What Is the Difference Between a Steam Download vs an Install?

Run down of the exact difference between a download and an install

by Claire Moraa
Claire Moraa
Claire Moraa
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Vlad Turiceanu
Vlad Turiceanu
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Affiliate Disclosure
  • Steam is a popular gaming platform that offers hundreds of games for gaming fanatics.
  • As such, it makes it easy for you to get your hands on new releases by downloading.
  • You can download and install games on your Steam library and also on your external hard drive.
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Anyone can download Steam and enjoy all the features it has to offer. When you purchase a game through Steam, the app downloads and installs it automatically. This process can take several minutes or hours depending on the size of the game and your Internet connection speed. 

Once it’s finished downloading and installing, you’ll be able to start playing right away. However, if you want to play offline or update an existing game on Steam you’ll need to perform a separate install step before doing so.

There’s a lot of confusion about what Steam downloads are, and how they differ from installs. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. So, let’s clear that up for you.

What is the difference between installed and downloaded in Steam?

Steam is an online gaming platform that allows you to download games onto your computer. The downloads are usually large files, and depending on your internet connection speed, it can take some time for them to finish downloading.

When you purchase games on Steam, they are automatically downloaded to your computer and saved to your library. If you want to play a game that’s not in your library, you’ll need to purchase it and then download it first.

Steam installs are different from downloads because they don’t require an Internet connection. When you purchase a game on Steam, you will be able to download it before installing it.

The download is essentially a small compressed file that you can use to install the game later. An install is when you run the game files from your computer’s hard drive.

How do downloads work on Steam? 

When you download a game or application, your computer will start downloading the files immediately depending on your setting and internet connection. 

You’ll see a progress bar that shows how much of the game remains, and you can track your download speed in real-time. Once your files have finished downloading, they’ll be added to your library automatically. From there, you can launch them whenever you like.

Why does Steam download then install? 

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Steam doesn’t install games directly onto your hard drive. Instead, it stores the game files on its own servers, and you access them by logging into Steam and downloading them over the Internet.

This is a good thing for two reasons:

  • You can download your games from anywhere (you don’t need to be at home with an Internet connection).
  • It makes sure that all your games are always up to date — because Steam downloads patches automatically. Some titles include patches or other updates that need to be installed as part of their installation process. 

How do I install a Steam game without downloading it?

You can install Steam games from an optical disc or USB drive instead of downloading them. Insert the disc into your computer’s disc drive or connect the USB drive containing the game files.

Now, you can open Steam and go to your Library then select a game that you want to play and right-click on it to play from an optical drive or USB drive.

Can you play a Steam game while it’s downloading?

Yes, but it is dependent on a few factors. Steam has a feature called Instant Play, which allows you to play games while they are still downloading. You can do this on any desktop or laptop computer.

The Instant Play feature is useful when you’re playing a game with large file size and you don’t want to wait for it to finish downloading. For example, if your internet connection is slow, or if you’re playing on an old computer with a small hard drive that can’t handle large downloads.

Some games don’t need updates and can be launched immediately after installation without waiting for them to finish downloading.

Now that you know the difference between a Steam download and install, you may be interested in the best Steam games for Windows 10 if you haven’t already jumped on the bandwagon.

Let us know of any additional thoughts you may have in the comment section below.

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