Steam Deck can now run Windows — but there's a big catch

steam deck library
(Image credit: Valve)

When the Steam Deck was first announced, Valve promised that it was yours to do what you want with — and that extended to eschewing the included operating system for something more familiar, like Windows. 

“We don't think people should be locked into a certain direction or a certain set of software that they can install,” Valve’s Lawrence Yang told IGN last year. “If you buy a Steam Deck, it's a PC. You can install whatever you want on it, you can attach any peripherals you want to it.”

Now, two weeks after early adopters got their eager hands on the Steam Deck, Valve has kept its word by releasing Windows-friendly drivers for the handheld’s GPU, WiFi and Bluetooth, meaning you can ditch the default SteamOS and start exploring. 

But you probably shouldn’t yet as there are some severe limitations. 

For starters, audio drivers aren’t yet available, meaning you can only get sound by connecting wireless earbuds, wireless headphones or USB-C headphones. Secondly, Steam Deck currently can’t dual boot, which means that for now the only way of playing with Windows is to remove the default OS. While there’s a way of putting SteamOS back on, it’s clearly a bit of a hassle for something that’s likely to be a pretty underwhelming experience. 

If that hasn’t put you off, note that it currently won’t allow you to install Windows 11, as the bios with the required TPM support isn’t yet available. Also be prepared for the fact that you’re on your own here, as Valve is “unfortunately unable to offer ‘Windows on Deck’ support.”

What's in it for you?

For some, all of these limitations are part of the fun. It’s not about a better experience, but about seeing something running somewhere unexpected. That’s why people like the thrill of making GTA V run on a Game Boy, or porting Doom to an office phone. Frankly, at this point that’s the only sensible reason to put Windows on your Steam Deck: curiosity.

But in the future, once dual booting is implemented, this could be a killer feature for one massive reason: Game Pass Ultimate. While Valve says it would welcome Game Pass on Steam and that the ball is in Microsoft’s court, so far neither company has made steps in that direction. And it doesn’t seem likely given the steep 30% cut Valve takes off content sold through its platform. 

With a Windows installation, Steam Deck can sidestep that problem to become a portable Xbox. Given that Steam Deak is the closest we’re likely to get to a PlayStation Vita 2, the option to dual boot could make Steam Deck the ultimate gaming portable. But for now, only the curious should dip their toes in the water.    

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.