted Network Drive, then press Select Folder
  6. You can now install games to that drive as you normally might when installing a game. We’d recommend letting Steam create its own folder structure to start with.
    Screenshot of the steam library selector for installing games.

Updating games on your NAS

More difficult than it might seem

Updating games on your NAS is, in the most basic case, fairly easy. If your gaming PCs and NAS are both running the same operating system, simply install a Steam client on your NAS, set up some remote access or management software like VNC or remote desktop, and configure your Steam client to automatically download updates. This will allow you to leave your main gaming PC switched off overnight while your NAS can still update freely. However, if your NAS is running Linux (like mine), then there are some more problems.

There are a couple of options to solve this, neither of which we’d recommend. You could set up a Windows Virtual machine on your NAS (or some other server in your house), mount the disk (either through your hypervisor/VM client or over the network), and set up a Steam client on that to update your games. This is a bit clunky, but if you’re serious about running games from your NAS, it might be a great timesaver for real home-labbers. Alternatively, you could install Steam through Wine on Linux, tricking the Steam client into thinking it’s installed on a Windows machine and downloading games as such.

Storing games on your NAS isn’t as silly as it sounds

Storing games on your NAS can save you disk space, as well as hassle if you’ve got multiple machines. There are some tradeoffs, especially for games with frequent updates, and the benefits scale far better if you have many machines on the same OS, but running games over your network is more functional than you might think. If you’ve got a backlog of ‘once a year’ single-player games you don’t want to download each time you boot them up for an hour nostalgia session, or a slow internet connection and devices lacking bulk storage, using your NAS to store game files can be a good solution.

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