Make Steam friendly to low bandwidth connections

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There are various reasons for installing and using Steam on your PC. One good reason is that it allows you to play Fallout: New Vegas and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Unfortunately, any games that use the Steam client do require an internet connection to be activated and the client does use your internet connection for various features such as Steam Cloud. Some Steam users also don't know how to configure the client so that it uses less bandwidth. This guide will serve as a guide to configuring the client to use as little bandwidth as possible.

The Guide

1. Open the Steam client, if it isn't already open.

2. Click on either "Steam" or "View" in the top left corner then click on "Settings" (if I don't specifically mention a particular setting, you may set it to your preference).

3. Under the "Account" tab, make sure "Don't save account credentials on this computer" is unticled.

4. Under the "Friends" tab, untick "Automatically sign into friends".

5. Under the "Interface" tab, there are three options that are important. Fist, untick "Notify me (with steam instant messages) ..." right at the bottom. This option prevents the display of those "Latest News" pop-up messages. Second, choose "Library" as your favourite window. This option ensures that Steam navigates to the "Library" tab when starting unless told to do otherwise. The library tab is the only one guaranteed not to use bandwidth. Finally, set the "Run Steam when my computer starts" option to your preference. For example, if you have a dial-up connection that you have to manually dial into, it is probably best to have Steam start on computer start (i.e. tick this option) to ensure that it always starts when there is no internet connection present.

6. Under the "In-Game" tab, untick "Enable Steam Community in-game".

7. Under the "Downloads + Cloud" tab, open the "Internet Connection" menu and choose the option that most closely matches your connection speed. For low bandwidth users, the "Modem - 56k" option is the one you should select. Note that if your internet connection has different upload and download speeds (e.g. ADSL), choose your internet connection speed to match the slower figure (in the case of ADSL, the upload speed is the slower speed so choose the option that is closest to your upload speed). This option will probably have the greatest effect on the Steam client's responsiveness. On my internet connection (1Mbps ADSL), the Steam client takes ~5 seconds to login using the "DSL > 256k" option whereas it logs in almost instantly using the "Modem - 56k" option and takes more than 1 minute to login with "DSL > 768k" selected. Next, untick the "Enable Steam Cloud Synchronization" option and select a download region that is closest to where your PC is located.

8. Click on OK to save your preferences. Navigate to your Steam library by clicking on the Library button.

9. Right-click on one of your games and click on "Properties".

10. Under the General tab, individually tick the "Enable Steam Community in-game" option for games that require it (e.g. Oblivion Script Extender).

11. Under the "Updates" tab, select the "Do not automatically update this game" under "Automatic updates". Close the game Properties window.

12. Repeat steps 9 to 11 for all of the games you have installed.

13. Finally, click on Steam in the top left corner then click on "Go Offline..."

14. If you ever download updates for the client or your games or move everything elsewhere, check these settings again.

15. Always ensure that you have the latest version of the Steam client. Lately, I have seen a few updates that patches something related to offline mode. Hence, the latest version of the Steam client is recommended to ensure that you experience no/less problems in this regard.

If you get stuck at any point in this tutorial, you may find a pictorial version of steps 2 to 14 here.

EDIT: One additional step you can try is the following:

Open Notepad then copy-paste the following into it:


Then click on File-> Save As...

Navigate to Steam's root folder (by default, C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam) in the save dialog. Then name the file "steam.cfg" and under the "Save as Type" menu, select "All Files". Save the document.

When I used this step on my Steam client, it claimed that there was no internet connection when I started the client, even though there was one present. I was then given the option of starting in offline mode. I would recommend putting the client into offline mode before you create this text file to avoid potential annoyances.

Finally, putting the Steam client into online mode in future requires you to delete, move or rename the text file you created.

Final thoughts

You may now be asking something like "Why do I have to do all this? Can't Valve just make the client work on my connection and high bandwidth users enable these options?" There are two main reasons why these options aren't necessarily set to what you want.

The first reason is because the configuration you want a specific option set to is not necessarily what the majority of people using Steam want it set to. An example of this would be the Steam community and Steam Friends features. If the success of Facebook and Twitter is anything to go by, I would say that the majority of people using Steam want these things, even if you don't.

The second reason is simply because Valve is a business and as a business, their primary motive is to make money (shocking, isn't it). This motivation, thus, affects their decisions regarding features that might work to improve their profits (such as when the latest news informs you of the latest game release or discounted sale). One point of contention concerning this topic is the subject of DRM, the most common argument being that it does not work and only punishes legitimate gamers. Quite frankly, DRM does, in fact, reduce piracy. If that weren't the case, there would be no incentive for game developers or publishers to utilise DRM. On the one hand, there would be less people buying the game as a result of the DRM and negative PR. On the other hand, it costs money to set up and utilise the copy protection in a game. In other words, DRM only causes a business to lose money unless it somehow creates an income through pirates becoming buyers.

Additionally, one has to consider the fact that DRM only exists thanks to piracy and that if piracy didn't exist, neither would DRM. If we use a medical analogy, piracy is a disease and DRM is one of the symptoms of that disease. That is why virtually all anti-DRM arguments are flawed. They go to great lengths to explain why DRM should be done away with yet say absolutely nothing about piracy. So the next time Steam or any other DRM implementation causes an annoyance for you, ask yourself what role piracy played in the implementation of that annoyance. Than ask yourself what you have done to help rid the world of piracy. Once that happens, maybe we will have a world where video games are released without any DRM.