How to Stream Your Desktop and Non-Steam Games with Steam Link

The Steam Link is a fantastic piece of kit, streaming all the joys of your gaming PC to a screen of your choice. I picked it up on a whim in a sale not too long ago and was surprised at how well it worked through a home plug adapter.

But it wasn’t long before I started getting a little more experimental with it.

Beyond streaming your entire Steam library, the Steam Link can also be used as a general desktop streaming device, so you can use it to stream Netflix, do some Web browsing, or play non-Steam games from within Steam Link’s “Big Picture” interface. You can even play emulated old-school games directly through your Steam Link. The following tutorial will show you how.

Boot Steam Link App Straight to Desktop

In mid-2018, Valve released the Steam Link app, which runs on Android devices including phone, tablets and TVs (Samsung also has its own separate Steam Link app). This app has a slightly different boot UI to the Steam Link hardware that the rest of this guide talks about, and it offers a quick-and-easy way of booting Steam Link straight to the desktop.

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On the main Steam Link screen in the app, before you hit “Start Playing”, go to “Settings -> Streaming -> Advanced”. At the top of this screen, you can select to enable or disable “Start Streaming Desktop”. Set it to “Enabled”, and your Steam Link will boot to your desktop when you start playing!

Minimize Steam Link to Desktop

Even though Valve hasn’t made much fuss about how easy it is to exit Steam Big Picture to your Windows desktop (presumably because they want to keep you gaming and spending in their little ecosystem), it’s actually very simple.

Once you’ve connected your Steam Link with your PC and are in Big Picture mode, click the power icon at the top-right, then “Minimize Big Picture.”

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That’s it! You should now be on your Windows desktop and able to control it using a mouse, keyboard or Steam Controller. If you have any trouble with the graphics at this point (green or black screen, etc.), try updating your GPU drivers.

Create a Notepad File If You Can’t Minimize Steam Link

Quite a few users have reported that the Windows desktop doesn’t function after minimizing Big Picture mode. One possible solution here is to link an outside app (even something like Notepad) to Steam by activating it as a non-steam game on your Steam Link. To do this, follow the instructions below, because it’s exactly the same process.

Stream Non-Steam Games on Steam Link

It goes without saying that if you have access to the desktop, you can run pretty much whatever you like on your PC, but if you’re confined to a gamepad, then you want to set yourself up to run non-Steam games from Big Picture Mode.

This isn’t too difficult, thankfully. You can even do it from Big Picture mode. Click the cog icon (Settings) at the top-right, then under the System heading click “Add Library Shortcut.” (The equivalent action in the desktop version of Steam is to click “Add a Game” at the bottom left of the Steam window, then “Add a Non-Steam Game.”) From these lists you can add pretty much any game or other program from Windows to your library, then run it using Big Picture mode and, by extension, Steam Link.

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Stream Emulated Games on Steam Link

Unfortunately, the previous tip won’t help if you’re trying to play your favorite old-school games through an emulator because the Steam Link won’t identify your controller when you try to use them (i.e. the Steam Link only recognizes your controller as a game controller with the Big Picture UI).

To stream emulated games is a bit more complicated, as you’ll need to set up parsers using an excellent tool called Steam Rom Manager. If you want to do this, check out our dedicated guide on streaming emulated N64, PS1, SNES, and other games through your Steam Link.

Conclusion

The Steam Link is underrated. Many people made the mistake of expecting it to stream games flawlessly over WiFi, but it only really shines when you use it over a wired connection. The added perk of being able to use it for non-Steam stuff makes it more robust than something like a Chromecast and pretty much the perfect piece of kit for the gaming-inclined PC streamer.

This article was first published in Nov 2017 and was updated in Dec 2018.

9 comments

  1. Hi,
    It doesn’t seem to work anymore.
    I updated all drivers and run the latest version of steam and steam link and for some reason, when i minimize big picture, i see my desktop and I can move my mouse but thats it. it wont register any clicks or any keys on keyboard so i can’t use my desktop.
    I’ve looked on internet to find the solution but the answers are all with older versions.
    If you have any idea how to fix that it would be really appreciated.
    Thanks!

    1. Abit old now, but that is usually due to a program running is under UAC control, you need to minimize or close the program.

      For example when my VPN is open I can’t click via steam link, so I have to minimize on my PC then go back to steam link.

  2. Just Use Notepad:

    https://lifehacker.com/use-steam-to-stream-your-desktop-instead-of-your-games-1818722875

  3. Hi,

    I feel that the Steam Link is a fantastic piece of hardware. However it only works well with Steam games and with streaming video, as I don’t get a proper 60 fps with non-Steam games, whatever I try. For instance the GOG version of The Witcher 3.

    1. In your Steam Link settings navigate to In home streaming/Advanced host options, and uncheck the boxes for hardware encoding, this should increase your framerate.

      1. Hi, thanks for the tip. I tried it. Disabled host encoding and client decoding. However performance still wasn’t what I hoped for. I’m not sure it even improved anything. And to be perfectly clear, on the PC monitor side by side, it runs flawlessly. It’s clearly a streaming issue with desktop sharing/non steam games.

  4. Hi, thanks for the tip. I tried it. Disabled host encoding and client decoding. However performance still wasn’t what I hoped for. I’m not sure it even improved anything. And to be perfectly clear, on the PC monitor side by side, it runs flawlessly. It’s clearly a streaming issue with desktop sharing/non steam games.

  5. Hey, you can just go to the Settings in you Steam Leank and turn on Desktopstreaming

  6. Steam Big Picture mode isn’t needed to use the steam link. Instead of minimizing Big Picture mode, you can just exit big picture mode instead. This will free up some system resources(CPU&Memory) to use in games/PC apps too.
    Also turnig big picture mode off allows you to CTRL+Esc out of games running full screen on the steam link attached display. BTW CTRL+Esc is the standard shortcut key combination to open up the start menu. Windows key works too. After opening the start men, just click on an empty place on the taskbar to close the start menu, or click on the Show Desktop button next to the system clock.

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